Sweet Spot

Sweet-SpotLiving mostly in your “sweet spot” will breed confidence. The sweet spot is actualized when a person operates at the center of his or her skill, knowledge, talent, and gifts,  reaches full ministry strength, and lives in empowerment. A skill is something acquired through training over a period of time (such as typing). Knowledge is something you learn (such as knowing that if you kick a wasp nest, you will get stung). A talent is a natural aptitude for something which is developed and formed over time (such as playing the piano). A gift is given by God beyond one’s natural ability and is always given as “ours for others” (such as serving). All of these can only be discovered by “doing,” not “hearing.” The only way to learn to lead is by leading. You find your calling by examining your gifts, but you can only determine your gifts by serving others.

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The Hedgehog and the Fox

2835826-cute-little-hedgehog-purple-backgroundIsaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” is a good illustration of focused vision. Many writers have used the essay as a metaphor for several leadership traits. For example, the historian Joseph Ellis uses the “Hedgehog and Fox” concept in evaluating George Washington, noting, “George Washington was an archetypal hedgehog. And the one big thing he knew was that America’s future as a nation lay to the West, in its development over the next century of a continental empire,” which was one of the reasons, according to Ellis, that Washington was devoted to the construction of canals.

The story depicts how people approach problems differently. Some people are like foxes, knowing many things. Others are like hedgehogs, because they know one main thing. A fox is a smart animal able to develop many strategies for attacking the hedgehog. Like the cartoon Wile E. Coyote, the fox looks like he has another foolproof plan to finally catch his prey. The hedgehog, however, is a slow and dull animal whose defence is the same no matter how the fox attacks. Every day the fox thinks he is in for a tasty lunch, but no matter what the fox does, the hedgehog again rolls up into a little ball, spreads his sharp spikes, and thwarts the fox’s plans.

Berlin explained that some people (foxes) see the world in all its complexity. Their approach constantly changes depending on the circumstances, but they never develop a unified vision. Other people (hedgehogs), on the other hand, simplify the complexity of the world into one principle—one basic idea that determines their every move. Hedgehogs are not stupid. Actually, their understanding of the world is so insightful that they’re able to recognize the most basic principle of life.

Every leader has problems, concerns, and obstacles in his or her leadership. Some challenges may even be acute, but you do not need a new solution for every problem. Be a hedgehog, not a fox, because for a hedgehog the solution is always the same! When your vision/mission is resolved, it becomes the essential point of reference for what your next steps will be, what you will do, or what you won’t do. You begin to operate by that value. If you do not know what you are meant to do, you will do many things without meaning.

Oscillation

oscGood leaders know when to get out of the game for a break. It’s like tobogganing as a child. There comes a point when the sled is going too fast and it is best to simply jump off. The trick is to get off while it is still possible. In his must-read book, Leading On Empty, Wayne Cordeiro writes: Your system has to recharge, but it requires a trickle charge, one that restores you with a sustained low-amperage.”

Stress is good. We need stress. It is by stress that we grow. It is not the presence of stress that destroys a leader; it is the absence of rest. In the sport’s medicine world, this need of stress and rest is called oscillation. Athletes increase their capacity by stressing their bodies to the limit and then resting/refuelling their bodies.

Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist, states: In the living laboratory of sports, we learned that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, which, paradoxical as it may seem, is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance. Rituals that promote oscillation—rhythmic stress and recovery—are the second component of high performance. Repeated regularly, these highly precise, consciously developed routines become automatic over time.

For exercise, I sometimes to swim in the mornings at a local pool. When I first started to swim again, I expected to be able to perform like I did when I was a teen. Halfway down the lane, I thought I was going to pass out! My body wasn’t used to exercising like that. The next day, I could barely move. But time after time, swim after swim, I began to move past sore muscles and shortness of breath. I went from taking a full minute to complete a length, to fifty seconds, then forty seconds, and then thirty seconds. Sports scientists say that what I’m doing is damaging my muscles and letting them heal. This healing takes about forty-eight hours, and surprisingly my muscles have then become stronger. Conversely, when I fail to oscillate between stressing my muscles and resting, I send my muscles into atrophy.

If you are overstressed, it is more likely that you mean that you are under-rested. The stress is actually increasing your leadership ability—but only if you are permitting “oscillation.”

I doubt there is a formula for oscillation, because every person is different, but every person can optimize his or her stress and recovery pattern. For example, in order to become a great public speaker, you have to put yourself in the nervous place of being in front of a crowd, repeatedly.

You must learn to rest effectively. Rest is a skill. Living in oscillation requires deliberate effort and hard work. Without rest, you cannot live or lead well. Musicians know that it’s the space between notes that makes the music.

Even Monkeys Fall From Trees

monkeyFamiliarity can be an enemy to a leader’s soul. According to an old Japanese proverb, “Even monkeys fall from trees.” The jungle, for which they were made, is the same place that can bring them harm. The environment to which they are accustomed becomes their foe. We, too, can get used to our habitat and the ease in which we move within it. We coast. Our guard drops. We lean on our competence and success. We’ve got the jungle well-manicured. Everything runs well, even though we cannot recall what the machine actually does. We are in control, though. We are not moving forward, but at least things are going smoothly.

But who wants a life that’s always smooth? Those who don’t dare to fail greatly never achieve anything great.

My Favourite Video of 2013

If you are new to Soon To Lead, you might not know of my dislike of cats. So, in a rare moment of weakness, I must now put writing aside and bring you my favourite video of 2013.

Give It Time

God always works in you before He works through you. God has the final word. What you think about yourself doesn’t matter as much as you might suppose.  Do not be dejected by what others may think of you either.

Os Guinness wrote, “You may be depressed by the pages of your life that are blotched with compromises, failures, trials, and sin. You have had your say. Others may have had their say. But make no judgments and draw no conclusions until the scaffolding of history is stripped away and you see what it means for God to have had his say—and made you what you are called to be.”

Is Your Church a Church?

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Young leader, don’t just drink the Kool-aid of settling in to a church and letting them live with no mission.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering this week:

When a church should be closed? Or, stated another way, when is a church no longer a church? Of course, no one wants to see a church close, but what if there are indeed some specific criteria that determine whether a church has lost the right to exist? They may be gatherings of people for fellowship, funds available to keep a building running, and a few people host a Sunday service, but are they really a church?

Just poking through Scripture I can find at least eight conditions to determine if a religious gathering is truly a church. If one of these items below is absent, the gathering might be a fellowship, club, group, or whatever you wish to call it, but it is certainly not a church. Gathering is not the requisite, mission is.

Here are eight questions to ask:

Does your church insist that Scripture is the ultimate authority? The early church, even without access to the New Testament, continually used the Old Testament to determine it morals and mission. Additionally, they used Old Testament passages to prove that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.

Does your church have leadership? I’m not talking about management here. I’m talking about someone (and some people) who are discerning God’s plan and getting people on that plan. To be a church is to be led, biblically. Many churches have different structures and governance, but it the end there is leadership. Scripture reveals all sort of names for leaders; elders, bishops, pastors, deacons, evangelists, prophets, and apostles. Scholars will never agree on what each of these terms mean, but they will agree that early churches had someone who worked to “equip believers/saints for ministry.”

Does your church preach? To be a church requires someone to preach. It need not necessarily be a pastor, but someone must speak the truth of Scripture. This exercise is for the exclusive purpose of allowing lost people hear the truth of the Gospel and have opportunity to respond. Preaching, from the word “proclaim” is something I understand differently from “teaching.” Preaching is the proclamation of the gospel, particularly emphasizing repentance.

Does your church teach? Beyond communication for evangelism, there must be the consistent and repetitive teaching of the Word in order to develop believers in to more disciplined Christ-followers. Some people call this discipleship, which is actually an incorrect use of the term. We used the phrase “evangelism and discipleship” as if they were two different occasions. This is not the case. Evangelism is discipleship. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples,” and then said, “teaching them to obey…” I would go as far as to suggest that discipling could actually occur for a season before someone is a convert – or is “evangelized.” Discipling involves teaching, but it also involves preaching. Both of these are part of the discipleship process and are essential is every church.

Does your church baptize people in water? Water baptism seems like a bizarre exercise in our Western culture. I am sure that there have been many pool lifeguards wondering if the group dunking each other in the pool is borderline crazy. Yet, this ordinance is clear in Scripture and repeated hundreds of times. A church that does not baptism in/with water, allowing a person to make a public confession of having died and rose again with Christ, is simply not a church. What may appear as a silly inconvenient ritual is actually a demand of the New Testament.

Does your church participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper? New Testament communion services probably looked a lot different than modern ceremonies. When the early church ate together, they took a moment to reflect on the death of Christ by using the most common tabletop commodities – bread and wine. As Christ commanded participation in this ordinance He said, “Do in remembrance of me.” Every true church must practice this ritual.

Does your church contain a community of people who have determined to be accountable to one another out of love? The early church prayed for each other, taught each other, worshipped with each other, bore each other’s burdens, shared everything together, and disciplined each other. In fact, Paul demanded for early believers to gather together.

So far, your church probably meets the qualifications. But the next question is where many want-to-be churches fall short.

Is your church on a mission to work together to reach the lost? Token evangelism doesn’t count. To be a church, that church must be fully understood as a group of people who are not committed to “having good church” but to propagating the Gospel together as well as individuals. “The church is not the purpose or goal of the Gospel, but rather the instrument and witness of the Gospel.” (Darrell Guder) Evangelism is not just one of the things the church does; it is why the church exists! Any church that is not “missional” has lost its right to exist.

Perhaps all of this too basic of an explanation of what makes a church (little “c”) a church, but it’s a starting point. What do you think? Is your church a church? How can we make a church become a church?

Christmas Cheer

10947201-christmas-nativity-scene-with-holy-family-isolated-vectorAlthough it is too ugly to be called art, it is perched on my office bookshelf. It’s a sculpture of the Nativity. I bought it in Mexico on my first mission trip. I buy ugly souvenirs. I don’t mean to, it just happens. I return from countries with outlandish artifacts. My wife says they’re horrible. She’s right.

Once I had this great idea to buy clocks from each visited country. I was going to leave each clock set on its country’s time zone. It would remind me to pray for that field. So, I bought my first clock. It was an “Aztec” clock. “Aztec,” loosely translated, means “ugly.” My wife made me give it my mother. It was hideous! (The clock I mean, not my mother.) She put it in her laundry room. It’s very important to know the time when you are doing laundry. More importantly, the laundry room is a fine place to put ugly things.

Regardless, I have kept my sculpture. Everyone thinks it’s awful, but I like it. Well, I don’t really like the sculpture. It’s just that it makes me laugh. The baby Jesus, in the manger, is a Mexican. Mary and Joseph are also Mexicans. Behind the scene are the mountains of Mexico. Just behind Mary is a cactus. There is a cactus behind Joseph as well.

Before you chuckle, remember there are times we have put our own “spin” on Jesus. We may argue that our beliefs about Jesus shaped by scripture, but they are shaped by lots of other things too. We have assigned Him a personality and invented Jesus into the person we wanted him to be. But he repeatedly breaks his culturally assigned identity. He doesn’t fit. He’s different. He has strange ideas: Turn the other cheek. Give all your money to the poor. If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat as well. Strange. I guess we must begin by gaining a more accurate understanding of the real Jesus – one that is free of our traditional understanding and religious presuppositions. We say it so loosely, that we underestimate how big it is to aspire to be like Jesus. “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.” (Ephesians 5:1)

Perhaps it is time to reread the gospels with fresh hermeneutic in order to see what we might be missing. Jesus might be a little easier for people to follow if we didn’t keep changing Him so much. As a child I knew Jesus to be a light-skinned, handsome, bearded, kind man. He avoided places like movie theatres and dance halls. He never made real wine. He wouldn’t even eat in restaurants where alcohol was served. He only listened to Sandi Patti and Carmen (especially “The Champion”), and he liked to remind people that hell was their fate should they be inflicted in an automobile accident. Today, Jesus is much more easy-going and friendly. Now they claim he would make real wine, and go to the movies if he was accompanied by an unsaved friend. Sigh. I wonder when our silly religious assumptions will become less important than our pledge to love people.

As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport, delayed, sitting near a grown man who is playing with his children in the play structure. (The man I’m staring at is famous – an actor or musician or something. I recognize his face, but I have no idea who he is. Excited people are asking him for autographs. Airline agents are giving him extra care.) Other parents are just watching, but this man is playing. He is too big to fit in the play thing but it doesn’t matter. The kids are happy to have dad helping them avoid angry sharks that live in the airport’s faded blue carpet. He hops from chair to chair (I mean, life-raft to life-raft) to the delightful squeals of the children. It makes me think of Jesus.

I look at this man and think about his departure from his comfortable environment – the place made for him – and his attempt to fit into someone else’s world. He doesn’t quit fit, but those who love him are delighted with the effort. He says to his kids, “I’m going to see if we can get a different flight. If we get home earlier that’ll be good news! And, if we can’t get home earlier, it’ll still be good news because we get to play longer!” That seems like Jesus. He left heaven for earth. He left eternity. Chose time and space. He came so that we could be with him a little longer – well, forever.

Secondly, we must love. For whatever else Christians are known for, we are not known for our love. We must love harder and better. Love is a tremendous apologetic. Jesus loves the celebrity and the obscure. Philip Yancey wrote, “The more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons. In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought him uncouth and worldly, a rich young ruler walked away shaking his head, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness. [How] strange this pattern seemed, since the Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the people most suspicious of Jesus on earth.

What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus’ day? Why don’t sinners like being around us?” If we do not love, nothing else matters. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We must not judge. Religion can become judgment, and judgment is the enemy of love. If we judge people, we have no room to love them. Incarnation is an ageless miracle. Just like the celebrity who shrank himself to fit into a play gym, or Jesus who reduced himself to the size of a baby to redeem us, we are told to leave our usual environment and enter foreign lives – as pilgrims and strangers – and reflect an authentic Christ. It is possible to follow Jesus without embarrassing God.

“Suppose we hear an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation…would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape…Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre.” (Chesterton)

Update: The celebrity dude was Ethan Hawke.

Why Are We Insecure?

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There are several interrelated and broad explanations as to why we operate so often in insecurity. First, our understanding of God’s love is deficient. Our striving to prove ourselves, in order to be validated by those around us, clearly communicates that we really do not believe our own teachings about grace.

Insecurity tells us that you are what you do, and if you do not do, then you are nothing. Yet in fact you are made worthy not by what you do but by the reality that you are a child of God. Therefore, you must not lead for acceptance, but from acceptance. James Lawrence expresses this in his fantastic book, Growing Leaders, and continues by saying, “Unless we know we are chosen, the children of a loving God, we will lead from an insecure place, constantly twisting the privilege of a leadership position to meet our own needs.”

The Bible says that you are his workmanship. In other words, you are a masterpiece. On one of those antique evaluation shows, people show up with junk and walk away with valuable treasures after an appraiser reveals its true value. Have you ever seen the painting Dora Maar au Chat? I have no real understanding of art, but in my opinion it is a creepy image comparable to some of the projects done by school children. However, Dora Maar au Chat is worth at least $102 million! The reason? Pablo Picasso painted it. Because of the artist, it is almost priceless. You have immense worth because of who painted you. His signature is scribed onto you. You may feel low when you consider intelligence, looks, popularity, or ability—but you are “worth more than gold.”

Second, we operate in insecurity because we pursue personal agendas rather than follow Jesus. Without a focus on Jesus, our motives for leadership become skewed by our own needs. Our abilities promote us to places where our character cannot keep us. We become victims of our own giftedness. We have clever strategy sessions to formulate creative vision plans without prayer; yet Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Gerald Harrison contends, “Ministry is what we leave in our tracks as we concentrate on following Jesus.” We should fix our eyes on the Father. Leaders must ask, “What is motivating me to do, or not do, the ministries that I am performing?” The motivation question is the most important self-assessment to consider.

Third, we neglect to cultivate an intimate relationship with God. The quantity of ministry confidence we possess is directly related to the depth of our spiritual walk. It is a “first love” issue. “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:2, 4). We are insecure because we know things are not well in our spiritual lives. Some leaders rarely practice spiritual disciplines. We do not pray as we should. The Scriptures have become “for reference only.” Solitude is not practiced. Fasting has become obsolete. Repentance seems passé. We are so busy trying to change others that we forget to continually change ourselves.

In contrast, as George Barna writes in Revolution, “Revolutionaries zealously pursue an intimate relationship with God, which Jesus promised we could have through Him. They recognize that there is a huge price to pay in this life-time… but an eternal pay-off as well.”

Oswald Chambers adds to this truth when he writes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ, the greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for him… The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for him.” Knowing and doing His will depends on the substance of our relationship with Him. If our “first love” is not healthy, then nothing else in our lives will be completely healthy, either.

Next, we lack clear purpose and mission. Mother Teresa for example, had a clear mission. She once said, “I am not [made] for meetings and conventions. Speaking in public and I don’t agree.” She refused to be distracted by the lure of the crowd. Without a clear purpose in life, we are left to work day by day, giving ourselves over to the tyranny of the urgent rather than the important. We bounce from project to project and never get to do that which we were called to do. We try to lay track in front of a moving train. Consequently, we never determine our particular purpose in the Mission. We never figure out our “wiring,” our “sweet spot,” or our “niche.” We become unsure of what we have been called to achieve. We are pushed to a place of doubt. Chris Gardner, the man behind the story featured in the film The Pursuit of Happyness, understood the importance of realizing purpose. He once said, “Find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.”

Lastly, we do not make an effort to resolve our issues. Skeletons remain in the closet. Bad habits go unchallenged. Temptations and tendencies get ignored. The love of money, lust, or power strangles our potential. It is impossible for those held captive to their issues to feel secure. Every prisoner feels the torment of being under the control of something. Leadership confidence has little to do with theological prowess, management competencies, personality, or skillset. Instead, such security comes from knowing God’s love, having clarity of purpose, resolving our issues, and developing closeness with Christ.

(You can buy Everest Leader’s Everest for Kindle…. right now it is on for $1.)

Leadership 101 – What Every Leader Needs to Know (Maxwell)

leadership101 Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know by John C Maxwell

Maxwell believes in what he calls the “Law of the Lid”. Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid is on his/her potential. The higher the leadership ability, the greater is the individual’s effectiveness. For example, on a scale of 1-10 if your leadership ability is 8 then your effectiveness potential can never be greater than 7.

Your leadership ability, for better or worse, always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact on your organization. Leadership is a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved. This learning process takes time. However, some people are born with greater natural gifts than others and these gifts can make the learning process easier and less time consuming.

Maxwell suggests that there are four (4) phrases of leadership growth:

#1 I don’t know what I don’t like:

These people do not know the value of leadership or the opportunities they will miss by not educating themselves in leadership.

#2 I know what I don’t know:

These people know they need to learn how to lead

#3 I grow and I know and it starts to show:

These people are hungry to learn and should continue to learn all their lives. They learn to be great leaders but it will take time.

#4 I simply lead because of what I know:

By the time a person gets to phase 4 your ability to lead is almost automatic

Leadership is developed daily not in a day. No matter where you start, you can get better. This is true even for people who are considered good leaders. To become a good leader you must develop self-discipline and no one obtains success without it.

PRIORITIZING:

Follow the 80/20 rule – 20% of your priorities will give you 80% of your production. Devote your energy and resources to those 20%. This rule also holds true for your staff. 20% of them will be responsible for 80% of your company’s success.

Three (3) common problems that are found in many organizations include:

Abuse – too few employees are doing too much

Disuse – too many employees are doing too little

Misuse – too many employees are doing the wrong things

FOUR (4) LEADERSHIP MYTHS:

1.  Leadership and Management are the same: Leadership is more about influencing people. Management focuses on maintaining systems and procedure

2. The Entrepreneur Myth: All good salesmen and good entrepreneurs make good leaders. People may buy what these folks sell but they are not following them.

3. The Knowledge Myth: People who possess knowledge are usually good leaders. Not always. IQ doesn’t necessarily equate to good leadership

4. The Pioneer Myth: People who are the first to do or create something are good leaders. Not so. They must also have others intentionally following their lead.

 

(Book Summary by Dr. Ralph Klicker, CCF Certified Coach Practitioner & Founder/President of the Thanos Institute)

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