Category Archives: listening

Please stop empowering Africans. And pretty much every else as well.

Lets have a conversation about power. Who has it and who doesn’t?

 as long as I’m the one giving away the power, the power actually still is mine.

Empowerment as a concept is so ingrained in the leadership literature that to dare question is to invite scorn and reprisal.

But first a story.

As the leader of a multinational church in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I was privileged to work with brilliant people from all over the globe on a daily basis.

And then it happened. A problem was brought to my attention.

“The Tanzanians are saying that the Kenyans are getting favorable treatment in regards to leadership positions. You need to raise up the Tanzanians.”

This kind of accusation had the potential to undermine all the effort we had put into creating this amazing community. This was emotional, hitting at some of my deep fears, of being a white man leading a church made of predominantly of Africans. And certainly, an extremely diverse group. My gut told me to jump in with typical empowerment language in leadership.

“What can we do?”

“How can we empower more Tanzanians in leadership?”

Here’s the accidental solution that forever turned the conversation in our community. My response?

“How can I raise up someone who is my equal?”

The eyes around the room woke up. The dynamic in the room immediately changed. The conversation moved from accusations of ethnic favoritism to solution based ideas about why more Kenyans were finding our leadership paths than Tanzanians. Partnership, not power differentials.

How can I raise up my equal?

The language of empowerment is based on upon one dangerous subtle problem with empowerment. Empowerment is based on power differentials. Someone who has more power gives some of that power to someone who has less of it. That’s empowerment.Think Nuclear generator gives power to substation, gives power to transformer, gives power to your house, gives power to your cell phone. Where does the power truly come from? The battery on your phone? No, it comes from the reactor, dolling out bits and pieces of its power to dependent devices. 

 Partners all bring their power to the table. 

But the Tanzanians I knew were powerful people. In our community, they were often more educated than me. Engineers and MBAs, statesmen and women, and UN representatives. Lawyers and Doctors and lecturers populated our community. But entrepreneurs and street survival PhDs as well. To make it in the dense urban jungle of Dar es Salaam, you had to be powerful.

By abandoning the language of empowerment, with myself as the one in power, to be given to those “under” me, I accidentally stumbled on the greatest leadership lesson I know. We were PARTNERS in this venture to create a new kind of community. And partners all bring their power to the table.

The language of partnership is one of equals coming to a common table. Sure, there are junior partners and senior partners at times, but the power dynamics and differentials take on an entirely different dynamic through this lens.  We don’t empower women and people of various ethnicities because as long as I’m the one giving away the power, the power actually still is mine. But when we partner together, as equals working towards a common goal, I don’t have to minimize myself to help others succeed. And they don’t have to bring a subservient mindset to the table because they received this gift of “power” from me.

To my community, I brought my creativity and positivity. I brought technical skills and years of living internationally. I brought my full self.  To our partnership, my Tanzanians friends brought insight, and funds, and education and knowledge that I didn’t have. My Kenyan friends, my Zambian and Dutch and British friends brought their uniqueness and insight and beauty and genius. Together, as equals, we worked towards a common goal.  As partners.

Empowerment then comes in the form of junior members of the team being given opportunity. Those less experienced in leadership were shown pathways that allowed for the learning and growing that needs to happen for all of us.  True leaders recognize the dignity and power pre-existing, and simply partner with partners to see growth and development.

Because here’s the thing. The Africans and internationals I served empowered me. They gave me their love and care and attention and friendship and loyalty. As a leader, what greater gift can you receive?

A genius parenting hack applied to business.

I wrote yesterday about my dad’s accidental parenting genius.

By asking his kids which movies he should see, my dad not only empowered us with decisions that impacted our lives, but also decisions that impacted his life.

He trusted us to maintain his integrity.

In business, it may be easy to empower employees to most decisions that affect them or their department. Yet, how many of the decisions that impact the whole organization do we allow second and third tier leaders to make?

Here’s what I mean. If decisions that impact the whole organization are only handled at the executive level, then the onus is never on the other leaders to make value based decisions. This isn’t “What would be the boss do?” but rather “Is this a decision that would maintain the boss’s integrity?” Subtle, but powerful difference.

Am I suggesting that executives push all major decisions down the flowchart? Of course not.

But if only a few people ever get to make important decisions, or decisions that only impact their department, they learn that they are not capable of making value based decisions. Their decisions don’t impact the whole.

Occasionally, ask for input from someone 2 or three tiers down. You might be surprised to find that your values start to seep into other areas of decision making.

5 gifts that will revolutionize your marriage and your husband

What do I get for the guy who has everything?

Mother’s Day is a national holiday. Father’s day is a national disaster.

To succeed at being a mom, you need to show up and love.

To succeed as a dad, you’ve got to be much more.

Provider, protection, fountain of wisdom, strong but gentle, bold but wise. Humble yet authoritative. Supportive but not domineering.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a dad ranks above pretty much everything else. That 3 little people think I hung the moon is pretty cool. But somedays, I struggle. Am I being a good dad? Will my kids end up in counseling? From what I’ve seen, Dad’s can have enormously positive or incredibly destructive influence on their kids. So as such, here are 5 things you can give the father of your children.

  1. Give him the gift of adulthood.

    Don’t parent him. Challenge him as an adult, not as a child. Give him the same tone of voice you would someone that you deeply respect. I’m shocked at how many women I see who treat their husbands like “one of the kids.” Then, they are surprised when he acts the part.

  2. Let him mess up

    He knows it when he does. But pointing out his mistakes doesn’t help most men I know.

  3. Let him make decisions you don’t like.

    Does your husband feel like he “gets in trouble?” See gift #1

  4. Learn about his favorite hobby.

    “Let’s talk” can be the most intimidating words a man has ever heard. If conversation began with “tell me about…” and a question related to a non-emotional, non-landmine topic, you might find you have a talker on your hands.

What are gifts you can give that will improve your marriage?

Jesus and the Naughty List

Jesus Vs Santa

My 4 year old was worried about the naughty list. Her, shall we say, “impulse control” is sometimes missing. After one little altercation in the car on the way to church, her little voice piped from the back row of the minivan.

“Will I not get any presents for Christmas?”

The frustrated father in me wanted to tell her, “That’s right, little miss! You better straighten up and watch yourself!”

But somewhere from deep within another voice broke through my parental frustration.

“Honey, mommy and daddy will get you gifts whether you are good or not.”

Her shock was apparent “ What?”

“Honey, Jesus died for us, despite of that fact that we were very much on the naughty list. It’s called grace. You get what you don’t deserve.

Honey, mommy and daddy give you gifts because we love you, not because you are naughty or nice.”

I’ve often wondered how to teach my children the concept of grace. I think I stumbled onto something that day.

The message of Christmas is that we were all on the naughty list. We were all destined to get far worse than a lump of coal. Yet born in a manager that morning was a gift we did not deserve, the greatest gift of all.

We were all on the naughty list

Now I just have to get them to be nice some other way.

Depression, Robin Williams and why Matt Walsh is wrong

Robin Williams

“Just get over it.”

“Just let it go.”

“Just snap out of it.”

The tragic death of comedian and actor Robin Williams has brought to light once again the terrible battle that those who face depression fight.

But as a Christian, what should I do with depression?

Popular blogger Matt Walsh as usual has all the answers. Except this time, I think he’s wrong.

The reality is that some of the most famous saints throughout the ages fell into depression: King Saul, King David, The apostle Paul, and Martin Luther to name but just a few.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t get it. I’ve flirted with depression at times, been in its embrace but never intimately, not like Robin Williams. But someone I love deeply has. Someone whom I’ve walked with for 17 years has.

I will admit, there are days that I get sick of hearing about it. Being a friend to someone who struggles with depression is not easy at times. The intensity levels are high. Until grace comes.

A young pastor was recently preaching on depression and said something to the effect of “a Christian who consistently does not have joy in their lives is a poor witness for Christ.” I was so glad my friend was not in the crowd that night. Tell that person something they don’t know! Like they want to be depressed?  Tell them to be joyful, it’s a commandment.  But how, when joy is the elusive bird that always flies away and never lands on their soul?

As disciples of Jesus, not just followers, we are often faced with people who can’t seem to overcome certain battles. And the temptation is to “just move on.” Discard them as those who will never “get it.” How sad and wrong.

The Apostle Paul says “I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan.”

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Good News Translation (GNT)

“8 Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

For the Christian who struggles with the darkness of depression. I say, you are not alone, you are in good company of men and women who have lived and breathed and drank deeply of the well of God’s grace, and whose life is a testimony that we all need Jesus, desperately, passionately. Grace is far more than just forgiveness of sins. Grace is the fuel that the broken soul needs to be satisfied.

For the friend of the depressed, believer or not, three suggestions.

  1. Be there.

One of the effects of depression is that you desperately want to be alone. You also desperately need to be around people. Give the gift of presence. Invade their lives, but do so quietly. Don’t ask for conversation, or give solutions. Crowds are bad. Show up. Repeatedly. Let the bad days wash over you. Don’t take it personal. Give the gift of presence.2.

2. Be patient

If the depressed person could snap out of it, they would. “Interventions” can be helpful, or completely destructive. Be careful your “interventions” are not just because you are tired of dealing with the problem. Be a true friend, who understands that eternity is a long time, and that a friendship of 20 years that helps carry a person to eternity is well worth the effort.

3. Don’t give up hope.

I have a son who has a long term debilitating condition for which medicine has no cure. My darkest moments are when I give up hope and depression reaches out her falsely embracing arms. But Hope is the fuel of the human soul. I believe in healing, even if I sometimes have a hard time believing its possible for my son.

I believe that depression is treatable, can even be overcome. The worst pronouncement you can make upon the life of anyone is that they are hopeless. Depression can be overcome. Hopelessness can’t.

Robin Williams lost hope. Suicide is a terrible waste, a devastating legacy, and a painful unexplainable wound to the loved ones. Williams I am sure could have articulated the pain that his suicide would cause his family. Logically he could have processed. Somehow though, he went from logic to hopelessness. That is why presence is so important.

When things are good, our friends like us. When things are bad, our friends need us. Be a friend who brings gentle hope today.

Jesus’s $7.2 million wedding gift. Or the overkill miracles.

Overkill Generosity

Today on the way to our place of worship, my son Riley had a meltdown.

“I want to give an offering! I want an offering.”

Now, before you take our your bully stick, we haven’t forced our kids to consider giving. They give because they want to, under no obligation from us. The heart of this little kid was amazing. Certainly, I’ve never cried on the way to church:

“Lord, I want to give an offering! I’m not going unless I have an offering.”

But what about when the situation is reversed. When Jesus is seemingly forced into engaging when he doesn’t really want to, which BTW he never really does. The first miracle he does is the water into wine. Remember that? Jesus is at a wedding party and they are almost out of wine. Cutting to the chase, he turns water into wine and give the bride and groom a wonderful gift. No being shamed at their wedding. Or at least their families.

But because I’m cheap, I did the math. Side note again, my parents used to live in the wine hills of France. A good bottle of champagne, or an aged wine, might cost a bit. A little research here tells me that “the best wine” is well over $10,000. I operate with a worldview that Jesus probably made the best wine in the world. So let’s take the 10,000 mark per bottle, estimate 4 bottles per gallon, that’s 40,000 a gallon. Still with me? 30 gallons in the jar. $1.2 million per jar. 6 jars. 7.2 million dollar wedding gift. Kind of overkill don’t you think? For a bunch of villagers in a tiny place called Cana?

And then there’s the feeding of 5000 and the 4000. Why the left overs. 12 baskets of leftovers. Assuming a basket would feed 1 family for 4 days, maybe 5, that’s a lot of leftovers.

How much were the leftover worth?
How much were the leftovers worth?

And then the fish. 153 of whatever got caught in the nets. That’s overkill isn’t it. Filling the nets would have been enough. Overflowing, that’s Jesus style.

Suffering is part of the Gospel story. I know that. Blessed are the poor. I have lived that. But today, I’ve begun to wonder about this God who wants to give good gifts to his kids. Even the ones that have prepared NOT properly, or NOT done things right.

Lord, My hands are open.

Why Customer services agents shouldn’t ask how they can help.

A bad day had just gotten worse. My flight out of Springfield Mo had been delayed because of what I felt was staff incompetence. New FFA rules were blamed on the plane being delayed because ground crew needed more rest time.

De-icing a plane

Instead of redeeming the time, the plane was only de-iced after we pulled back from the gate, 30 minutes late. Meaning that I missed my connection in Chicago. I was on standby for the next flight but not real happy.

@Tweeting  someone these days is the fastest way to get customer service. No one wants their reputation ruined. Within seconds of mentioning American Airlines in a tweet, their customer service team wrote back.
AA reply-2.jpg

This was their reply seconds later.
AA reply.jpg

That was impressive. So was the offer to help. Unfortunately, the offer was empty. They couldn’t help. They couldn’t get me on that plane. It was already full. (Disclaimer: I got on the flight just fine, but 3 hours before did not know how it would work out).
Tweets

Customer service is coached to ask “How can I help you?” Then when the customer asks for something the representative can’t do, you are at an impasse.I had a boss one time who frequently asked “Let me know if I can help you in any way.” The couple times I reached out and he couldn’t help, well, I just stopped asking. The offer was sincere, but wasn’t phrased properly.

I suggest that HR change their trainnig. Don’t ask “How can I help you today?” but rather “ Tell me the reason for contacting us today.” Then, if you can’t help, a simple “I’m sorry, please excuse us” will suffice. But if you offer to help, and you can’t, then you’ve begun the conversation with a customer by lying to them.

What do you think?
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Here comes the Boom! Why Leaders don’t pile it on.

Leaders don’t “pile it on”

Movie: Here comes the Boom!

When I was in kindergarden, we lived beside the elementary school playground in Pittsburgh, Texas. One of our friends from church, Benji* was on the team 7th grade football team. My brother and I used to like to watch practice. One day, realizing that he had a cheering squad, Benji* went out of his way to show off. The first chance he got, he jumped on top of the pile at the end of a play. And spent the rest of practice doing laps. That was the last time we attended practice.

“Piling on” isn’t fun or useful, but it is tempting. Someone is the target of frustration or irritation and the easy answer is to “pile it on.”

Leaders ask questions before they jump on top of the pile.

I’ve had two situations in my career where things were going really poorly on the personal front. At that moment, a well-intentioned leader decided to challenge me on an issue. As I fellow leader, I recognize he has that right. Both times though, my inner feeling was one of having one more thing “piled on.” This was not the “feather that broke the camel’s back” but rather a 10 pound brick that crushed the camel. Suck it up, Charles. I did.

Looking back, I wish both critiques had begun with questions rather than statements. “Did you know…?” or “Can you explain…?” would have given opportunity for those leaders to bring about the correction and guidance they were trying to give to me without beginning by adding insult to injury. Both times they were right, but both times I was already aware of the issue. I just didn’t know the way forward, and that’s what I needed their leadership.

Leaders do not always have the time to make sure they know the whole context before issuing directives. But if you are going to “lower the boom,” make sure the person isn’t already on the ground. And certainly make sure you have a solution, not just an observation. That’s leadership.

Have you ever had someone “lower the boom” on you? Did it help?

Know thy neighbor

This is a guest post by Linda Feriera. Linda blogs at http://livingintherightturnlane.blogspot.com. I strongly suggest you read her post on Boys will be Boys. You can also find her on twitter.

Know thy Neighbor . .
Know thy neighbor.jpg

Growing up, my mother, just like most mothers, encouraged us to do our best in school, make right choices and to be kind to others. It was a life lesson that my mother taught me not so much with her words, but with her actions and it has been a principle that I have tried to live by and for good reason.

My mother always told us to get to know those around you, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker so to speak. My mother knew her neighbors, and those she did business with. We would walk into the grocery store and she would know the cashier and the boy bagging our groceries by name. She knew the local pharmacy owner by name and always asked how his wife and kids were doing. We would go through the drive thru lane at the bank and it was “Hey Mary, how’s your son doing in college? Did he get that job?” As a teenager I remember thinking it was a nuisance and even embarrassing that she would do this.

Now as an adult I look back and see just how wise she was. In the earlier years of our lives when we stilled lived with a father who abused alcohol, spending money on his addiction and little on food, it was the relationship that my mother had with the local owner of a small grocery store that he allowed her purchase food on credit and pay it back slowly over time.

When our ailing grandmother lived with us and didn’t have insurance to pay for her medication, it was because of the relationship that my mother had with the owner of the pharmacy that he promised my mother that medication would be given even if it took years to pay off my grandmothers bills.

I could give many more examples but the lesson I learned was to get to know the people in your life. In a world where technology plays more importance than relationships, face to face relationships this can be a challenge, but it’s important.

When our son almost died from encephalitis several years ago, I saw the relationships that we had nurtured come to my aid in ways I could never repay. When we began the process of moving to the south last year, it was a simple text to a handful of friends that I was in need of help, and the responses of “I’ll be there” began to pour in. It was the personal relationship I had developed with our family doctor that when after moving I began to believe something was not right, that I wasn’t feeling like myself that she took my phone call from the south and came to my aid.

It is the very relationships that we nurtured and established over the years that made our move to the south difficult to leave, but have been there to make the transition smoother, even from a distance. Having left a daughter behind to finish high school there have several times where others have been there to fill in what she needed because of our relationship with them. (Not just friends, but doctors, dentists, etc.) Making the decision to allow her to stay there was made easier because of the network we had developed.

Yes, while it’s much easier to text, email and connect on social media, the lesson of good old fashioned face to face conversations is one that I want to pass on to my children. Know who your neighbor is, talk to the person who bags your groceries, and get to know others in a more personal way.

Seems simple, but it’s an art I think the younger generation stands to lose as technology begins to replace face time in our relationships.

Let us know if you know your neighbors or not over on our FB page
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5 good reasons to leave a church

Today, I ran across this article. I agree with most of the author’s thought but it got me thinking. What would be a good reason to leave a church?

Image from aarongly.com

Here are some reasons I came up with.

  1. You are sent out.  This one may seem obvious, but there are times that God has a plan and you are part of it. Planting a new church, helping another church, serving in another area, there are many reasons that could fall into this category. When James River Church decided to plant a church in Austin, Texas, 250 members agreed to pick up and move to the new city to be part of the effort. Not everyone ended up going, but that’s the idea.

My wife and I left Real Life church in 2000 to become missionaries with our movement. We were sent out.

2. Life circumstances change. There are times where changes occur that are part of God’s larger plan but we don’t control. “If a man won’t work, he won’t eat.” Jobs, medical, aging family, children’s education, all of these can be reasons to leave a community of faith.

Let me just say though that a new job offer doesn’t necessarily mean that is a good or valid reason to leave an area. A community of faith where your family can grow and serve to me is worth more than lots of gold in the bank.

3. Sin and doctrinal error. I am continually amazed at how many people will remain in a church when sin is not confronted and doctrinal error is not corrected.

Listen, I could be accused of being too soft on stuff. In our church, we had people who were not living lives according to the scriptures. We challenged constantly, and these people did not teach, nor did they lead. Everyone is on a journey, I get that. However that is different from a church I know of that did not confront an elder who was known to be involved in an affair, even allowing that man to continue to serve communion. Another church that I attended for a short time allowed someone to teach heresy from the pulpit and did not correct the teaching. When I asked them why, they said: “he’s a layman. We don’t hold him to the same standards.” Many of the congregants that day left with their faith undermined because of the teachings of this man.

For parents especially, this is critical. Difficult as it is to raise kids in this generation, we invite even more pain and hurt when we continue to expose them to hypocritical environments. Could I attend a church which held to Calvinism even though I’m not? I believe so. Could I attend a church were salvation was not by grace alone, or Jesus was not the sole way to the Father? Absolutely not.

*if there is sin, and the local leadership is not dealing with it, do not hesitate to call in higher church officials. There is more at stake than the local church.

4. Unresolved conflict. Here is a place where I might get myself in trouble with some. However, conflict happens, even in the scriptures. Paul and Barnabas separated over conflict. We infer from Paul’s later writing that at some point in the future, that was resolved. However, the truth is this. Unresolved conflict is poison in the life of a church and ministry. Repentance is necessary. Humility is necessary. Once those steps have been passed through, sometimes separation is necessary. Someone in the church has an affair with someone else in the church. Most likely, those families won’t worship together for a number of years and shouldn’t be expected to. The problem with conflict is that it is often swept under the rug and ignored. However, if the conflict doesn’t resolve after a time, it’s better to remove yourself from the situation, at least for a time.

5. Disagreement with leadership. And I’m not talking about not liking a sermon, or even sin. There are times where we feel ourselves at dissonance with the leadership and the direction of the church. This isn’t an automatic “let’s pack the bags.” Particularly if you are a leader, you need to be very careful, because you do not want to be the cause of a split. Measure your conversation. Are you gathering those around you who build up or who tear down? Who are excited or who are critical?

Listen, you can disagree and not leave. But your heart and your attitude should remain pure. If your heart begins to be in jeopardy, step aside. Pray, seek God. Find your joy in salvation and the pleasure of serving.

What to do if you decide to leave?

  1. Simple. Leave, and leave quietly. Don’t leave angry. David was heartbroken about leaving Saul. He maintained a correct attitude and posture towards his King.
  2. Refuse to engage in negative talk about your former place of worship. Spend time praying and find yourself a good way to guide conversations away from that area. Don’t give innuendo but you don’t have to give too much information either. “It was time to change for my family” should be enough. If someone pushes, they are probably a gossip and not worth talking to anyway.

So what do you think? When is a good reason to leave? What is a good way to leave?