Friday, April 28, 2017

Much better than me?

The leadership adage goes that A people hire B people and B people hire C people and so on and so forth. Pretty soon that leads to certain disappointment and then we find ourselves wondering what happen? How did the ship lose its rudder? How did we fail to achieve all that we are dreaming about? Why is our organization less than we had hoped it would be?

When we lived in Canada many many years ago, we attended a church that was really incredible. Yet the lead pastor was an underwhelming small-minded, uninspiring, less than ideal pastor and leader in almost every respect - except one. He hired A level people. He surrounded himself with people that were better in every way than himself.  He truly sought out and retained the best in the business! That takes either brilliance or an amazing level of self-confidence. I still haven't figured out which one of those Wayne possessed, but I learned an important lesson and it is one I have honed all my life and I continue to sharpen and employ across the board.

I surround myself with the best people. I systematically eliminate whiners and low-potential people from my work and from my social networks. It sounds cold to some of you. It sounds exciting to some of you. Hahaha! The reality is that it is incredibly challenging and overwhelmingly difficult to intentionally choose to be the slowest person in the room. Read that sentence again, because it is truly true. It demands a humility that runs so deep, a self-awareness that is brutally painful and teachable at the same time. A refusal to think for a moment that I am on the same level as these folks. Most folks I meet and know, could not stand the heat in this particular kitchen, and so they don't. Instead they surround themselves with less. Less than they are so that they can shine. Less than they are so that they can be in the spotlight. Less than they are in order to have power and control and so many other things.

But they lose in that process. They lose the opportunity to learn. They lose the opportunity to improve. They lose the chance to grow. They lose chance to impact the next generation of leaders. And most of all, they lose the certainty of becoming much more than they are today.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The slow concentrated present

The slow concentrated present

I had a good friend send me a link today of a great Cal Newport blog about several things that he personally does to improve his deep thinking/deep work ability. He listens to baseball games on the radio - a task that has none of the glamor and BSO (bright shiny objects) that easily distract us and keep our fleeting attention engaged. Listening to a live game requires a unique concentration . . . and yes there are commercial breaks and Mr Newport fills those empty times in with a book.

Since I am no baseball fan, I had to work a bit to find some parallels that I could apply in my life to train myself to listen better, focus longer and train my brain to do something deeper and more significant than Twitter or Facebook.

So at last I settled on a whip-lash speed story audiobook series that forces me to listen carefully or I have to rewind to find the thread where my concentration broke and I lost the storyline or missed some details. So far I have found that . . . that I have to rewind frequently! And I do this while riding my bicycle trainer or outside bike up the mountain near my apartment. It makes the exercise go quickly, while entertaining me too. Hopefully I am making progress in deeper focus and concentration!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Accepting responsibility . . . the key to self-respect?

It is impossibly difficult to get your work done some days, it is so challenging and there are outside forces combining to defeat you at every single turn, to destroy your every effort to fulfill your responsibilities. Focus is fractured. The action never happens. The intensity of the urgency of the immediate consumes all ambition to do the important and change the world for the better. The costs of ignoring the loudest closest clanging blood-relative is so high, as to prohibitively decimate every wish hope and plan to do the amazing. The collaboration of each innocent piece and person clammoring for our limited and ever-so-important attention, overwhelms and drowns our best intentions. Even as I scramble to get all things done, and get out of the hotel within the time frames required, get back on the road, accomplish the next task and event, there are ever higher tasks and events screaming for their accomplishment too. 


But I can make difficult choices. I can make a different set of decisions. I can respond in various ways to this conversation. We can accept responsibility for our own lives, rather than blaming the fiery intensity of too many choices and and options. We can change the world, if we are willing to choose to do so, and pay the prices of those decisions.

"Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.” - Joan Didion

Monday, March 20, 2017

Traveling with the worlds smallest computer

I am on a four day business trip. I make a trip like this several times each month. Travel is the middle name in my life. I basically fly to work, rather than drive, even though I did that too, as I drove myself to the airport and parked my car there for a few days. I am not complaining only explaining so that you understand I travel - a lot. And I have a screen for every length of a trip. In my life, you want to take just enough technology to get by while on the road. Just like you only want to take enough clothes and no more. While I am allowed 32 kilos of baggage on this trip, I am traveling with a small carry on instead. Why in the world would I need 70.4 pounds of baggage for a four day trip?? One pair of jeans (which I am wearing!), one suitcoat, two dress shirts, three socks, three underwears, two sets of work out clothes, sneakers, and two phones and one external keyboard and some cigars to enjoy along the way.

The reality is that the phones constitute the world's smallest computers, and I have both an Android and an Apple device on this trip, which gives me a total of three SIM cards and phone numbers and data plans as I am on this four day trip. Honestly my phone can do every single thing my computer can, and the only constraints are storage and (the worst of course is) the small screen. Otherwise, the upsides, are the diminutive size and weight of the phones, and that you are not required to whip them out as you go through security.

For a short intense face to face business trip which will have limited sit-and-work-from-a-screen time anyways, the trade off is clearly in favor of the worlds smallest computers. I will let you know in another blog on the way home IF, I regret this decision in retrospect and why.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Radiation burn

What a week I had recently, six flights in three days and according to those who know, I am in danger of radiation burn, or over exposure. But that has been the case for a number of years now, although I will admit these last few days have been turbo travel. Business travel is really dangerous the health and well being of the business traveler. However there is no other way to get from A to B in these time frames.

It is a hurry up and wait life. So you need to maximixe all the opportunities and moments along the way to either be very productive or to be very in the moment and just be. Yet it needs to be said that the connections made possible by this turbo travel are not trifling. They are connections and opportunities and high potentials to change the world. The timid don't take these options, too difficult they argue, too taxing they say, too dangerous and the cost too high they posit, and the moments are gone. 

Sometimes you simply have to go big or stay home. I often would like to stay home, but I would rather make the big impact, complete the chance to change everything, to matter. Staying home is overrated.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The seduction

The humble-brag of the modern world is busyness. I have been taught this my entire life it seems. It is how I found myself working insane hours for decades in my previous vocation. There may not be a worse method for measuring your real significance in life.

Dan Rockwell says, "The seduction of feeling important because you’re busy trivializes leaders." I would go further by stating that the seduction of feeling important by the level of your busyness trivializes everyone.

If I am important simply because I am in demand, needed, busy or sought after then I have chosen the metric of activity to be my metric, rather than the importance of what I am doing, or the actual productivity of what I am accomplishing. Activity and productivity are not the same metric. 

Nor do I want to simply be more productive, in order that I can do more. I want to be more productive so that I can do the important in less time or with less effort, in order to have margin and space in life to do the most significant things, like thinking, sharing my life with key people, enjoying the moments, and having less pressure on every deadline of my vocational work - not in order to add more and more to my plate. Think of it as having a properly balanced cycle of enough. Enough work to change the world, only enough tasks to do it well, and enough resources to not have to worry  overly about paying the rent and eating.

I am important and significant because of what I choose to do, not how many pies I have my fingers in, or am needed to complete. Be significant not busy!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

A little more permanence in life?

Having lived most of the last 23 years abroad, I am not sure how you would classify us culturally or emotionally any longer. We are such a mix of so many different experiences and countries and cities and languages over the course of our lives. We are Westerners passport-wise, but we live very small and unusual compared to practically anyone we know from the West. 

We drive the oldest cars, have the smallest apartment, live like poor church mice in a poverty stricken part of town, yet we spend and give amazing amounts of resources each year to the work and ministry that we are involved in and enjoy. None of this is said with any pride, because someone gave us all those resources to begin with, and we do not view them as ours to spend on ourselves. And most of the time I am 100% ok with living like this, except when I am not.

Lately I am not. Honestly I have been really weary of eating off the plastic table that we have been using for the last five years. We would have been using it longer than that but the two places we lived previously came with actual tables to eat on. And for some reason, maybe after spilling my coffee a million times did me in, or perhaps it was just how amazingly ugly this picnic table has become, but for some reason, I wanted a real table to eat on. I have to confess, it is the one piece of furniture that my parents have that I am jealous for, a huge beautiful wood table. It has such a sense of permanence to it, longevity to it, and they have had it most of my life!

Of course our apartment is way too small to have a table like the one my parents have, but I have been hankering for a table for a long long while now. One with some weight to it, some "we are gonna stay here a long time" feel to it. Now the first wall I had to climb was to get Brenda to agree to spending a dime on anything for us. That took me over a year. Finally she capitulated as she finally got the sense of how important this was to me, no matter how irrational. But getting us to both agree on which table to get, oh my that was a serious wall to climb. We would go to a furniture showroom and she invariably would want to buy the cheapest one there. That is precisely why we have been eating off a plastic table for years! I would invariably want the most well-made one, regardless of the cost. I was wanting something with some substance!

Well long story short, we finally moved a table into the apartment today and got rid of that horrid old plastic thing. Sometimes, you need a bit of permanence to shed that "I am living out of a suitcase" feeling. Here is a pic of the long negotiated piece of furniture in question.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Getting there before you leave

Arriving 30 minutes before you leave

Only in the Balkans do I think such a thing would ever be possible, but seriously, this happened this morning, as we departed Istanbul at 09:00 o'clock local time and we arrived in Skopje at 08:04 local time on the same day. There are many local factors that contribute to this phenomena, in fact I am surprised that some Balkan president hasn't made an arbitrary decision to just put us on Eastern Standard time!

The photo above shows the scheduled departure time and the scheduled arrival time.

I think too that there are other times we should get there before we leave. 

  1. In our spiritual walk. In my 35 years of ministry, I find that most Christians state that they are citizens of heaven, but fully embrace the world and living in the world, and I hate to say it but it is true, living like this is our real home. If indeed we are citizens of heaven, then we most definitely need to behave, live, and experience life as if we are already there. We should get there before we leave. It would change a great deal about our lives I think, were we to have this posture and attitude.
  2. In our vocations. Instead of just barely showing up when we eventually arrive, why don't we get there before we leave? Frankly it would make us much better employees. We would be fully engaged in the tasks that we have been charged with, and the value that we have agreed to deliver. It would make us far more valuable to our employers!
  3. In our relationships. An ounce of prevention is supposedly worth a pound of cure, and arriving before we depart would be perfect. It is the relational idea of certainty and dependability. I give my lovely bride what she needs even before she realizes that she needs it! That is arriving before you depart! That is looking ahead, so that your relationships can have all that they will need in order to thrive and grow. It is arriving before you depart.

I bet you can think of other areas where this metaphor will be helpful.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Why do we resist?

Why do we delay and resist the most difficult parts of our work lives? I mean apart from the fact that they are the most difficult parts and not easy to accomplish? 

I am usually wonderfully and pleasantly surprised when I finally bite the bullet and do what needs to be done. In fact I would argue that the sheer difficulty can greatly enhance the satisfaction of accomplishment. I mean if it was easy, anyone could do it, right? The fact that YOU find it difficult, can possibly mean that the task is beyond most other people's abilities period and that it would never get done if it depended on someone other than you. It could also be that this task is simply outside of your wheelhouse, but when you get to my stage of life and work, you have largely weeded out those kinds of tasks from your schedule and life and have past them on to someone who can do them better or more easily.

No I am talking about the most excellent parts of your skill set, I am talking about the difficult work that sets you apart from everyone else. I am talking about the type of work that demands your best self fully present and on point, work that few others could effectively do, perhaps because of your training or education, or geographical position in the world, or your position and responsibilities in your organization. This is when you need to hit a home run! 

But I often delay and procrastinate these kinds of tasks, because they are so demanding and cost me so much, or take me far outside of my daily normal schedule which I treasure and with which accomplish so much on a regular basis. These super hard ones, disrupt that flow, and perhaps part of the action of turning these pivotal moments into successes, is to allow the disruption to create something new and wonderful and to relax and permit myself to let my normal routine go, so that upon occasion I can do something spectacular, instead of the simply great work that I strive for each day. I just finished one of these kinds of work events and I am flushed with how awesome it went. So once again, why do we resist?

Like Amelia Earhart said, "The most effective way to do it, is to do it."
What really important and difficult thing are you putting off?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A thinking day

This is the one task that needs a certain ambience. I found the perfect situation for that in my travels today. Through a series of fortunate events, I had a few hours free and unstructured at the Naples Italy airport on a sunny warm afternoon.

I found a place to sit outside and enjoy a nice Honduran while contemplating the universe. Not really . . . the contemplating the universe part, but everything else was planets aligned! I worked on a number of high priority thorny situations and made a few notes, but this afternoon was 95% tech free. I can't focus on the thinking part if I have tech in my hands. It always seem that other work floats to the surface if I have tech in my hands, and this was a strictly amazing opportune moment to do the hardest work - thinking.

Now you can't wait to have such a perfect situation present itself (although I find that you can usually create a potential environment to do some hard thinking), because thinking is too important a task to relegate to pristine moments. Granted pristine moments can make them all the more powerful and productive, but this is a task that needs regular exercise. Like most things in life, if it is not scheduled and practiced it never gets accomplished.

So what were the results today? I resolved an apprentice/internship thorn that had been sticking me in the butt for almost a year. There is now a plan and steps to get to the goal. I made progress on the ongoing dilemma/opportunity (its both) that I have with my dad. After the two deaths in our family this past year, there is just me and him and I need to make more/new space in life for him and his needs and honestly just to enjoy these later years of his life with him and make some great memories.

That is it. But those were two huge buggers that have been gigantic weights on my plate for far too long. Reserve your thinking time for the most important matters. Oh, and I spent a good long wonderful half hour just mentally reviewing and cataloging all the people, relationships, structures and opportunities that I am grateful for, that make all this worth doing. After "the perils of travel" this was the best kind of chance and change. Go think!