Archive for the ‘perspective’ Category

Sooner or later every leader will have to deal with someone – or a group of someone’s – who are reflexively oppositional. Most of us know what to look for, but if you don’t, here are a few profiles.

  • The person who is against every idea, sometimes even their own.
  • The person who when presented with a any idea, first tells you all the obstacles or hurdles involved.
  • The person who during the implementation phase of anything new determines, at the first glitch, that the entire program is unworkable.

I could give you more, but you get the idea. There are some folks, that no matter what, will react negatively to any and ever idea, proposal or change. In a certain way, these folks can be helpful. We all need people who can look down the road and help us avoid some of the pitfalls. But mostly, without redirection, the reflexively oppositional are a drain our emotions, progress, and morale. As a leader, you need to know that the reflexively oppositional exist; they will curtail and undercut any opportunities for growth and development and then ultimately blame the leader when things don’t get better. If one thing is true about the reflexively oppositional, it’s that nothing is ever their fault. Now that you know that, what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Teach! Believe it or not, many of the reflexively oppositional have never been taught to brainstorm and develop ideas. Find a conference or teacher that can help Negative Nellies how to brainstorm. In the short term, at your next meeting, ask your team to bring $20 in $1 bills and you bring a large bowl. During the brainstorming session, whenever someone says, “we can’t…” or “that won’t…” they have to put $1 into the bowl. After about 6-months use the money to do something fun with your staff or buy gifts.
  2. Redirect! I did this just this week. When a new idea or initiative is proposed, make sure that positive comments are shared. As my wife says, “Any dumb dog can tell you why something won’t work.” Ask your team to give you 5 positive and possibilities before they can say anything negative. When someone complains, stop them, and say, “Now tell me something positive about __________.” People aren’t wired to think this way, so we have to be constantly redirected. The people on your team that can’t ever be positive will learn that you’re not a worthwhile destination for the negative.
  3. Project. As a leader, you must focus on projecting the positive. Sit down with a journal or notebook and map out all the successes you and your team have had, then remind people of them. This past week, I sat down and listed the successes we’ve had in my brief time at Redwood Church – building renovation, incredible small group launch, Men’s Fraternity, reconnection with our mission point in Haiti, relaunched Women’s ministry, increased mid-week attendance,  etc…. These efforts required prayer, time and hard work. Don’t lose them to the archives of memory. Keep them close to inspire you and your team.
  4. Give it Over. Many of the reflexively oppositional are so because they feel they are never listened to or don’t have enough influence in the organization. Therefore, give it to them. Give them a large responsibility and the freedom to run with it. Many an oppositional worker has been humbled by the experience of having to lead and produce something from beginning to end. Handing over responsibility allows them to unleash their full potential. And you never know, they may be a lion of a leader who just needed an opportunity. For this to work, though, they have to be responsible for all aspects of a project. It’s easier to gripe when you’re only responsible for 6% of a project. Give it over.
  5. Hire Differently. The simple truth is that you don’t want to work with everyone, regardless of their competence or lack thereof. If you’re in an industry that requires innovation or if you’re a possibility thinker, you MUST surround yourself with the same kind of people. You’re looking for “What if…” people, not “We can’t people.” We can’t people have never innovated an industry, grown a market-share or otherwise changed the world. You don’t want them! During the hiring process ask outlandish questions and see what responses you get.

The Reflexively Oppositional will always be with us, it’s our challenge to manage them well. Many Debbie Downers are critical-thinkers that organizations need, but their comments and affect need to be harnesses. Hopefully, leaders can help one another out.

How do you handle the reflexively oppositional in your organization?


Seriously! Who are you talking to?

In our hectic, dog-eat-dog, workaday world, where so much rest on productivity, meeting deadlines and getting things done, you cannot forget that the people you deal with everyday are people. I can’t tell you how many times in a week someone comes into my office, or I see them at my daughter’s school, and even as people walk onto our campus for worship or Bible study and they act as if the people around them are means to an end.

No, “Hi.” No, “Good Morning.” Nothing. They just launch into the business they want to cover – usually something they want someone to do.

The obvious sentiment is this: I don’t care about you, I only care about my agenda. Incidentally, these are the same people who can’t sit down with you over lunch or coffee without checking their phone 50 times. If you’re one these people,  I’ve got a newsflash for all of you: You’re RUDE!

Before you all start thinking I’m just ranting, all this rudeness is actually hurting you professionally and relationally. Each day you are given a gift: People! Your relationships with them and what you can accomplish together is the arena of your success. People know when you’re using them or when you’re speaking to them to advantage yourself and your agenda and no one likes it. People are willing to deal with it for a little while, but not forever.  Each of us has to push against the tide of a culture that objectifies people. Here’s how:

1. Ask, “How are you?” when you greet people. Of course, 99% of people will say, ” I’m fine” in response. That’s okay. But in simply asking, you’ve affirmed a basic truth of our creation; we are made in God’s image. That means that people have inherent worth. Would it be so bad if all of us went to bed at night and knew at least one person inquired about our lives? You don’t have to be interested in the details of other people’s lives, but other people’s lives have details that matter to God. And if you’re a Christian, this simple question (in a world where it’s increasingly not asked anymore) may be the slight opening you and God need to do some powerful ministry.

2. Put Away Your Phone. For centuries families, businesses and nations were productive and healthy without cell phones. Your e-mail, twitter feed, or facebook page can wait. If you’re not concerned about your spouse going into labor, it can wait! It really, really can. We all have cell phones now, whiping yours out and checking your e-mail doesn’t make you look important, it makes you look pompous!

3. Take Off Your Sunglasses. Good grief, we’re not standing at the North Pole. The sunlight isn’t going to burn your retinas. You’re not Paris Hilton, for Heaven’s sake! What are you hiding from? When you’re talking to someone, look them in the eyes. When we look people in the eyes you tell them that they matter, that what they’re saying is important and are worth your time. Hiding behind sunglasses makes people wonder what you’re looking at and what, other than me, is occupying your attention right now.

4. Touch Someone. You’d be amazed at how many people live day-to-day without anyone touching them – no handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the shoulder or back. This is unacceptable. Years ago I had a professor show me a video of Mother Theresa. He said, “Don’t listen to the audio, just watch what she does with her hands.” That video changed my life. One of the things that amazed people about Jesus was that He physically touched people — even untouchable people. Obvious, this should be done appropriately.

I have a simple rule: Every person needs a look, a touch, and a word. If you did this you would soon become one of the more popular and respected people in all the environments where you engage.

Every successful person you know or have known is a nerd. By nerd, I don’t mean the Lewis and Gilbert, Revenge of the Nerds kind, but rather true nerds. A true nerd is someone who has a disproportionate interest in something. They read all the books, they make special trips, they tweet endlessly, they comb the interweb to experience, know and engage their pet subject as much as possible. It can be Star Trek, baseball cards, or fantasy sports; but it can also include athletics, cars, acting, or just about anything else. Nerds love the minutia and intricacies of their guild and there’s no limit to what they’ll spend, where they’ll go, or what they’ll do. Just imagine: Many of you readers are church attenders, but how many of you would pay money to attend the Festival of Homiletics? I would!

All that to say this: If you want to be successful, embrace your inner nerd!

Here’s why nerds are leading you:

  1. Nerds Don’t Care About Balance. As a matter of fact, balance is a ridiculous notion. When it comes to things that matter — your family, your personal success and happiness, etc… — why would you want balance? Those who achieve in their field pursue the depths of it well after others have given into balance. Michael Jordan and Bill Gates didn’t achieve their dreams because they were equally interested in their fields as they were something else. They worked hard and cared more than most people, so they got the edge. Forget about balance!
  2. Nerds Are Passionate: Each time Apple rolls out new products, thousands tune in to watch Steve Jobs’ Keynote. These are commercials, in essence. In fact, Jobs shows little commercials while he’s presenting his big commercial, and people love it. Why? Because he brings tremendous passion to new products, and passion is contagious. No one with a passing interest in something is passionate. Only nerds are. Nerds can tell anyone the complete in and outs of a subject with missionary zeal. Because they can, they lead.
  3. Nerd Don’t Care What Others Think: Believe it or not, people who are nerdish about a subject don’t care if you think they’re nerds. Their thing is more important than you. For this reason, while you’re making fun of them, they are learning and developing new skills and techniques, and one day they will own you. If you want to shift the leverage in your favor, regardless of what field you’re in, becoming a nerd about it is the best way to go.

The world belongs to nerds. They are the innovators, leaders, developers and thinkers that are paving the future. If you want to join them then it’s time to embrace your inner nerd.

The Cost of Winning

Posted: September 16, 2009 in life, perspective, speech acts, unity

I love winning. I grew up in Mississippi loving to play both soccer and baseball, but mostly loving to win when I played soccer and baseball. From an early age, the question, “Did you have fun?” never mattered. I wanted to win! And couldn’t understand those kids on my teams that were there to “have fun.”

It was fun to win; it was not fun to lose.

At the same time I was winning and losing, my family and my coaches – which were often the same people – taught me that good sportsmanship was part and parcel of playing sports well. Even when I lost, or while the game was hanging in the balance, I understood that my opponent wasn’t my enemy. At the end of games both teams would shake hands and leave our striving against one another on the field. My father taught me that winning was a good thing, but it wasn’t everything. But sadly, in our world more and more of us are finding winning to be the only thing. If you haven’t noticed, American culture, perhaps more than anything else now, is about winning.

This summer as opposition arose the President Obama’s healthcare goals, undecided on the subject myself, I asked my friend, Kraig, a series of questions about the uproar and the anger (town-halls, birthers, etc…). Kraig and I e-mailed back and forth our thoughts on the subject. Kraig articulated hosts of reasons why some people were so angry. A staunch conservative, Kraig has issues with “Obamacare,” as do many people I know, trust and love. Yet in our exchange, he said, “Some of these people have come to see politics as a kind of sport, and it’s not necessarily about the issues so much as it’s about winning.” That was a new take on politics to me – as naïve as that sounds. For some, there is an opposition and when there is an opposition, the most fundamental thing that can be done is defeat them. In fact, if you’re able to convince yourself that the opposition is inherently evil then you must defeat them – even if that means degrading one’s own self to do so. Don’t mistake me, though naïve, I know there are people of all political persuasions, left and right, who see their primary political motivator not as advocacy of a position, bi-partisanship, or statesmanship, but the elimination of the opponent.

Our political blood-lust for winning bubbled up and spilled over into the President’s address to the nation last week as we saw Joe Wilson embarrass all of us with his ill-advised shout at the President. Shouting in Congress does not produce a useful bill, it’s done in order to hurt the President’s cause. In turn those opposed to Wilson have and are calling for endless apologies, not because the apology will do anything besides weaken Wilson and his chances for reelection. The issue is long past and never really mattered much anyway, now it’s about winning.

Obviously, this kind of behavior isn’t limited to politics. As we’ve seen through Serena Williams’ U.S. Open profanity laced tirade, the winning edge within sports itself can be taken too far. Here a talented athlete, frustrated by the prospect of losing, demeaned herself, her opponent and a lineswoman in view of millions – some of kids. Why? Because winning was the most important thing. Worse than that, even, has been the treatment of South African runner, Caster Semanya. This poor woman has been made to undergo a public testing of her gender. There is very little else that strikes so closely to who we are than our gender. And why has she faced this wholly embarrassing testing? She was winning and other runners weren’t. As a father of two daughters, I can’t imagine the pain, hurt, discomfort and mortification Caster’s family must feel.

I have to ask: How much are we willing to lose for the sake of winning?

Too many of us have forgotten that Jesus calls not for the defeat of our enemies but for us to love them. And Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that love for our enemies entails, “refusing to defeat them.” Of course, on the ball field, someone has to win or lose, but there is a way, both on and off the field of play to treat others in ways where everyone wins, or at least is not about defeating. In the end, Christ followers believe that love wins, and because it does all words and actions should be done in love.

What would our world look like if all of us held deeply to the truth that loving our enemies, rather than defeating them, was the ONLY way to win? Hopefully the millions of us who darken the doors of churches every Sunday would be the last people to shout out in anger, regardless of the venue, and the first to know why and how to speak out about the heinous behavior that places winning above all else in sports, politics and the workplace.

At root, we should live as though the most significant victory in the world has already been won, and indeed, with Christ’s salvific act on the cross, it has.

Most of us hate feedback! I know that that has been the case for me throughout my career. Most people – especially ministers and pastors – hate the idea that we would submit ourselves to another’s thoughts, judgments, and perceptions. It all seems terribly threatening, and for good reason too. There are simply too many stories of some poor preacher being made to sit through a sermon rebuttal at the weekly elder’s meeting or having to attune themselves to the constant carping of one or two hard-hearted and untrained church members?

There are some kinds of feedback that are only destructive. While we know as a leader there is absolutely no way to please all the people all the time, yet a good leader learns to hear criticism appropriately and use if effectively.  In addition, for us to become what the Kingdom of God needs us to become, we have to open our ears and lose our fear of feedback. Here’s why:

First, “good” feedback has limited use. For years I thought I wanted feedback, but what I actually coveted was “good” feedback. Good meaning, “You did a great job, Sean.” While we all need our strokes, good feedback has limited ability to make us think more deeply and broaden our perspectives. Good feedback has a tendency to point us backward to what we have done instead of forward toward what we can do. We need to hear good feedback. We need to hear that we are on track and that our work and prayers have been meaningful to others. Yet we also need to seek out thoughtful, measured voices to tell us when we may have hit a wrong note or are headed for trouble.

Second, feedback gives us perspective. As a Senior Minister I have a great deal of latitude in what happens on any given week in my congregation. Yet it would be abusive to shape congregational life around my preferences or the preferences of a privileged few. Because I’m human, I naturally orient things around what I like. But in the process of seeking deliberate feedback I can see, hear and feel what others see, hear, and feel. At the end of the day, my job is to add value to my congregation’s worship experience, not design the perfect experience for myself. This cannot be done if I have not endeavored to know what their perspectives are. Leaders, it seems, should ask themselves, “Am I doing this because it is what I like, or because it best serves my church.”

Third, feedback keeps us humble. This applies to both positive and negative feedback. At no point in my life am I more in awe of the power of God then when people are telling me stories of how God has used my life to change theirs. At the same time, when we receive negative feedback we stay in touch with our own humanness. Let’s face it; some of us think that once we’ve entered pastoral leadership we’ve been anointed with greatness. Sometimes we are great – or do some things great – but many times, we are simply filled with hubris. If you cannot handle negative feedback, then you might need to get your ego in check. What happens in ministry is not about you, and to be good leaders, we have to know the areas where we need improvement.

These are simple ways we are aided by criticism and feedback and I don’t want to work with or alongside anyone who feels she or he is above it. If you don think you’re above it your department or organization is going nowhere fast. As a leader, your challenge is to identify the very best modalities to hear and incorporate valuable feedback. Know this, though they may not mean to be, oftentimes, your critics are you allies.

First and Last

Posted: January 13, 2009 in change, church, family, friends, life, Malia, ministry, perspective

Today is my last day in the office at Bering Drive Church of Christ. I’ve come to the same office, sat in the same chair, had the same view out the window and cluttered the same desk for over nine years. Today will be the last time I do that. A new chapter is beginning — as I’ve mentioned before. But before newness can break in fully, something must be done with what has passed. So today, I offer some random reflections on my time at Bering Drive.

1. Bering will always be precious to us because this is the church that our daughters were born into. Much of what they’ve learned about God, Jesus and the church came from Bering Drive. Malia, my 5-year-old, speaks about how much she’ll miss Bering. I’ll miss it much more than she. In 10 years she will hardly remember ever being here, but I will remember God sending her to us here.

2. The time I spent preaching at Bering in the interim (August 2003 – June 2004)was the greatest time of my ministry life. Rochelle was pregnant with Malia (a pregnancy that wasn’t supposed to happen); the church had it’s highest attendance since the hey-day of Dr. Bill Love’s preaching; staff and congregational morale was high; I was working nearly 60-hours per week and loving it; and each week it seemed like there were new young or minority people in the pew. For ten months we caught lighting in a bottle. One church member described it as “Camelot,” an older member said “It was the most meaningful church experience of my life,” a single, middle-aged woman said “You’re changing my life,” and the wife of an atheist said, “My husband doesn’t believe, but when he hears you preach, I think he’s close.” Those times can’t last forever, I know. It was a great ride, though. Thank you, God for using me.

3. At Bering I was challenged to think in new ways and allowed the freedom to challenge others in new ways. Thoughtfulness was encouraged, and I am a better minister for it. I know far too many ministers who are subtly told to not think, and merely replicate whatever is fun and popular. I became “theological” here, and it has changed my life. The commitment to theology was so deep here that some very good men and woman paid for me to get my masters. How many people are willing to do that?

4. The kids, the kids, the kids. Each of them deserves an entire blog post. Suffice it to say they are genuine, talented, funny, and beautiful. I am more proud of each of them than they’ll ever know. I will forever love them, and not being able to think of them without moist eyes, a broad smile, and my greatest hopes.

5. At Bering I met some older Christians (many), whom I truly respected; people who were wise and steady, yet forward-looking. I was 25 when we moved here McAllen, TX, and in so many ways entered adulthood at Bering. Thankfully, there were some helpful guides along the way. You can’t go wrong surrounded by people like Edward Fudge, Bill Love, Rolfe Johnson, Bill Ward, and Rob McRay. They taught me much that I will carry forever.

6. I will desperately miss my T.R.I.B.E. (The Right Individuals Believing Endlessly). Every minister needs a fan club. These people were my unwavering supporters. Folks like Sara Faye Fudge, Jean Worley, Laura Bard, the Hughes, Leah Snyder and so many others. The trusted my heart and accepted my humanity while believing in my gifts. If you don’t have a tribe. You should get one.

As I move on to the next phase of life and ministry; the phase orchestrated and ordained by God, these are just a few of the things I enjoyed in my time here. My God bless the believers who meet in this place.

Wise Words #1

Posted: December 4, 2008 in perspective, quotes, reading, speaking, speech acts, words

I’m oft reminded of the wise words I’ve come to memorize and live by over my life. (I’ll post wise sayings every now and then.)These sayings, for whatever reason, have exploded in my mind and I will never forget them. Today’s wise words are from one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the end, it is not the words of our enemies that we will remember; it is the silence of our friends.”