Monthly Archives: January 2010

Common Goal / Common Threat


A few years ago, a documentary movie called “March of the Penguins,” was released.  If you haven’t see it, get a copy.  It’s a beautifully photographed movie with some interesting metaphors for teams.  For example, emperor penguins make a yearly 113 km trek across the ice of the Antarctic in order to mate in the exact place where they were born.  Each mother lays a single egg during the coldest time of the Antarctic year, when temperatures can reach as low as -80 F / -62 C.  First the mothers and then the fathers take turns incubating the eggs to keep them warm.  They do this by resting the egg on top of their feet and covering it with the lower part of their belly.

The mothers pass off the eggs to the fathers a few days after they eggs are laid so that they can return the 113 km to the sea for food.  (Both fathers and mothers have been without food for about two months at this point.)  The fathers then have the responsibility of protecting the eggs during the 62- to 64-day incubation period while the mothers are away.  They spend the entire two months standing with the eggs perched on their feet and under their bellies while 160-km-per-hour winds whip around them.

While the male emperor penguins can be fairly aggressive animals at other times, they lay their differences aside during the harsh Antarctic winter.  Thousands upon thousands of fathers huddle closely together to protect themselves and their eggs from the cold and the wind.  As the days pass, they take turns rotating to the warmest spots at the center of the huddle.  With this unified strategy, the fathers are able to protect most of the eggs until they hatch just a day or two before the mothers return with food.

The partnership of the mother-father team is incredible, but what really impressed me was the fathers’ teamwork.  Instinctively they know that trying to weather the winter storms individually will lead to disaster, so they combine their resources (in this case, their body heat) for the good of the colony.

Nothing seems to bring a team together more than a common goal or a common threat.  The penguins’ common goal was survival of the colony. Their common threat was the difficult Antarctic winter.  When a team is faced with a cause that they can rally behind, they set aside their personal differences and focus on the task at hand.

You can put this principle to work in your team by:

a) Identifying a goal that everyone on the team can get excited about. It has to be something that most or all the team members feel is worthwhile and possible (not to be read, “easy”…easy goals don’t motivate any more than impossible goals.)

b) Identifying a threat or enemy that everyone on the team can get enthusiastic about beating. Sometimes the threat you identify is a thing (like sin, poverty or even tasks that are pulling you away from your main priorities).  Sometimes it is a negative consequence (like losing funding, having to put restrictions on a project or being unprepared for an event).  And sometimes, it’s a person or group (like Satan and his armies).  Whatever threat you identify, it has to be something that most or all of the team members feel is worth beating or preventing.

Teams that are focused on personal differences are not focusing on team goals. If your team is slipping into this trap, start looking for something everyone can get excited about.

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Filed under christianity, family, Group dynamics, isolation, Relationships, teambuilding

Arrive Alive


Three men led expeditions to be the first to reach the South Pole in the early 1900’s: Robert Falcon Scott (1902-1903 and 1911-1912), Ernest Shackleton (1908-1909) and Roald Amundsen (1911-1912).  Shackleton was actually part of Scott’s three-man party in the first failed attempt, and during the long, exhausting and disappointing march back, the two grew into rivals. Shackleton returned five years later with his own team and bested Scott’s first attempt by leading his men 366 miles closer to the South Pole.  Although Scott was the one who ultimately achieved the Pole, Shackleton proved to be the better leader precisely because he did not.

Shackleton’s journey toward the Pole was costly.  All four in his party were slowly starving to death.   Each time severe weather conditions (temperatures reaching lows of -57 degrees Fahrenheit with blizzard winds over 90 mph) and dangerous terrain slowed their progress, Shackleton had to reduce their rations to ensure that they had enough food to last.  The party originally had four horses to pull the heavy sledges full of supplies, but three horses succumbed to the elements and one fell into a deep chasm that almost claimed one of Shackleton’s men, as well.  The men were forced to man-haul the sledges, and the few handfuls of food a day were just not enough.

Shackleton got within just 97 miles of the Pole before he turned his team back.  It was a huge disappointment for all the men, but it was the right decision.  While they were only a few days’ journey away from being the first explorers to reach either of the planet’s poles, they would certainly have lost their lives in the attempt.  Courageously leading his men back to the shore, Shackleton kept them all alive through expert leadership, tenacity and skillful rationing of their remaining food supplies.

Shackleton never made it to the Pole, but Scott would not accept a second failure when he returned a few years later.  He was determined to do what his rival could not.  Like Shackleton’s party, Scott lost all his horses along the way.  Dog sled teams and their leaders were forced to turn back in December, and only five men were left to make a final assault on the pole.  He and his men marched a total of 1,842 miles before they finally reached the Pole on January 17, 1912.  But to their utter disappointment, they found that Amundsen’s team had already been there five weeks earlier.

Dejected and exhausted, Scott’s men began the long trek back to the shore, but they would never make it.  In February, one of the men died after a fall caused him to have a swift physical and mental breakdown.  In mid-March, the weakest member of the team realized he was slowing the others down (he had lost the use of a foot to frostbite and gangrene) and sacrificed his life for them by leaving the tent and marching out into the snow, never to be seen again.  A severe blizzard trapped the three remaining men in their tent a few weeks later, and there they all starved to death.  Conquest of the Pole had cost them their lives.  Ironically, they were within eleven miles of the next food and supply depot.  Their bodies were discovered eight months later by a search party.

When Scott’s diary made it back to England, he was celebrated as a hero and even knighted posthumously.  In the eyes of his countrymen, his failure was a success in terms of its boldness and daring.  Shackleton’s accomplishments just two years before were all but forgotten.  But Shackleton was not surprised.  He had counted the cost when the Pole was in reach, and he chose the health and safety of his men over the glory of accomplishment.

Leaders who are only interested in their own achievements see their team members as a means to an end.  They are willing to sacrifice their followers if their loss will bring them closer to their goals.  But the best leaders are not in it for themselves.  They can’t conceive of success at the expense of their teams, and the goals aren’t worth achieving if the team can’t celebrate the accomplishment.

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Filed under Challenges, character, delayed gratification, determination, failure, Goals, Instant Gratification, leadership, management, parenting, priorities, Priority, sacrifice, Service, Serving Others

All Eggsperts Were Once Beginners


In 1885, Peter Carl Fabergé, a goldsmith and jeweler, volunteered to create a jewelry egg for Czar Alexander III of Russia to give to his wife, Marie, at Easter.  He kept the egg a secret until the special day and then presented it to the czar, who then presented it to his wife.  It was a rather ordinary looking egg, somewhat large with a plain whitish shell.  But when the czarina opened it, she found inside several tiny surprises made of gold, enamel and precious gems.  The gift delighted his wife so much that Alexander commissioned a new one to be created every Easter.  Each egg, lavishly and creatively decorated and always with a surprise inside, typically took a year or longer to create.  They became so popular that when Czar Nicholas II took the throne, Fabergé began making two eggs each year – one for the Czar’s wife and one for his mother.

Today, we know of 56 of these eggs, though a few of them have disappeared.  The last Fabergé Imperial Egg to go on auction was sold for $9.57 million at Christie’s in April 2002.  It’s no wonder Fabergé Eggs have become synonymous with anything that we consider to be a priceless possession, something to be handled with utmost care.

As leaders, we sometimes treat some of our responsibilities like Fabergé Eggs.  We won’t delegate them to our team members because we are so afraid that they will drop them.  This can be especially true with projects or tasks that we started ourselves.  We carefully put them together; we tweaked and fine-tuned; we polished and shined them until they were perfect.  And though a team member or two has shown interest in taking them off our hands, we continue to clutch them possessively.  And who could blame us?  No one will take care of our Fabergé Egg like we will.

While that may be true, we’ve got to get up the courage to pass the Egg along.  While creating it brought us new skills and knowledge, the Egg can no longer help us develop.  Its value now is in passing it along to allow others to gain skills and knowledge as they care for it.  And even if they drop it, there are lessons to be learned in that, as well.  (After all, you probably dropped it a few times as you were creating it.  How do you think you learned to care for it so well?)  All eggsperts were once beginners.

What’s your Fabergé Egg?  Pick someone who needs the skills it teaches, and pass it along.  It will free your hands up to start working on your next creation.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, parenting, Scarcity, Teaching

Son of the High Chief


A friend of mine shared this story recently.  My friend is part Samoan and part Hawaiian.  He was born in Hawaii but moved to Samoa during his childhood.  Adjusting to the new cultures in this high-context society was difficult for his brother and him, but they made a friend in one of the locals.

Their friend, as it turns out, was the son of the High Chief.  We might expect the son of a high-class family in power to be arrogant and dismissive of foreign-born, mixed race kids who were new to the area, but he was anything but.  He was friendly and took a personal interest in helping my friend and his brother adjust.

He taught them local customs, like cooking the family meal on hot stones outdoors every Sunday.  He taught them local culture, like the need to show respect for elders.  He taught them the local language, and he helped them to fit in.  He was a good and faithful friend.

One day, the town drunk appeared as the three boys were playing outdoors.  Children knew him to be a violent and abusive man, and they avoided him whenever possible, but today, he caught the boys by surprise.  My friend could tell he was drunk again, and he could see the rage in his eyes.  This day, he had come for the two foreign-born boys.

But just as he moved to attack them, the son of the High Chief stepped between his friends and the man.  The man’s anger snapped, and he began to beat the boy mercilessly.  Several times, he knocked the boy to the ground, but each time, the boy would stand again, blocking the way to his friends.

My friend and his brother asked each time he fell if they should go for help.  Should they go to get the townspeople, who would come and rescue their friend, the son of their High Chief?  The townspeople wouldn’t allow such a crime to happen to their leader’s family.  In fact, they might have even killed the drunken man for what he had done.  But each time, the answer was, ‘No,’ and the boy would stand again to take the beating.

When the man’s anger had been spent, he left them alone, and the boy was taken to the hospital to treat his wounds.  My friend and his brother visited him the next day.  His face was unrecognizable under the bruising, the cuts and the swelling, but he was alive, and he would recover.  The boys looked at their bandaged friend and asked him to solve the mystery that troubled their hearts, “Why wouldn’t you let us go for help?”

He looked at them as the teacher who patiently tries to birth a new way of thinking in the minds and hearts of his students.  “I have taught you so much… This is what it means to be the son of the High Chief.”

The boys couldn’t have asked for a clearer picture.  Their friend, knowingly or not, had shown them an image of what Jesus Christ did for each of us when He went to the cross.  He stood between us and the evil one, who wanted to hurt us.  He took the beating that was meant for us.

Had Jesus wanted, legions of angels would have come to His rescue, yet he refused to call for them.  Each insult, each beating, each whip of the lash, each thorn of the crown He accepted as an act of love for us.  And each time He fell on the road to Golgotha, He stood again.  His purpose was set; His mind was determined; no matter the cost, He would stand in the gap for us, because This is what it means to be the Son of the High Chief.

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Filed under agape love, Christ, christianity, grace, Jesus, sacrifice, Salvation, Savior, Substitution

Take Notice


Count the “F”s in this sentence.

TWO OF

THE MOST POWERFUL

AND EFFECTIVE

OF ALL HUMAN FEARS ARE

THE FEAR OF FAILURE

AND THE FEAR

OF SUCCESS.

There are a total of eleven (11) F’s in the sentence.  Seriously.  Count them again if you need to, but they are there.  If you only saw six or seven, it’s most likely because you skipped over the word “of.”  You’re not alone.  Most of us skip over “of” because it’s so common.  In fact, it’s the second most common word in the English language.  (“The” is the most common.)

What’s most common often gets overlooked.  For example, think about your strongest performer(s).  When was the last time you told her how much you appreciated all the extra effort she puts in?  ..or the level of quality he insists upon?  …or the teamwork they seem to naturally exhibit?  While these team members probably don’t need (or want) you to praise them daily for their efforts, if you haven’t done so in several months or longer, they may begin to feel that you are taking advantage of their willingness to go the extra mile.

Reread the “F sentence” above, but this time leave out all the “of’s.”

The sentence is a mess, right?  Now imagine your team without the consistent, superior-quality efforts turned in by your highest performers.  When excellence goes unnoticed, it often evaporates.  Team members start to ask themselves, “Why should I work so hard when no one even acknowledges it?”  Just because extra effort may be common doesn’t mean we should take it for granted.

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You Get What You Get…


Let’s face it.  All men aren’t really created equal.

I don’t mean that they shouldn’t have equal rights before the law; I’m talking about talent.  I’m talking about capacity.  I’m talking about leadership ability.  I’m talking about potential and about impact.  God didn’t design us with a cookie cutter.  We are different, and we are meant for different things.

This is clear in one telling of the “Parable of the Talents.”   In Matthew 25, Jesus tells about a man, who called his servants together and gave them each an amount of money.  To one, he gave five talents (a talent is a measurement of weight used at one time with Roman money); to another, two talents; and to another, one talent.  Then, the man went away expecting that the three servants would make good use of what he gave them.

When the man returned, he found that the one with five talents and the one with two talents had both doubled their money while the one with one talent had hidden his as insurance against his master’s judgment in case he lost what little he had.  The master was pleased with the first two and commended them,

“Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 & 23)

The praise was identical for both servants even though one had accumulated ten talents and the other only four.  There is such a hopeful Word for us in this!  Jesus was using talents in the sense of money, but we wouldn’t be wrong if we borrowed the more contemporary use of the word.  Jesus is saying that it doesn’t matter if you have less talent, abilities, resources, opportunities or capacity.  It’s not what you have; it’s what you do with what you have!

Few of us will ever be Billy Grahams or Rick Warrens or Bill Hybelses (the “official” pluralization of a singular Bill Hybels).  So what?  God didn’t call us to have their level of impact.  That doesn’t make our role any less important to His plan.  God is not all that interested in what we can “do,” because He is the one who really “does.”

Billy Graham doesn’t win all those people to Christ through his own efforts.  He just joins God in the work.  Billy’s role is more like the role of a toddler helping Dad wash the car.  Dad appreciates the company, but He doesn’t need little Billy’s expertise or skill.  He could get the car washed in less time, with less mistakes and less waste, but Dad is not interested in efficiency; He’s interest in relationship.  Doing the work together gives Dad an opportunity to train little Billy and to let Billy get to know Him better.  Dad doesn’t care that it takes longer to wash the car, because He loves spending time with Billy, and that’s more important to Him than a clean car.

So, back to my first point…  The master in Jesus’ story praised the first two servants equally.  He wasn’t focused on how much money they had accumulated, because He could have doubled his money without their help.  His focus was on their stewardship – what they did with what they had been given responsibility to manage.  The master wanted to see his servants invest wisely with what he had given them.  Both did, and the master was no less pleased with four talents than he was with ten.

This leads to another interesting point.  The servants didn’t own the talents.  They were just stewards, or “managers.”  They couldn’t take credit for how much they had, because it all came from their master.

Rick Warren is a talented communicator.  He most likely has a natural ability to communicate both in writing and orally, but he can’t take credit for that.  Any natural talent he has came from the Lord.  All Rick can do is invest what he has been given and improve it.  This he has done quite successfully, but it would be wrong for him to look down on others with less communication skills just because they aren’t as good as he is.  He would have no skills if God hadn’t given him the natural abilities and/or spiritual gifting to communicate.

This is where we get into so much trouble as human beings.  We are always comparing ourselves to other people to try to see if we are better or worse.  What nonsense!  God has different roles for all of us to play.  To accomplish the purposes He has planned for us, some of us are given “five talents,” and some of us are given “two,” but our capacity comes from the Lord – not from our own merit.  Feelings of arrogance or jealousy betray our pride, showing that we think that we, ourselves, are the true source of our own talents, abilities, resources, opportunities or capacities.

In our home, we taunt our children with the phrase, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”  This is the final word on arguments about fairness.  We hate hearing, “He got more than I did!” or “That’s not fair!  She always gets to go first!” (Our children hate hearing, “You get what you get…”, but that’s parental prerogative.)

The truth is, life is not fair.  We don’t always get equal opportunities or resources.  The sooner we learn it, the sooner we will be able to forget about fairness and focus on being good stewards of what we do have.  That’s the point of Jesus’ parable.  Some get five; some get two.  Get over it!  Be faithful with what you have been given, and stop peeking over at what your brother or sister has to see if you’ve been treated “fairly.”

There is no shame in having less than our brothers and sisters.  There is only shame in acting like the third servant, who distrusted his master and buried his talent rather than investing it.  When he was called to account, he made excuses.

‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ (Matthew 25:24-25)

I’m sure he looked at his fellow servants and thought, “That’s not fair!  They got more than I did!”  He blamed his master and decided he wasn’t going to play the game if he couldn’t have things his way.  Someone should have told him, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”  Instead, his master told him he was wicked and lazy and took the one talent from him to give it to the faithful servant who had ten (most likely so that he would get a better return on his investment).

Accept whatever talents, abilities or spiritual gifts you’ve been given.  They may not measure up to your neighbor’s, but they were never meant to.  You won’t be held accountable for having the impact of a Billy Graham or a Rick Warren if you weren’t given the raw materials that they were given, but you will be held accountable for what you do with whatever you did get from the Lord.  Invest wisely.

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Filed under acceptance, christianity, Productivity, self-image, stewardship

You Can’t Hide What’s Inside


After World War II, Germany was divided into East and West.  The eastern side was under the communist control of the USSR.  The western side was occupied by British, French and American forces.  The capitol city of Berlin was divided in a similar fashion.

Between the years of 1949 and 1961, at least 2.7 million people fled East Germany, more half of them through West Berlin.  In an attempt to stop the depletion of its labor force, East German officials ordered the building of a barrier that would one day become known as the infamous “Berlin Wall.”

As the initial barricades were going up, East Berliners were feeling powerless and resentful of West Berlin’s freedom.  In an act of antagonism, they filled a garbage truck and drove it into West Berlin late one night.  They dumped the trash all over the streets and then retreated back to East Berlin on foot.  A few days later, the truck returned under cover of darkness.  But instead of the filthy garbage that the East Berliners expected to see in it, it was full of canned goods and non-perishable food items.  On the food was a sign that read “Each gives what he has to give.”

Times of great pressure and stress tend to have a polarizing effect on people.  They bring out both the very best and the very worst of human nature.  In the same difficult circumstance, some will focus on helping others and some will focus only on themselves.  Both are responding to what is hidden deep in their character.  The trial simply brings what is hidden to the surface, to where it can be seen in our words and our actions.

Jesus once said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”  (Luke 6:34-45)

The Apostle Paul later tells us that Christians have a war going on in their hearts and minds.  The Holy Spirit fights on our behalf against our sinful nature.  If we submit to the Spirit and deny our sinful nature, our “tree” (our life) will bear good fruit, fruit that will last – the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5)

It was this fruit that enabled the West Berliners to send love instead of hate back across that border.  It was this fruit that kept them from retaliating or escalating the conflict.  It was this fruit that made them understand the hurt and the fear behind what the East Berliners did.

If you get an opportunity to swap fruit this week, remember the good fruit of the West Berliners, and do you best to bless even when you are cursed.

(S – original story from Ron Hutchcraft Ministries)

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, character, christianity, forgiveness, heart, Scarcity, unconditional love