Ever thought about how a lobster grows? Because of its rigid shell, the larger it gets, the more uncomfortable the lobster becomes. Eventually, it has to shed its old shell in order to grow a new, roomier model. This process is repeated multiple times (as many as 25 times over the first 5-7 years of its life) until it reaches its maximum size.
During the 48 hours or so that the lobster is shell-less, it’s in grave danger. (You could walk up at any time with a cup of melted butter, and it would be all over!) For the lobster, there is no growth without risk.
I see two lessons for us in the example of the naked lobster:
- You won’t grow without taking some risks.
- You won’t grow without leaving something familiar behind.
God is calling us to walk with Him, but He doesn’t guarantee that the journey will be “safe.” The Christian walk can be incredibly scary…if you are doing it right. That is, if you are taking risks that God asks you to take so that you have to put your faith in Him. These risks will require that you get out of our comfort zone. That “comfort zone,” that “familiar thing” you are leaving behind is often something related to your old sin nature. Like the lobster’s old shell, it should be more and more uncomfortable to you as you grow in your relationship with Christ. When you realize that it’s dead, it’s time to shuck it off.
As a leader, your “comfort zone” or “familiar thing” could be your leadership position. How long have you been in your current role? Long enough to grow a shell? Are you still growing in your role, or has your shell begun to define your limits? If you are holding onto your position because it’s comfortable and safe, because you’re afraid of challenging yourself and taking some risk, because you are trying to save face or hold on tightly to something you “earned” years ago through your hard work, you are stuck in an old, rigid shell. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your organization.
The lobster operates on instinct to shed his shell, but unless someone with authority forces you out of your shell, you have to have courage to get rid of it. You don’t have to take the risk if you really don’t want to. If you are too afraid to leave the familiar for something better, you can continue to stay in your cramped, little shell convincing yourself that it isn’t so uncomfortable after all.
But let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment….it is starting to pinch, isn’t it? Do the things that used to motivate you seem boring and burdensome now? Do you find yourself spending more energy holding onto what you have than investing in yourself to grow? Accept my testimony as someone who has left his shell multiple times (a few times by choice and several times against my will as I tried desperately to hold onto what I had). God is waiting outside your shell. He’s calling to you from just outside your comfort zone, and He’ll lead you through the next stage of your growth as you faithfully and courageously walk with Him.
“Failure is not an event; it’s a judgment about an event.”
~ John Ortberg
One of the most amazing stories of faith and courage occurs in Matthew 14:22-33. Recognizing Jesus walking across the Sea of Galilee, Peter asked to join Him. Jesus gave the invitation, and Peter got out of the boat and walked on water….and then he sank.
Peter remembered the wind and the waves, took his eyes off of Jesus and sank into the sea. Fortunately, the Lord reached out his hand and caught Peter before he drowned. “You of little faith,” Jesus said, “why did you doubt?”
You might think Peter was a failure. True enough, he had such little faith that he doubted Jesus’ ability to overcome the wind and the waves. But let’s not forget that he did walk on water! Who else has ever done that? And remember, there were eleven other witnesses to the event. What were they doing? They were hugging the boat.
I’m sure they were afraid of the risks of getting out of the boat. They might drown. Even if they didn’t, they might lose face in front of all their friends by trying to do something impossible. Their friends might have been offended that they acted like they were better than the rest. Their friends might have thought they were showing off for Jesus. Jesus might have scolded them for asking to do something that was His job. There were probably one hundred reasons for staying in the boat, but Peter didn’t. So, let’s give him some credit.
On your team, which would you prefer – Boat Huggers or Water Walkers? If you want Water Walkers who take risks, who innovate, who get out of their comfort zone and find new ways to solve problems, you are going to have to redefine the meaning of the word failure. Making a mistake while trying something new is not failure. Missing the target while challenging yourself to try a new skill is not failure. Offering an idea that no one likes is not failure. Getting bad feedback about a new way of doing things is not failure.
Failure is hugging the boat. It’s playing it safe. It’s staying in your comfort zone and refusing to take risks. It’s sticking with old, ineffective methods. It’s waiting for someone else to be the first to step out of the boat.
Getting out of the boat means your team members are going to get wet sometimes when they sink. Your role is to catch them when they fall and celebrate with them when they walk on water.
My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.
I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.
He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.
I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.
I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.
I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.
Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.
Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth
Whenever you move up to a new level of leadership, you will need to make adjustments. The change you go through is similar to a skill used in sailing. It’s typically not possible to sail directly to your goal in a straight line. You have to sail in the direction the wind pushes you and change directions at strategic moments to move closer and closer to your final destination. In effect, you surrender the wind that was carrying you in one direction and exchange it for a new wind that will carry you in a different one. You end up making a zig-zag pattern across the body of water. The skill is called “tacking,” and it requires a keen eye and knowledge of wind and water patterns.
Likewise in your career, it won’t be possible for you to reach your ultimate goal without making some strategic tacks. But instead of exchanging one wind for another, you’ll be exchanging skills. Old skills that made you effective in your previous role have to be surrendered for new, more effective skills. Even though your old skills might carry you for awhile and help you to experience success, they will eventually carry you away from your ultimate goal.
The skills that you learned as an individual producer won’t get you very far when you start to manage others. Those are the skills of the expert. You need new skills – skills for leading people. The old skills will only serve to make you a “micro-manager” and a “control freak” as you attempt to stay personally invested in everything your people do.
Then, as you move from leading individual producers to leading leaders, the winds change again. Now you need a skill set that includes the ability to grow your leaders, to help them move away from being the expert. You need the strategic focus to give your leaders a common vision behind which they can rally their teams.
And as you move from leading leaders to leading organizations, the winds change once more. Your will need to focus less on getting things done through others as your leaders become more and more competent. Instead, you will need to develop a global view of your organization that has a clear perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
As you progress through your career, you will find that the wind changes direction many times. Each time, you will be challenged to do less of what you are good at and do more of what is out of your comfort zone. Along the way, you are likely to pass many who aren’t going anywhere in their careers due to their inability to recognize when to tack. They mistakenly thought that their old skills would work in their new roles. They tried to continue toward their goal without being willing to change. Don’t follow their example, or you might find your career dead in the water.
As team members learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence. The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the team or organization.
Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail. She is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that she is up to the task. The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality. The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task. Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one. Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not. The leader should be very specific with a performer at this stage. It’s important to tell her exactly what, when, where and how a task should be done. Make expectations crystal clear, and supervise progress closely. Think about the last time you took up a new sport. I’ll use golf as an example. You watched it on TV, saw the pros do their thing and thought, “Hey, I can do that! How hard could it be to hit a ball with a stick?” So, you go out to a golf course and mortgage your house to play 18. (You didn’t know it was going to be so expensive!) You head to the first hole and watch the party in front of you. Looks easy enough. Your turn. You set your tee, work a little bit to get the ball to balance on top of it, and then you take a swing! You strain your eyes to see your first hole-in-one. Wow! Those balls are really hard to see…oh… wait. No, they’re not. They show up nicely against the green color of the grass. You take another swing… and another… and another… This is getting embarrassing. The party behind you is starting to laugh… and then complain. Now they are getting hostile. You’ve just entered… Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence This stage is typically a huge letdown for performers. The high expectations they had have not materialized. The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work, more expensive…you name it. They’ve made a big step, though. Just recognizing that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them. Now they know what they don’t know. As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge they need), you’ve got them right where you want them. Now that they know they won’t be the next prodigy, they will typically be much more teachable. What they need from you is encouragement. Their confidence has been dealt a blow, and they need to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners. Keep the end result in front of them to motivate them through this stage. Now that you know you aren’t Tiger Woods, you have a few choices. You can give up – golf must be a hereditary skill that you didn’t get in your gene pool. Or you can keep plugging (divots, that is). Get a coach, head to the driving range, practice, practice, practice… With time, instruction and practice, you’ll reach… Stage 3 – Conscious Competence Progress has been made. The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task. The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done. He will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes. He might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration. Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow him plenty of practice. He may need a pep talk from time to time to remind him of how far he has come. If the performer starts making too many mistakes in a row, his confidence could be seriously damaged. If you start to see signs of demoralization, give him a break so that he can get his mind off all the steps. When he relaxes, he will perform better. You are now a golfer, but you’re not enjoying it much. It takes too much thinking. Eyes on the ball, legs apart, knees bent, eyes on the ball, pull back, eyes on the ball, elbow straight, eyes on the ball, swing, eyes on the ball, WHACK! You thought golf was supposed to be fun. Be patient. Before you know it, you will cross over to… Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence Eureka! You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect. One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it. Be sure to point it out to her, because she will probably be the last to know. The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set. She is now the expert that she originally set out to be! When did it happen? Who knows? Overnight, you stopped having to think so much about what you were doing. Now, you can’t wait to get on the greens. Everybody wants you to join their group for the upcoming tournament. Tiger called and asked you for some advice. The Competence Cycle is universal. All experts were once beginners – even the Tiger Woods of the world. While some have natural ability, disciplining it to make it work for them is still a learning process. Use the Competence Cycle to diagnose your performers. Then, meet them where they are at to help them move to the next level.
Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching
On July 4, 1776, King George III of England wrote in his diary, “Nothing happened today.”
That same day, fifty-six men of the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. Through this document, they created a new nation, independent of British rule. Through this document, they created a country that would one day become a world power unequaled in strength and prosperity. What looked like an ordinary day from the King’s perspective was really a day of extraordinary proportions.
King George III, the leader of the world’s strongest country at the time, didn’t think anything important had happened that day, because he didn’t respect his competition. He knew that the colonials were trying to shrug off the yoke of his leadership, but he didn’t think they had it in them. His early attempts to quell their revolutionary spirit included imposing higher taxes and restrictive laws. These actions further angered the colonials and united them behind a shared indignation. While King George III had been distracted by his obvious adversaries (France, in particular), the colonials had been quietly gathering strength and organization until they were able to throw off the king’s yoke altogether.
In the words of Gerald Nachman, “Nothing fails like success.” Once we are the reigning leader in a particular area, we typically become complacent. We stop doing the things that got us there. We switch our focus from our weaknesses and the threats to our success and put it solely on our strengths and accomplishments. When we do, we are susceptible to attack from even the most unlikely of sources.
Don’t make the same mistake King George III made. Always keep your eye on tomorrow’s competition.
Filed under Change, comfort zone, conflict, Denial, focus, group think, paradigm, paradigm shift, Preparation, selective perception, success
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
“We all have our cross to bear,” says the popular proverb, but most who say so have no idea of the meaning of Jesus’ words. He spoke them right after rebuking Peter, who thought that he knew better than Jesus how to accomplish God’s purposes.
Jesus had been explaining that He must suffer many things and even die before He would rise again, but Peter thought there must be a shortcut. Jesus replied (if I may summarize Mark 8:33-38), “Get behind me, Satan! There are no shortcuts! The cross must do its work.”
The work of a cross was to shame, to make the offender suffer, to kill him and to give warning to others about the consequences of crossing the authorities. But these aren’t the purposes Jesus has in mind. God’s perspective on the cross is very different from Satan’s.
Both have death in mind, but Satan used the cross to kill the person; God uses it to kill the self. When Jesus says to “take up (your) cross,” He means that we should willingly carry the tool that God will use to kill our sinful nature and make us more like Christ.
What the “cross” looks like is different for every person. For some, it’s a challenging circumstance that brings them to the end of their own resources or abilities. For some, it’s something difficult and painful from their past. For others, it’s a disability, a limitation, a weakness, a failure… It could even be a persistent struggle with sin. It’s whatever God uses to bring us into complete dependence upon Him.
Too often, we give Satan power to use these things to shame us, to make us suffer and to destroy us. Instead, we should turn them over to God, who makes ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him. God is not the author or creator of the cross, but He will use it to put to death anything that is not like His Son.
Where Satan intends shame, God develops humility. Where Satan intends suffering, God develops dependence. Where Satan intends death, God gives life. Where Satan intends a warning, God provides a testimony.
Filed under Change, character, christianity, comfort zone, Daily walk, failure, Hardship, sacrifice, sanctification, Spiritual Growth, spiritual warfare, temptation