Category Archives: leadership

The Naked Lobster for Leaders


Naked LobsterEver 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.

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Filed under Change, comfort zone, Courage, faith, Fear, growth, leadership, trust

Don’t Miss the Meaning


Many of us go through life having experiences but missing their meaning.  If you believe Romans 8:28, then you know that God uses ALL things for the good of those who love Him.  He uses good experiences and bad.  They are a tool to shape us more like Christ and a test to reveal the quality of our heart.

But we are so busy!  Most of us don’t take the time to stop and reflect.  We have the experience but miss the meaning because we moved on to the next stimulating activity or responsibility in our lives.  It’s like going on an incredible trip to a distant country, having fantastic experiences pregnant with significance for our lives and then packing them into our suitcase for the trip home.  When we arrive, we leave the suitcase in a corner unopened and grab a new, empty suitcase, where we will pack in all the potentially meaningful experiences of today.

But when will we ever find the time to unpack?  Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

It’s very optimistic of us to think that things will slow down tomorrow so that we can pull out all the great experiences of the past to reminisce and learn their deep truths, but it probably won’t happen.  And who knows?  Yesterday’s experiences might have an expiration date.  God may have given them to us right before we needed them.  By the time we stop to examine them, they might taste very bitter to us as we realize how much we needed them when we had an opportunity or were put to the test.

The key responsibility of parents, mentors and supervisors is to help their children, their mentees or their staff unpack the lessons that experience is meant to teach them.  By creating space in busy schedules, these leaders help their followers learn the importance of fully receiving each experience that God gives them.  They contextualize by adding their insights and their own lessons learned; they ask questions to reveal the hidden value of seemingly meaningless circumstances; they challenge their followers to ask “why” until God’s purpose is revealed.

If you are in a leadership role, stop working so much and start coaching more.  Most of us in leadership roles are too busy with our own responsibilities to unpack lessons with our followers.  It’s great if you are shoulder-to-shoulder with them, having the experience together, but even more important is being face-to-face, examining what’s in their suitcase.

The question is, do you care about them enough to want them to grow and learn and develop as God intends?  If so, don’t waste anymore of the teachable moments He sends you.

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Filed under coaching, discipleship, Fathering, Gleaning, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, parenting

Keeping Up with the Joneses


Roberto Goizueta, the former Chairman of Coca-Cola, asked a question of his senior managers:

“What is our market share?”

“45%,” came the confident reply.

“How many ounces of liquid does a human being need to drink a day?”  Goizueta asked.

“64 ounces a day,” someone offered.

“On average, how many ounces of all our products does a person drink per day?” Goizueta asked.

“2 ounces,” said one of the executives.

“What’s our market share?” came his final question.

While I don’t think we should allow Coca-Cola to convince us to replace water in our diet with their products, I do think Goizueta’s question was visionary!  He saw that his leaders were operating under a limiting belief – that we only have to be better than our biggest competitor (in Coca-Cola’s case, it was PepsiCo).  He gave the executives a larger playing field.  In effect, he said, Pepsi is irrelevant.  Stop measuring our success by how we compare to our competition.  Start measuring our success by how we compare to our potential.

What a paradigm shift!  The problem with comparing yourself with others is that you only have to stay one step ahead to feel good about yourself.  If the one to whom you are comparing yourself starts to slide, you can slide, too, and still feel good about where you are in relation to your competition.  (See graphic below.)

You might say, “At least we’re not as bad as them!”  Or, “Yes, we’re slipping, but so is everyone else.”  That may numb the pain, but the truth is, you’ve lost your edge.  The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get back into the game.

On a personal level, comparing yourself to your friends, coworkers or neighbors can become an excuse for not living according to God’s standard and calling on your life.  While you’ve got your eyes fixed on everyone around you, you will almost invariably start to drift away from where God wants you to be.  Where they are is irrelevant to your walk with the Lord.

It’s true that if you focus on those that are ahead of you in the areas you want to grow, it can motivate you to higher levels of performance, but be careful even about these types of comparisons.  They are dangerous for a few reasons:

  • If your competition slips or lets up for any reason, you might be tempted to, as well.
  • If a change takes them out of your life, you might lose your motivation for growth.
  • If they get too far ahead of you, you might get discouraged and give up.
  • And even if they motivate you to higher levels, ask yourself if you are really doing it for the right reasons.  Is it to look good to others, to feel like you are better than others, to “win”….or is it to live by a high standard or to please God?

Keeping up with the Joneses is a losing battle and only serves to distract you from the fulfillment of your greatness.  Let the Smiths or the Petersons take on the Joneses.  Compete with yourself until you reach your full potential.

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Filed under blame, Change, comparison, competition, Compromise, Daily walk, growth, Incentives, leadership, management, paradigm, paradigm shift, performance, Relationships, self-image, self-worth, Spiritual Growth, success, team, teambuilding

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Achilles and His Heel


You may have seen the movie, “Troy,” with Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan War.  What the movie didn’t cover was how Achilles got to be so great.  In Greek mythology, Achilles was the son of the sea nymph Thetis and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons.  The Fates prophesied that Achilles would die in the Trojan War, but Thetis sought to secure a different destiny for her son.  She took him to the River Styx (the entrance to the underworld), held him by his ankle and dipped him into the water.  As a result, Achilles became invulnerable everywhere on his body except for the heel with which his mother held him over the river.

Years later, Paris, prince of Troy, abducted the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  The Greeks rallied behind the offense and set off with 1,000 ships for Troy.  Despite Thetis’ attempts to prevent Achilles from going to Troy, her son was persuaded by Odysseus to join the effort.  The Greeks lay a long siege to the city.  During the tenth and final year, Achilles was mortally wounded by a well-aimed shot from Paris’ bow.  The arrow struck him in the heel, his only vulnerable spot.

The term “Achilles Heel” has come to mean a weakness that seems small but is in fact potentially fatal.  Many leaders have an Achilles Heel.  Sometimes they know that it exists, and sometimes they are blind to it.  It can go undiscovered for years until they are given a challenge that exposes their shortcoming, but once it is revealed, it is almost always fatal to their forward motion.

Some managers have an Achilles Heel in their ability to deal with people.  Like Achilles, they are tactically superb, receive accolades from high levels, move up through the organization with dexterity and speed, but they leave dead bodies everywhere they go.  As long as they move quickly enough, no one traces the destruction back to them.  But once they reach a spot on the battlefield that will not yield (i.e. get stalled out in a position), those around them begin to make the connections.  And once their Achilles Heel has been located, it’s not long before their enemies use it for advantage.

The best managers identify their Achilles Heel by seeking frequent feedback from all levels and all directions (e.g. through a 360 degree evaluation).  In this way, their enemies become their allies, helping them to identify their weaknesses.  Once they have identified their Achilles Heel, they take steps to strengthen or eliminate their weakness through training, coaching, difficult assignments and other means.  They never allow success to be an excuse for not growing.

 

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Filed under Challenges, coaching, Denial, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, parenting, performance, temptation

Career Tacking


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.

 

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, delegation, determination, leadership, performance, sacrifice, success

Do What You Do Best


A colleague once asked Albert Einstein for his telephone number and was surprised to see Einstein reach for the phone directory.  “You don’t remember your own number?” the man asked.  To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”

Einstein may owe some of his genius to his ability to prioritize.  While he certainly had the capacity to memorize large amounts of trivia, he knew that this wasn’t the best use of his talents.  He reserved his brain power for solving complex problems and used other resources to help him with the less complex.

I’ve found that great managers do the same with their time.  While they are certainly capable of making copies, shuffling paper or solving routine problems, they recognize these tasks for the traps that they are.  Less-discriminating managers become entangled in a web of administrivia and find that they have no time left to work on more important priorities. Often in an attempt to appear like a “team player” to their direct reports, these managers waste their hard-earned experience, knowledge and training on tasks that could be handled more effectively (and less expensively) at a lower level.

Don’t sell what you’ve worked so hard to gain so cheaply.  The most effective are not always the most popular, but they spend their time like they spend their money – where it will bring them the greatest return on their investment.

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Filed under creativity, delegation, expertise, leadership, management, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity