Category Archives: parenting

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

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

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”

“More than the dog.”


Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

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Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

The Competence Cycle

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.

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching

Releasing the Clutch

When I was fifteen, my mom took me to a large and empty church parking lot on Saturday afternoons and taught me to drive….sort of.  She had good intentions but lacked the patience to put up with my herky-jerky ineptness at releasing the clutch.  I just could not get it!  Maybe it’s premature to try to teach a teenager how to drive a manual transmission before he has even gained control of his own gangly arms and legs.

I did fine once I got it in third or fourth gear, but I was miserable at the lower gears.  In first, I would rev up the engine until it begged for mercy.  Then I would try to easy up on the clutch with both eyes closed and every muscle in my body tightly clenched.  No matter how many times I tried, the end result was always the same – a bucking bronco ride in my little, burnt-brown Honda Civic.  Sometimes, I even stayed in the saddle the full eight seconds – one hand on the stick shift and my mom’s hands in the air.  I was one tough import-riding hombre.

It’s been almost 25 years, but I’m still taking driving lessons.  Not in a car – I’ve long since bought an automatic.  Now I’m learning to drive as a parent of teenagers, and it’s every bit as herky-jerky as those Saturday afternoons outside the Presbyterian church.

Instead of a clutch and a gas pedal, I’m struggling to learn how to interchange autonomy and control.  It’s nerve-racking!  I’m always using too much of one or the other.  Either I give my kids too much autonomy, and they end up abusing my trust and getting into things they have no business getting into, or I enforce too much control and “ruin” their lives with my “arbitrary” life-sucking rules.

What makes it worse is that my wife and I are both trying to “drive this car.”  We’ve each got our own steering wheel, clutch, brake and gas pedal.  When we agree about where we should go, things go pretty smoothly, but if she turns left when I turn right, our family comes to a jerking stop.

And maybe it’s God’s sense of humor, but he made my wife more of a clutch person (control) and me more of a gas person (autonomy).  That adds no end of fun to the driving experience!  Our kids learned these differences long ago, and they are constantly giving me opportunities to get pulled over by my wife for reckless driving.  (In our family, she doubles as driver and law enforcement officer.)

What we want is “wreck-less driving.”  Less big mistakes, less arguments, less hurt feelings, less wear and tear on our teenage model domestics.  I’ve learned that the first rule of “wreck-less driving” is synchronizing directions and pedal movements with my wife.  Even if we make a wrong turn, it’s better to make it together.  That means frequent communication and a willingness to give each other the right-of-way at times.

The second rule of “wreck-less driving” is to listen to the sound of the engine (it represents our kids’ thoughts and opinions).  The sound the engine makes helps us know if we are giving it too much clutch or too much gas.  When we give it too much clutch, the engine will whine (and whine and whine and whine…)  That doesn’t mean we should always give it the gas, but the engine’s complaints can tell us when we need to let go a little.  Remember the advice from Apostle Paul:

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Too much control prevents our kids from developing the wisdom and driving skills they will need when they are out on their own.  It can lead to rebellion and bitterness while we are at the wheel and wild, authority-defying behaviors once they start driving their own cars.

On the other hand, when we give our teens too much gas, their engines can get clogged with impurities.  We’ve got to keep an eye on their fuel source, because it influences the quality of decisions they make when we give them some autonomy.  This is the third rule of “wreck-less driving.”

If our kids are spending daily time in the Word of God and have some close, godly friends, the fuel is probably pretty clean.  But if they are spending most of their time around the T.V. or with a negative peer group, it’s likely that their thinking won’t have the maturity for them to get much mileage out of it.  By listening to their engines (thoughts and opinions), we are likely to hear early warning signs that indicate we need to take our foot off of the gas.

In my own humble view, I think parenting is much more difficult than learning to drive.  It’s crazy that no one asks us to pass a parental driving test before getting behind the wheel.  We’ve got to do most of our learning on the freeways and tollways of life, and it’s definitely a white-knuckle experience.  But our kids will never grow into maturity if we always drive like we have Miss Daisy in the car.  Our kids need the experience of building speed by practicing making decisions on their own.  Along the way, they will get in some fender benders and earn their share of traffic tickets, but as long as we follow the “wreck-less” rules, they should be okay.  So, don’t be afraid to give them the gas every once in a while!


Filed under accountability, authority, autonomy, coaching, communication, conflict, delegation, discipleship, Fathering, growth, leadership, management, marriage, parenting

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