Heart Check

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Words reveal intent. Actions reveal heart.

I worked up that phrase a few years back, and it’s something I return to regularly to both wrestle with it’s validity and to check my heart in the process.

You see, I think we say things we want to do. We want to eat better, exercise more, be a better friend, and be more dependable. All of those are things we intend to do.

But at the end of the day, after that third serving of supper, our actions reveal things about us we may not be ready or willing to accept.

The same is true in developing leaders around us. We know we should do a better job. We say we should do a better job. But, when push comes to shove, our actions reveal something different.

This summer for student ministry is unlike anything we have ever experienced. I know so many ministries who are having to completely audible what would have been and move in a different direction.

But I have one plea. Don’t let leadership development get pushed to the side.

Developing leaders is not an easy task. I love what we’ve been able to do each summer at camp with our Horizon Leadership Camp, but in the absence of camp, I am going to spend brain energy deciding how to work leadership development into what I’m doing.

After all, I can say developing student leaders is important. But if I’m not taking steps to help students grow, do my actions line up with my intent?

Dream a little today about what leadership development could look like this summer. Put some thought into it, and then do it. You can do this!

Leaders Set the Pace

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I’m a thinker. I think about options constantly. It could be options for an event. Options for guitars. Options for meals, or grilling, or yard work, or house work. I’ve jokingly said in the past that I spend about 90% of the time thinking about things and only 10% doing.

One upside when I finally do something is I’ve thought through it and have a good idea of what I want to do, and usually trust that it’s going to be pretty good.

So years ago I had to learn a pretty hard lesson. Change stimulates grief. Even for me, as a leader. I grieve the loss of what was comfortable and normal. But by the time I’ve acted on it, I had already processed my grief and am ready to move forward. But, as a leader, I was wrong.

Leading organizational change isn’t like changing shampoo. If I switch to another shampoo, you have no emotional attachment to the level of hair care I provide myself, aside from excessive dandruff.

But if I am changing something that’s known and comfortable, the process gets sticky. There needs to be space for grief before we can move forward.

I realized it when I led a previous church to separate middle school and high school for a season.

It’s happening now with changes due to COVID.

Just because I’ve spent days and weeks thinking about the change and the implementation of the change, doesn’t mean everyone else has. And if people don’t get the benefit of grieving change, they are going to be more resistant (even hostile).

That’s why our job as a leader is to set the pace. If we get too far in front, we leave everyone behind. If we move too slow, no one stays with us.

As you lead change during this time (or any time), remember to set the pace. Just because you’ve spent countless hours thinking about it, do not assume the people you’re leading have. Help them process the grief of loss, but set a healthy forward pace.

Because at the end of the day, if we outrun the people running with us, we stop being a leader.

Set the Path

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When we go on vacation, I have to fight a battle in my head. Part of me wants to plan each day out so we know what we’re doing when. A plan helps me manage my expectations. I know when to save energy and when to expend it.

But something we’ve figured out over the years is even in the midst of the plan, we have to schedule a day that has no schedule.

Most vividly, I remember a couple years ago we were in the Historic Triangle in Virginia and decided one day was a day just to spend at our resort facility.

I finished a book I had been reading for over a year. We swam. We watched a movie. We just hit the brakes. And it was refreshing.

And then I realized that I need both a path and a pause.

I think the people we lead are no different. If we want to lead someone, by definition, we need to set a path. We are going to ask them to take a next step, but it cannot be any step. We need to clarify what that step may be.

Setting the path helps ensure everyone is moving in the same direction. When we all have a target to move towards, the journey becomes clear. I don’t set a destination to the south and start driving to the north for a prolonged period.

For whom do you need to set a path? The people you lead, students or adults, need direction. They may be wrestling with what comes next. Your next step may not be the only one, but if it helps them get going, it’s a win.

Lessons from the Farm: Overlap

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I started driving a tractor at a young age. Most kids of farmers do.

I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve spent on a tractor plowing a field. I’ve used chisels, sweeps, duck bills, and discs. I’ve started at sunrise and finished after dark, even spending some time running under the lights of the tractor.

Would you care to know the hardest part? Not overlapping too much.

There’s a balance to be had when you’re pulling a plow through a field. The goal is to turn the dirt over. Just how much or for what purpose varies, but the end goal is breaking the top layer and allowing soft, hopefully moist, dirt to come to the top.

If you don’t overlap where you were before, you leave dirt unturned. And it shows later.

If you overlap too much, you waste time. I mean, think about it. When you’re working in a field that is 1 mile by 1 mile, doubling up on 2 feet every 40 feet adds up.

Overlap is a delicate balance to have.

The same is true in leadership. There are some things worth doubling over: key concepts, values, strategies, motivation. Each of these can get lost in the hustle of everyday. Diligence, however, demands vigilance.

Excessive repetition, however, does the opposite. It means you’re spending more time, energy, fuel, and resources than necessary.

Not overlapping has a similar result: you skip the things that keep you centered as you lead, and later on those “skips” are noticeable. You may cover more ground, but the price is too high. 

Proper consistent overlap doesn’t happen on accident. It takes diligence. It takes intentionality. It takes focus. But in the end, the efficiency is remarkable.

What falls into your overlap? What do you need to continue covering? What do you need to avoid repeating? What do you need to make certain you don’t skip?

Lessons from the Farm: Adapt and Innovate

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My dad is my hero. Part of why I value my time growing up working on the farm is all of the time I got to spend with him along the way.

For some reason, there’s one conversation that has stuck in my mind for close to 20 years. It’s seemingly insignificant, but I can’t shake it.

We had just finished building a new set of corrals (quite a feat in itself). As we were talking about how to finish it, or maybe after we had used them a few times, he told me he had an idea for a sorting gate. It took the concept of a calf feeder (which probably won’t mean much to you), and combined it with a gate, to create a sorting gate.

Let me give the simple version: this sorting gate would allow small calves to “sneak” through the gate, while keeping their momma’s from doing the same thing.

My mind was blown. I never would have considered something like that. The innovation was remarkable in my mind. And I think that’s what has stuck with me more than anything from that conversation.

My dad has an ability to look at a situation and see an opportunity. And that inspires me to do the same.

So much of leadership is trying to make the most of the situations in front of us. One of my favorite trips at my previous church was our leadership trip. It was a hybrid trip where I loaded student leaders into a car and drove them to 4-5 people who would share leadership ideas with them. I wanted these students to get a conference experience in an area where there were no conferences. So we built our own.

If we’re serious about expanding our leadership influence, we have to learn to adapt and innovate. I’m not looking to turn the world upside down. But I am looking to make the most of the time I have now.

In the midst of COVID19 and online meetings, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But we do need to adapt and innovate. Are you? How can I help?

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