The Calm in the Storm

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I went on vacation last week. So, naturally, when I got back in the office yesterday, I was met with a whirlwind.

Things I should have finished before leaving were staring me in the face, as well as new “opportunities for leadership growth” (read:issues to be addressed). It was a full day.

But, the final 30 minutes proved to be the most productive. After spending the day checking things off my to do list, brainstorming, writing, catching up, fielding grounders, I was able to sit down at my desk for 30 minutes to wrap up the day, uninterrupted. Because everyone had gone home.

The calm in the storm provided some much needed clarity.

The same is likely true for you. You’re facing all sorts of challenges on a constant schedule. The COVID interruption (or disruption) has likely made you feel like you’re pedaling a 10 speed bicycle in 5th gear–coasting downhill is the same, but having to cover the same ground you covered pre-COVID is twice as much work.

Find the calm in the storm. Find the moments where you can take a breath. Maybe it’s early in the morning, or late at night after everyone has gone to bed. Maybe it’s the first 30 minutes in the office before everyone else shows up, or the final 30 minutes after everyone has left.

Maybe the calm in your storm isn’t about your schedule as much as your location. A sunset, sunrise, quiet lunch, or challenging podcast may be exactly what you need to feel refreshed.

Wherever (or whenever) your calm may be found, pursue it. You need time to catch your breath. You need a break from the chaos. You will be healthier for it. Your family will be healthier for it. Your leadership will be healthier for it. Trust me.

Have you subscribed to get 3QL in your inbox? It may just be the calm you need each Tuesday/Thursday!

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.

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: Efficiency Isn’t Flashy

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I started driving a tractor by myself around age 7, maybe 8. It’s not as dangerous as it may seem because I only went about 3.5 mph most of the time, and it’s difficult to do much damage at that high rate of sloth-ness.

As I got older, I realized my time would seemingly go faster if I cut the work into smaller chunks. I mean it makes sense, right? This is what we’re taught throughout our life–if you have a goal, break it down to tackle it.

I remember one time in particular, I broke a section of plowing into three parts. I was constantly turning and turning around, and as a result, it felt like time was passing faster.

The problem: I was actually being less effective.

Every minute spent with the plow out of the ground, or re-plowing ground that had already been plowed was a waste not only of time, but of fuel. Wasted time and wasted fuel means wasted money.

Efficiency isn’t always flashy. It was fun to constantly make turns, to raise and lower the plow. It was more mentally engaging. But at the end of the day, it was a waste.

The same is true for your leadership. Efficiency isn’t always flashy. There is something you’re doing right now that could either 1) be accomplished better by someone else or 2) be finished faster if you spent less time with the plow out of the ground.

Maybe it’s how you plan for events, or the way you train those you lead.

Maybe you’re lack of efficiency is in doing something you’re actually not good at doing.

For me, it’s graphic design. I enjoy the mental challenge of design, but it tends to be a black hole in my schedule. I can create something simple and effective in 5-10 minutes, and then spend 3 hours adding subtle differences that I find fascinating, but most people will never notice.

So efficiency means limiting the time I allow myself to spend on it, or even trusting someone else to do it completely. It’s exciting to try 7 different shades of a color. It’s mundane to move on.

So the question becomes: Are you willing to endure the mundane to increase efficiency? What do you need to cut or limit (or bring someone alongside) to maximize your gifting? What are you waiting for?

Lessons from the Farm: Fill the Water Jug

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Do you remember the old school Tupperware? When I was growing up, we had some pieces of Tupperware that were (not-so) beautiful shades of orange, green, and brown. Ironically, they kind of matched our shag carpet.

One of the best uses I remember for the Tupperware was to fill it with water and put it in the freezer, which would create a rather large ice cube. Then, at the beginning of a day, or if we were lucky enough to go to the house for lunch, we would take the giant ice cube, dump it into a water jug, and have iced water for the rest of the day.

Why was that important? There aren’t a lot of convenience stores in the middle of the field. In fact, there are no Allsup’s in the field. It’s only dirt.

If we were trying to plow a field, time was money. That meant stops which could be avoided, should be avoided. One of the best ways was to be prepared at the beginning of the day, so you could make the most of the time you have.

There are some things in the field we could not plan for–a flat tire on the plow, a busted hydraulic hose, or a broken implement. But thirst? That was a given.

Leadership is the same. For us, it could be a conversation to ease concerns, an unexpected phone call, or the missing piece to your plan.

But some things that capture your time are akin to starting the day without a water jug. It happens regularly. It’s a weak spot in your approach, and you know.

Let me challenge you today to spend a little time asking yourself what’s the biggest time waster you deal with on a regular basis. Now, make a plan to fight it. Grab the Tupperware, fill it with water, and put your plan into action. Your effectiveness will grow because of it.

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