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Don’t Hide from Hard Conversations

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I started the Three Question Leadership Blog 4 years ago. I thought I would spend the next few weeks sharing some of my first posts, in their entirety, here. Whether you’re new or have been with me all along, I hope you find these concepts applicable.

Have you ever had a meeting scheduled that you dreaded all day? Maybe it’s a yearly review, a potentially explosive situation, or a conversation you are fully expecting to go south. Over the years, I have learned the difficult lesson to not run away from difficult conversations.

A few years ago a terrible situation arose at Penn State University that cost many people their jobs, and left a disastrous effect on several young boys. Through such a terrible situation, we learn an important lesson with implications for both youth ministry and the church as a whole.

We could look at the Penn State situation and pass judgment on those involved who did not adequately report or act. But judgment is not ours to pass.

We could, standing on the outside, lament the state of our nation and the depravity of “those sinners”. But again, judgment is not ours to pass.

We can, however, put ourselves in the shoes of the leadership. Child molestation is a terrible act, and churches are not immune to sexual predators. So, ask yourself, how would you respond if someone informed you of inappropriate acts between an adult and a child?

I remember, very vividly, having a situation arise at a previous church where inappropriate statements were made between an adult and a teenager. I was informed of the situation, and discussed steps with my pastor. Both families were church members, and the conversations that laid ahead were less than appealing. So we waited for the “right time” to meet with each side. Unfortunately for us, the “right time” did not arrive before the “necessary time”. We drug our feet, and in the end, acted out of necessity rather than concern, and damage was done.

Side note: the situation referenced here was nothing illegal. It fell into that gray space of needed to be addressed, but no one was in danger and no law was being broken.

We avoided the hard conversations. We knew we would be uncomfortable, so we waited. I wonder if the officials at PSU were in the same boat. They did not want to have the tough conversation, so they waited for the “right time” and instead found the “necessary time”.

The “right time” and the “necessary time” are two contrasting opportunities. The “right time” is much more of a gamble. I have a tendency to justify waiting by saying I am waiting for the right time. The right time, however, comes before the necessary time.

The “necessary time”, too often, means we have acted too late. When we wait to respond, we find ourselves stuck in a situation where we have to react to the chaos around us. When we take care of business at the appropriate time, we find ourselves able to help guide the conversation forward.

The principle we can learn is this: the hard conversation, though uncomfortable and daunting, is much easier than waiting for the time bomb to blow.

Do not be afraid to have the hard conversation. In my experience, actually, I have started realizing the moment I dread a conversation is a sign I need to act.

What conversation are you dreading? What conversation do you need to have? What situation makes you uncomfortable but needs to be addressed? Make time this week to bathe it in prayer, and pray for God’s guidance and strength to act.

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It’s Time to Start Somewhere

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I started the Three Question Leadership Blog 4 years ago. I thought I would spend the next few weeks sharing some of my first posts, in their entirety, here. Whether you’re new or have been with me all along, I hope you find these concepts applicable.

I am a thinker. I have a terrible tendency to be able to argue both sides, even when they don’t need to be argued. Because of my propensity to think, I joke that I spend 90% of my time thinking about what I could do, and 10% actually doing it.

Thinking about things all the time has benefits. Often, I can think through a situation and find a new way of looking at it. I enjoy hearing how other people think so I can see if there is something I can learn from how they process and proceed.

There are downsides to thinking about things 90% of the time–you actually only act on what you’re thinking 10%. That leads to plenty of mental development, but very little real life occurrence.

That’s where the principle for today’s post came into my life. I don’t know if you’re wired like me, but I think there is a little truth in what I’m about to say. I’ve made this my new mantra, especially when there’s something I would much rather just think about doing than actually doing.

Are you ready? Here it is: Start Somewhere.

Sounds simple enough, right? You would be amazed at how many times it has helped me move from thinking to action.

For example, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a student leadership team. I’ve tried one at past churches with moderate success, but never had a set structure I wanted to follow.

Where I serve now, it’s pretty fun to look back at the growth of our student leadership team. The first two or three years was just a trip at the beginning of summer. Then, two summers ago we added monthly meetings. This year, we’ve added weekly meetings and have really started to hit our stride.

But we would not be where we are today if I hadn’t started somewhere.

The crazy thing about starting somewhere is your start is not your final product. I never start something with the mindset that it is going to be perfect from the beginning. But, if I want a program, event, relationship, or opportunity to reach full potential, it will not happen until I start somewhere.

You may not be wired this way. Maybe you spend 90% of your time doing things and only 10% thinking. (If so, I think we would make a great team.)  Your “start somewhere” may be to put a little more thought into something before you start it.

Maybe you have a habit of starting things and never finishing them. So your “start somewhere” would be to pick one project and actually finish it.

I am not saying my way is the only way. I am asking, though, for you to evaluate yourself. Are you more of a thinker or a doer? Could the principle of “start somewhere” apply in your life? If so, where?

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Don’t Let Someone’s Character Surprise You

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I started the Three Question Leadership Blog 4 years ago. I thought I would spend the next few weeks sharing some of my first posts, in their entirety, here. Whether you’re new or have been with me all along, I hope you find these concepts applicable.

I have a morning routine. I make coffee before I do almost anything else. Sometimes I prep the coffee maker the night before, and sometimes I have to prep and brew in the same motion.

But do you want to know something that has never happened? I have never pushed brew on the coffee maker and watched the coffee pot fill with soda. Why is that? Because the coffee maker does what it is made to do — make coffee.

Over the years I have learned a similar lesson about people — I cannot let myself be surprised when someone does something that lines up with who they have been while I have known them.

If a person repeatedly shows up late for an event or a meeting, I cannot allow myself to be bothered or surprised when they show up late for an event or a meeting.

If someone constantly seems uninterested in what is being said or what is happening around them, I cannot let myself get angry when they act uninterested or uninvolved in what I’m saying.

If someone regularly causes troubles by talking about people behind their back, I cannot take it personally when they do the same thing to me.

There are things I do that people should not be surprised when it happens.

Every one of us have life experiences that have led us to where we are. Our behaviors are a culmination of our life experiences and our decisions to that point. We have not become who we are today without the influence of who we were yesterday.

Does this mean we cannot change? Absolutely not. Ask the person who did not go to the dentist for decades, but now has become a dental advocate. Or the person who had to have emergency heart surgery and now is one of the healthiest people you know.

We can always change, but we cannot always change those around us.

So, how do you find the balance between having no expectations of change in others, and trying to be a catalyst of that change? Get to know them, show grace, and encourage them along the way.

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Lying Street Signs

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Last week I talked about shared language. You can read what I wrote here (Unlock the Power of Shared Language) and here (Beware the Dangers of Shared Language).

Today, I thought I would share a story.

At my previous church, we had to find our own housing. Our salary was pretty minimal, so the cost of housing was a burden, and add to that living in a small town with few housing options, we were always looking for an opportunity to alleviate some financial burden.

One day at church a deacon approached me with an opportunity. This deacon was a wonderful man, had grown up in the community and moved back in retirement. He and his wife opened their home to us the first weekend we stayed in town, and undoubtedly supported us. He had found a potential house for us to live in for an incredible price.

The next step was for us to drive by and look at it. He gave me directions, with one problem. He told me the house was on Church Street. So, later that Sunday, after naps, we piled the family into the car and started driving around, looking for Church Street. It wasn’t where I thought it should have been, so we started driving to find it.

Let me insert something at this point. I love small towns. I grew up in a small town. I have lived in small towns most of my life. But, one of the downsides to small town life is street signs are not a necessity.

So, as we were driving around town, we had to hunt to find street signs just to see if we could find Church Street.

Can you see where this is going? I never found Church Street. Do you want to know why?

I didn’t share the language. Church Street, strangely enough, was the street with three churches on it. But it’s name was Washington Street.

Shared Language is a powerful thing. But makes sure the people to whom you’re talking share the language too. If not, bring them in and watch an ally be born.

Shared Language

Unlock The Power of Shared Language

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I’ve always wanted to go to a place where you have to know a secret knock and pass phrase to get in. You know, “Open Sesame” or something like that.

The allure is having to know the secret phrase. We all love knowing something others don’t. There’s comfort in it. There’s unity among those who know.

Shared language is a powerful thing. I’m a huge fan of developing memorable and repeatable phrases: things that stick with you for a while.

Even here on 3QL, I have a few ideas that I cover repeatedly:

If you’ve been with me for a while, you probably recognize those phrases. Sometimes, even in conversation, they will come up and we will nod knowingly because we both understand them. If you hear me say something about the “the three questions”, you know what I’m talking about.

But if you’re new here, those phrases don’t have the same power. They are just a collection of words with your own assigned meaning.

That’s why, in leadership, it pays to create shared language. Leadership requires the casting of a compelling vision, and shared language helps keep that vision fresh.

What shared language are you using in your context? Is there anything you’re saying that prepares those you lead for action? How can you leverage shared language to your benefit?

One last thought: never assume shared language automatically means shared definitions. Sometimes we “fake it ’til we make it” to create the appearance of understanding. But your job as a leader is to continually and constantly cast the vision, to articulate the shared definition, and to help everyone get on the same page.

It’s not easy, but it’s imperative. Lean into shared language today!

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