I Had a Vivid Dream


I had a vivid dream last night. In it, I was with a friend from decades ago. This friend and his wife were instrumental in my faith journey- she led me to Christ, and he spoke into my life as a new believer. They changed my life.

This friend is now a college president. In my dream, as I went to greet him, I was anticipating a hug. Not just any hug, but one of those all-encompassing, draw-you-in bear-hugs. I remember this friend’s hugs and contagious laugh as part of his defining characteristics. But in the dream, my anticipated (and hoped-for) hug was intercepted by a stiffened hand shake- the kind that catches you off-guard when you’re expecting something else. It was a good handshake, firm, and full of the same “great-to-see-you-again” intent. But as the handshake ensued, his eyes darted around and he whispered something that meant “I can’t hug you in public. I don’t know what my constituency would think.” I remember feeling disappointed, not just about the hug, but that he couldn’t be himself.

As my dream continued, I learned that the lack of a hug was because he felt somewhat constrained by his position, and some questionable behavior of one of his predecessors. The details are a little fuzzy, but hey, it was a dream.

In the dream, I had the chance to write my friend a note of encouragement. Not on a card or stationery, but in a memento book- the kind you would write in at a wedding or a bed and breakfast to share your experience. In my dream, I wrote something like this (with perhaps some editing here):

“Dave, I am so excited for you in your new role as college president. I know you will do well. In my experiences and study of higher education, I know the Academy can be perceived as uptight, even snobby. I know there are expectations that have been placed on you. But my word of encouragement is this: Don’t forget who you are and who you were created to be. LEAD WITH YOUR BEST SELF. Do not lose who you are, who God made you to be, in order to do your job.”

I don’t remember much else from the dream, other than an overwhelming feeling that I needed to capture the experience here. Why was this dream so vivid? Why do I remember the details so clearly?

Perhaps the dream was meant to be shared with my friend. Or perhaps the dream was for me. In my own life, I need to be less concerned with what others think of me and be intentional to lead with my best self, to lead out of who God made me to be.

My Scripture life-verse is Ephesians 2:10- “For we are God’s handiwork (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” God has created me (and you) to be unique in this world. This world desires to mold and shape us into its image, but God created us in HIS image (Genesis 1:26). Psalm 139:13 teaches me that God created my “inmost being.” He “knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

I am God’s masterpiece, made in His image. YOU are God’s masterpiece, made in His image. We have each been created in Christ Jesus for a special purpose- to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. I need to be less concerned with what others may think of me. I need to lead out of who I am, who God made me to be, for the good works He has prepared in advance for me to do.

Lead out of YOUR best self. Lead out of who God made YOU to be.

Run All Y’All’s Own Race

Lessons From an 8K Race

120160827_093425(Originally a guest post on www.emcfree.org/blog) 

This past summer I’ve been trying to walk each morning as part of a “get healthier” routine. I get a double benefit because I use the time to listen to my favorite leadership podcasts- Carey Nieuwhof, Andy Stanley, Entreleadership, Malcolm Gladwell, Donald Miller’s StoryBrand, etc. In recent weeks, I “upped” my game with longer distances as I prepared to participate in Flint’s Crim Festival of Races. Notice I said “participate.” My goal was to complete the 8K walk for the second year. I wasn’t looking to “race,” just to finish and hopefully improve on last year’s time by a little.

On Crim Saturday, I got my podcasts ready and lined up with the other 560 8K official_resultswalkers at the starting line. I maneuvered my way toward the front because I didn’t want to get stuck in a pack. At the sound of the horn, I took off, walking what I thought was my normal morning pace. But before too long, my calves started to cramp. I thought, “This is weird. This never happens on my daily walks.” Within the first half mile to a mile, I was beginning to wonder if I’d be able to finish the race. And then it dawned on me: In my efforts to “get out in front of the pack,” I wasn’t really walking “my” pace. Even though my goal wasn’t to race anyone, the other 560 walkers made me feel pressured to “go faster, go faster.” Once I realized this, I backed off, settled into a more comfortable (and realistic) pace, and had a good “morning walk.” (I just happened to get a T-shirt and a medal for this one!)

In Hebrews 12 we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Reflecting on this passage and my Crim 8K experience, a few things come to mind:

  • The witnesses that surround us are not competing with us, they are cheering for us.We should run our race together. Notice the use of the words “we,” us,” and “our.” We’re in this together. (On a related note, did you know that most of the New Testament books and letters are written to groups of people? Might that change the meaning a little when the Scriptures refer to “you”? Perhaps a better reading might be, like my North Carolina sister-in-law would say, “all y’all.”)
  • We’re not told to run someone else’s race. We’re told to run the race marked out for us.I think we too often get caught up in comparing ourselves to other Christians, or our church / youth ministry / children’s ministry to another one down the road (or across the conference?). As we come together in a local gathering of believers, be who God has called that gathering to be. By all means, learn from others, go to conferences, enroll in EMTI, listen to podcasts and get better at what you do. But adapt it for yourown ministry context. Only you (all y’all) can do it in your setting.
  • We need to recognize that there will be obstacles we must overcome, whether individually, or together. Notice that Hebrews says to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” It’s possible that there are good things in our lives and ministries that actually aren’t sin, but which still hinder us from running the race God has marked out for us. Author Jim Collins wrote that “good is the enemy of great.” Sometimes the good things we are doing are preventing us from doing the great work God calls us to. We may need to change some habits, eliminate some programs because they’re hindering our efforts, and refocus on the race marked out before us.
  • Recognize that sin “so easily entangles” us from running our race. We must “throw it off.” Where there is sin, address it, repent of it and move forward. Obviously it’s more complicated than that, but don’t allow the complexity keep us from dealing with it. I believe this can be true not only for individuals, but when we allow sin to creep in and take root in ministries or leadership. If we are the body of Christ, then when one of us sins, it affects the whole; others of us must address it appropriately. (Galatians 6:1-2)
  • The race and pace will at times be difficult, demanding, and even painful. But if we arefocusing on Jesus and on what He is calling us to do, we will not grow weary and we will not lose heart. God knows that the journey He has called us to will be difficult and life-long. I believe that’s why there are so many Scriptures that either encourage, rebuke or challenge us… because God not only wants us to understand, but He wants to empower us to be faithful to the end. Paul said it this way: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in “all y’all” will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Toxicity Trumps Everything


Recently I was traveling and talking with a friend and colleague. As we discussed our various roles I explained that many organizations I work with have that “one person” who seems to be toxic to the environment. And by environment, I’m talking about the staff culture- how people get along, how effective they are in dealing with conflict, what the stress level is. I coined this phrase as we chatted, one that everyone I’ve shared it with goes, “Yup! Absolutely.” The phrase?

“Toxicity trumps intelligence, talent, and experience.” I define toxicity as “bad attitude, selfishness, air of superiority, immovable, arrogant… you get the picture (you probably have a picture of “that person” in your head).

I’m finding an interesting dynamic in a lot of organizations: They will tolerate toxic behavior from an individual if they have special skills, tribal knowledge, even though the performance of the rest of the team suffers as a result. It’s almost as if the offender is holding the organization “hostage” because of how “valuable” they are to the team.

Yet I’ve personally observed that when the toxic employee is gone (retires, transfers, finds other employment, or “is made available to the industry”), the performance of the whole team improves.

Organizations must address toxic behavior, whether by corrective action or exiting the offender. As someone once told me, “If you can’t change the people, change the people.”

What about you? Where have you seen toxic behavior and what impact did it have on the organization? Comment below.


Listening to Your Best Self

I’m big on feedback.  In my consulting and training work, I teach it, coach it, and encourage it. I’d like to think I want to hear it, so that I can improve what I do. (At least in theory, anyway).

The reality is that I like feedback when it AFFIRMS what I did well. When someone provides feedback that reveals flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings….. not so much.

Recently I had an “opportunity for growth.” After speaking at a retreat, someone shared their observations on what went well and areas for improvement. Hmphf!  Just because I ask for your honest feedback doesn’t mean I REALLY want you to be honest!

So, like the “mature” person I am, I blasted back. And of course, all of this was in emails. Even as I typed, and processed, and edited, and thought I “softened” it… I knew in my spirit I was reacting the wrong way. BOTH in my tone AND the use of email itself. IN MY BEST SELF I KNEW MY RESPONSE WAS WRONG.

So, after some “clarifying” conversations and several apologies, hopefully I’ve learned some lessons:

  • Don’t ask for feedback unless you’re willing to HEAR it.
  • If you’re not ready for feedback yet, don’t ask for it.
  • Ask for feedback… because you NEED to hear it in order to get better.
  • RECOGNIZE that most of us aren’t all that skilled in PROVIDING feedback, so let’s cut each other some slack on HOW it gets delivered.
  • If you need clarification on the feedback, have a REAL CONVERSATION ABOUT IT, don’t EMAIL about it. (It’s fine to type out your thoughts, revise, edit, reorganize… just DON’T HIT “SEND”. Talk.)
  • LISTEN. Really listen. (You may not agree with WHAT they say, or HOW they say it, but just because you disagree, doesn’t mean there’s not TRUTH in what they share.
  • Recognize that those actually willing to provide feedback PROBABLY have your best interests in mind. (Not meaning the “critics and haters,” but those who say “Would you like some feedback?”)
  • How you (I) REACT to feedback (or how you RESPOND to your reaction) may in fact say MORE about who you are than the actual event(s) that prompted the feedback. If you overreact, APOLOGIZE and make it right.
  • If you don’t know how you’ll react (or, if you DO know and are pretty sure you might have to apologize if you react THAT way…), practice and have a “default” response available such as “Thank you…I’ll need to think about that for a while. I appreciate you sharing this with me.”
  • When your gut tells you “Don’t react that way” OR when you get all twisted up inside, that MAY be your “best self” saying WAIT. LISTEN. WAIT. LISTEN.
I think our instant-messaging, ATM-get-the-money-now, buy-now-pay-later, get-rich-quick, download-it-now-instead-of-waiting-for-it, “feel-good-NOW” society has conditioned us to “want what we want, when we want it.” When feedback points out gaps in our (my) behavior, we (I) don’t always know how to react with grace and appreciation that someone CARES ENOUGH to help us get better.

So, with your BEST SELF, invite feedback. LISTEN. And get better at what you do.

Eating Humble Pie

One of the things I’ve noticed in many organizations, whether they be for-profit, nonprofit, ministries, or volunteer-led is the irony of the “large and in charge” leader.  You might recognize one by:

  • S/He never admits to making a mistake
  • S/He has to be in the room in order for decisions to be made
  • When success occurs, s/he claims all the credit
  • When failure occurs, it’s always someone else’s fault
Where I see the irony is that this type of leader actually has few followers. Oh, they might have minions, serfs, or people doing their bidding. They may have captured the attention of those working for them, or they may terrorize them into submission, but they haven’t captured the hearts of their people.  And it’s the heart that internally motivates an individual, a team to greatness.
I believe John Maxwell once said (or quoted someone who said) “A general who gets too far ahead of their troops is only out for a lonely walk.”
When the “large and in charge” leader functions in this manner, they think they’re inspiring people to action, leading greatly, and that no weaknesses exist in their armor.  Unfortunately, it’s this very attitude that repels team members.  Everyone knows the leader’s weakness(es) but are powerless to address it. I worked for people like this. And many times, I’ve been this person.
Now, the greater irony is that a leader who admits their weaknesses and their need for other team members, who shares the credit and accepts the blame- in short, the humble leader, is the one people want to follow. This leader fosters an environment where mistakes become teachable moments, not fearful encounters; where team members rely on each other for the good of the whole organization; where people clamor to work on the team because they are treated with respect, given opportunity to grow and stretch, and bring their best selves to the mission, vision, and strategies.
The sad thing to me is that tons of research and numerous writings have documented how the humble leader, the collaborative leader, the inspirational leader (the same person, mind you) is the one who gets the most out of their people, leads on-time, on-target and more profitable teams…. and yet organization after organization continue to allow the toxic leaders to dominate.
Some of the more recent research has been done by Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. I encourage you to watch this 24-minute video of Liz talking about how to multiply the intelligence of your people. As you watch, listen for this underlying theme of being humble.
Then ask yourself (or better yet, ask a trusted colleague):  “Which type of leader am I?”
Comment Below: What comes to mind when you see this video?

‘Snow Big Deal, Is It?

Here in Michigan, we’re getting hit with snow. A lot of it. But really, it  “‘snow big deal.” Our family doesn’t own a snowblower, a tractor, or a riding mower with a blade. (But we DO have teenagers!) They were predicting 8-14″ of snow, from Saturday night into Monday morning. As the weather reports came in, with “winter weather advisories,” then “warnings,” I told the family “Here’s what we’re going to do: Every couple of hours, we’re going to go out and shovel a layer off.” Predictions were a rate at one point to be about an inch an hour.

Why wait until it’s 12 inches deep, then struggle to push, shovel, lift, dig, and un-bury ourselves from the deep mess? So, at 10 PM Saturday night, I went out and shoveled the driveway (about 2″). Then Sunday at 6:30 AM (so we could head to church – me for worship team practice at 8, the rest of the family at 8:45)… about 3-4,” then the family did a quick shovel before leaving- maybe another inch). Then after church, around 2:00- I shoveled again- maybe another 3-4 inches.  Then nap… and saw that my wonderful wife and son were out at around 4 PM- for another 3 inches. And the wind is picking up, and snow is blowing.

Facebook posts include cheers of joy for a Monday-post-Christmas-vacation-extending snow day.. And here in a few minutes after 6 PM (Sunday), I’m headed back out for another round.

Okay, enough boring snow and shoveling report… Here’s my point: How often do we wait too long in our organizations, families, nonprofits or ministries to deal with issues, grab hold of opportunities or intervene in trouble?

Truth be told, many times, we just let it build…. and build…. and build….. until it gets really messy.

  • We wait for the annual employee evaluation to talk about unacceptable behaviors;
  • We let attitudes stay sour or gossip build;
  • We heap up debt after debt until it’s unmanageable;
  • We wait until the last minute for the major project to get done (I’m definitely guilty on this one!), grant to be written, or funds to be raised;
  • We stop exercising a little each day or watching what we eat, thinking “I’ll work it off later” (again- guilty!);
  • We miss an opportunity to “do good” with little details, resulting in an overwhelming sense of regret.
What if… just what if we seized the opportunities while they were small, manageable, layer-by-layer, inch-by-inch, instead of having to dig ourselves out of a mess?
So… here’s to taking care of business quickly, while it’s manageable, heading it off at the pass, shoveling an inch or two at a time, or eating the elephant in the room one bite at a time (nice mixed-metaphor, right?)

Excuse me while I we go shovel….

Postscript: Pictures from Monday morning following the big storm:

Ja-NEW-ary Reflections

I just saw a commercial on the Disney Channel where they’re promoting this month’s new shows. They’ve dubbed it JaNEWary.  Nice twist on words, especially for this punster.

This is January 1 after all, and social media is full of comments about people looking forward to a new year, saying goodbye to 2013, new resolutions, new hopes and dreams. Perhaps you’re someone who is looking forward to a new chapter, mourning a past one, or maybe even just numb to life. Or maybe all three combined.

Some of my favorite pictures from last night (New Year’s Eve) are from a wedding. The families and friends not only celebrated the bride and groom, but it looks like they turned it into a great New Year’s Eve party. A great way to ring out the old, ring in the new, and put rings on the fingers!

We all like new things, whether it’s new technology, new bride and groom, or a new car.  We like the look, the feel, the shininess, the discoveries that newness brings. I once heard a talk about how advertisers know this about us and market their products as “NEW!” or IMPROVED.” Sometimes we go so quickly from new to new to new that we don’t really appreciate the “old” (even if the old isn’t really all that old!). Just watch the long lines outside big box stores when a new version of a phone comes out. (I have my eye on a new phone, and my question to the salesperson is “So tell me about how this model is different from my current one?”)

I talked with a friend on Sunday who was telling me about his Christmas gift to his wife- a new camera.  It’s the same brand as their old camera, just a newer model with more “bells and whistles” on it.  But the more they explored the features on the new camera, the more they began to realize that maybe they hadn’t fully utilized all the bells and whistles on the older one. Many capabilities were already there… but underutilized.

This got me thinking: Do I really know the technology I have? Am I using my phone, my tablet to their fullest capabilities? Probably not. But the new one looks so much cooler!”

Maybe this is why we look forward to a new year.  After all, it’s wide open for possibilities.  The story hasn’t been written yet. We have 365 days before we have to look back on 2014. We hope 2014 will be brighter, warmer, more loving, more healthy, more profitable, more ___________. For me personally, I want all of these.

But as I look forward to 2014, I want to make sure I’m not just hopeful for the “new and as yet unwritten,” but also to recognize those areas in my life where perhaps I underutilized my own capabilities and opportunities in 2013. Maybe it’s not all about doing something new…. maybe it’s also about stepping fully into who I already am.

So, as you reflect on 2013 and look forward to 2014, may this be a great year for you: of new hopes and dreams, new opportunities, [new technology :)], better relationships better health,…. but most of all, a year when you become more fully aware of, confident in, and step into who you already are.

Happy New Year!

So… What’s YOUR Excuse?

When I was a kid, sometimes we’d use snide comebacks when someone said something to us  meant to be hurtful:

  • I know you are, but what am I?
  • Yeah, but so’s your mother!
  • I may be stupid, but you’re ugly. And one day I’ll get smarter, but you….
  • So, what’s YOUR excuse?

It seems like when we grow up, we still use that last one a lot. Maybe not out loud, but we certainly hear a lot of excuses. Whether it’s:
  • “Hey, I threw the ball where the receiver should have been!” or…
  • “Who’s to blame for the shutdown or the health care debacle?” or…
  • “But officer, I had the right of way!” or…
  • “I couldn’t get my homework done because….” or…
  • “Well, if he/she hadn’t posted that online, I wouldn’t have….”
Excuses.  I use them, probably way more than I should. And truth be told, my excuses are usually an attempt to cover up my laziness, deny my poor planning, blame someone else for my lack of communication, and / or make someone else look bad.
There’s something inside each of us (me!) that thinks that if I play the blame game, they look bad and I’ll look good.  The irony, though, is that we usually know when someone else is passing the buck and ultimately, others know it when we do.
So, let’s take responsibility. Me for my junk, and you for yours. Let’s quit blaming others for our mistakes, shortcomings, and intentional mess-ups. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see progress as together we take responsibility for our future.

To Grammer’s House We Go

If they’res won thing that drives me nuts, its when people dont due spill and grammer checks when they post online. First, I think its an issue that reduces you’re credibility. And two often, we’re just not all concerned. Much of the thyme, the errors are related to the apostrophe: may be were just to lazy to switch hour cell phone keyboards from the “alpha” view to the “symbols / numbers” view so we leave a comma or the ‘ out (or… maybe we temporarily loose our memory about how to spell correctly).

I’m not even referring to using texting slang, or when my stupid phone autocorrects, or my fingers are 2 fat for the touch screen keyboard. I get that, and often make those gaffes.

The funny memes on Facebook seem to be where many typos occur:

 (Was any of that painful to read?  If so, you totally get what I’m talking about!)

But if you don’t no the differences between words that sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings, hear’s a quick reminder for some of the worst offenses:

No: not going to do it, as in “No, you can’t make me spell better!”
Know: ability to be aware, as in “I know the difference, I’m just too lazy or just don’t care.”

They’re: contraction- they are, as in They’re reading my blog post! Yeah”
There: a place to be, as in “When I go to Starbucks, I’ll meet you there.”
Their: possessive, as in “Those who read this post while drinking at Starbucks will gain a new understanding of their spelling and grammar.”

To: where you’re going, as in “Let’s go to Starbucks.”
Too: also, as in “You can come, too!”
Two: the number, as in, “When we get there, two other friends will be there to meet us, too.”

Sunday’s: contraction- “Sunday is” OR it belongs to that day, as in Sunday’s the day we get together at Starbucks after church. Sunday’s drink special is pumpkin spice latte.”
Sundays: more than one, as in “On Sundays, we always go out for ice cream sundaes to eat with our Sunday’s drink special from Starbucks.”

It’s: contraction- it is, as in It’s beginning to feel like my pants are tighter after all those lattes and sundaes.”
Its: possessive form, as in “The beauty of this blog post is its ability to remind us we all make these mistakes. My life is better for it.”

Lose: to not win or reduce something, as in “Maybe it’s time to lose some weight by not drinking so many lattes.”
Loose: opposite of tight, as in “When I lose some weight, my pants will hopefully feel loose.”

Your: possessive, as in “Your blog has reminded me to proof read before submitting, and to go get a pumpkin spice coffee, sooner than latte.”
You’re: contraction, as in You’re going to send a link to this post to others, right?”

Of course, maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine, and one that I need to get over. After all, the statistics might suggest (no, I didn’t create this one, and yes, it’s ironic….):

What do you say? Please comment below and pass this post along to others who share our pet peeve, or who need to read it (just don’t tell them in which category they fit).


The more I work with teams, the more I’m convinced that alignment is critical to success. Patrick Lencioni addresses this in The Advantage, but when you see it in person, this idea that a leadership team needs to have a common vision, direction, and metric for success becomes crystal clear.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some great client teams, and help them (re)discover this principle:  One team, one score.

The target, the mission, the vision must be clear.  Ambiguity leads to higher stress and ultimately, inefficiency.

How about your organization or leadership team?  Is it “every person for themselves,” or “everything we do points to a singular purpose”?

I recently attended the Catalyst leadership conference in Atlanta with several people from my church.  Always inspirational, thought-provoking, and educational, this year’s event ended with Andy Stanley talking about “Leadership 101.”  The message was astounding, yet simple:
In leadership, we should always have an answer to these three questions:

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • How do I fit in?
How about you? Could you answer these questions? I haven’t always been able to, and it’s a great exercise to keep in front of you.  It’s like the old story of the rookie lumberjack who meets a seasoned veteran as he meticulously sharpens his saw.  The youngster laughs at the old-timer and says “I don’t have time for that. I’m gonna cut me some wood.”  The elder gentleman just shakes his head and keeps sharpening.  About mid-day, the rookie is found, dead tired, with only a couple trees felled.  With a wink in his eye, and wisdom from his years, the seasoned lumberjack tells him, “Sonny, you can skip the sharpening if you want, but you’ll find when you don’t do it first, you won’t cut much wood.”
Knowing your vision, mission, purpose is important.  It’s the the thing that will “sharpen your saw” and will keep your team aligned. Without it, you won’t fell many trees.

(For help on alignment, visit here and let’s talk.)

Feel free to comment below:  What do you do to identify and/or keep your vision in front of you to stay aligned as a team?