Archives For February 2012

“Grace, she takes the blame, she covers the shame, removes the stain.” ~ Bono

I think it was over a year ago now that my friend Jenn sent me a link to the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. She selected for me the version sung by Justin Timberlake, and having now very intentionally experienced every version that’s out there, I still think Timberlake’s is the best. For me, it hits just the right balance of desperation and faith ~ a passionate prayer that is both accusation and love song at the same time.

In her email, along with the link, Jenn included this brief note: “When I hear your story, I’m reminded of this song. I think it may express some of what you are experiencing right now.”

In classic Jenn fashion, she nailed the essence of where I was, and, cleverly, subtly, gave me permission to be there. I lived in that song for the next year (at least), and it became a place where I could find my true self and feel everything I truly felt…and, without fear of judgment or shame, really look at the circumstances and experiences that have so deeply shaped the man I have become.

To become the people that God designed us to be, we all need to find a space in ourselves ~ a way of being with ourselves ~ that’s free of self-judgment and full of courage to really look at all that we are…shadow and light, brokenness and glory, all mysteriously interwoven as in any good epic tale, and give ourselves full permission to bring it all into the Light. To be it all. To live it all. To include it all. Right here. And right now.

That’s the Amazing Grace that comes to mind when I think of the gift Christ brought by being born in the world. He helps find what has been lost or broken in every living soul, and shows us how we can be whole again. And he does it not through condemnation under the Law, but through a disarming acceptance and an unreasonable love. In other words, through Grace. And that’s the gift ~ the best gift, I think ~ that we can give one another at Christmastime.

So what if, for Christmas this year, in addition to all the presents you buy for those you love, you gave away this gift: Letting others be exactly who they are right now, with no judgment, and fully accepting everything in them that is not yet whole. And from that grace-filled space, gently blessing the beauty and glory that lives in them as masterpieces crafted by the passionate soul of God.

I’ve come to believe that unless we intentionally create these “Grace-filled spaces” in our lives and relationships, we will never really be free ourselves. Because to do this work is to do what Jesus does with every willing soul he meets…and isn’t that what being a “Christ follower” means?

How are you intentionally creating “Grace-filled spaces” in your life right now? How about in your relationships? How could you take that experience even deeper this Christmas?

“All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The Big art is our life.” ~ MC Richards

When back country hiking through unfamiliar territory, one critically essential survival skill is to regularly stop, check your position, and get your bearings. You pull out the map, check the compass (or the GPS if you have one) and review where you’ve come from, verify where you are, and confirm or refine the course ahead. If you don’t take care to do this on a fairly regularly basis, you run the very real risk of losing your way, going off course, and running into danger.

In the journey of life, there’s a similar practice available to all of us that’s just as important to attaining the life we were meant for and deeply desire. I call it “checking your position,” and it’s basically the same process used by wilderness hikers, only instead of a map, we look at your life; and instead of a compass or GPS, the deep, true core of your heart.

As another year draws to a close, I challenge you to set aside just an hour or two to check your position in the journey of your life. All you need is this brief guide, along with a journal and a pen to record your insights. Will you take on the challenge? Ready? Here goes:

Step 1: Review where you’ve come from.

  • As you think back over the last 12 months, where have you strengthened your footing or gained new ground?
  • What new discoveries have you made?
  • How have you changed as a result of these successes?
  • As you look back over the past year, where have you failed to advance, or even lost ground?
  • What obstacles have held you back?
  • How have you typically explained this struggle to yourself? What have you told yourself about it?
  • What’s been really really good about this past year?
  • What do you wish you could change about this past year?

Step 2: Look at where you are.

  • Now that you’ve looked back over the journey you’ve taken over this past year, where would you say you are now?
  • As you look at where you are in life today, what are you proud of?
  • What are you most disappointed about?
  • Where are you hiding or in denial about something that really matters to you?
  • How would you describe the current condition of your heart—as it is right now?
  • What’s the deep truth about your life as it is today?

Step 3: Refine the course ahead.

  • Where do you want your life to go in the next 12 months? What would you love to see happen?
  • What do you want the “theme” of your life to be in the coming year?
  • What struggle or obstacle would you love to finally overcome?
  • What new territory is crying out to be explored?
  • What are the things you must do in the next 12 months to move your life forward in the direction of your deepest heart desires?
  • Based on what you’ve explored so far, what specific goals will you set for yourself in the next year?
  • How will you ensure that you don’t lose sight of these goals, or lose your way in the coming year?
  • How will you know when each goal is achieved?
  • How will you celebrate when you reach your desired destination?

Look back. Check your bearings. Set the course ahead. It’s a simple practice, really. But sometimes it’s simple things like this that make all the difference in helping us define who are becoming and maximize the quality and impact of our lives in the world.

Feel free to share the goals you’ve set for yourself in the coming year, either in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter. And if you’d like to explore how partnering with a coach can help you reach your goals more quickly and more effectively, I encourage you to Contact Me. Let’s explore the possibilities.

Strategy AND Surrender

February 25, 2012 — Leave A Comment

While every one of us may develop certain leadership skills, being a good follower, especially understanding what it means to follow Christ, requires a different idea of excellence and a different kind of hope. ~ Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Ask any leader and she’ll tell you: Time management is a big deal.

There’s always more to do than time to do it, and more people who ask for time than you have time to give. So solid, even masterful time management skills are essential to good leadership.

But the challenge is even more complex for spiritual leaders. We aren’t just trying to be effective at leading; we’re also trying to be effective at following. Jesus is the Head Pastor and President of the Church we serve, and our primary job as servants under His authority is to follow His lead.

But the thing about Jesus is that He’s…well, unpredictable. We may know the goal, but He doesn’t always get there the way we expect He will, or should, or even the way He did it last time. As one pastor I know used to say, our God is “infinitely creative,” which was a Christian-speak way of saying that God is often taking lefts when we think He should go right, slowing down when it’s crystal clear to us that He should be speeding up, and generally finding ways to reach His desired endgame that no one among us could have ever predicted.

So how do you schedule your day as a leader when you’re following a God like that?

What I’m about to say may sound overly dramatic, but I genuinely believe it’s true: How you handle scheduling can make or break your spiritual effectiveness as a leader. Why? Because the time management systems promoted by the corporate world do not include concepts like full surrender to God’s leadership or moment-to-moment availability to the Holy Spirit ~ both of which are critical to any Christ-follower’s approach to time management. This means it’s possible (and actually quite common) for Christian leaders to be very effective at managing their job and very disconnected from the God they’re working for. But what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul, right?

So how do you strategically plan your day and stay open to the sometimes counterintuitive leading of God’s Spirit moment by moment throughout the day? Every leader I work with eventually develops their own unique system, but here’s a place to begin. I call it the Blueprint Method:

  • Use an online calendar (such as Google calendar or something similar) to schedule everything. As Covey suggests, schedule your time based first on what’s important, then on what’s urgent. I also suggest you schedule margin of 10-15 minutes after every item on the list to allow for interruptions (which WILL happen, so why not plan for them?).
  • Every night, print out the calendar for the next day. Take a quick look at it, and invite God to speak to you about it as you sleep that night.
  • The next morning, as a part of your reflective time with God, pray over the day’s schedule again. Fully surrender the entire day to God ~ every meeting, every task, every conversation, and invite God to speak to you about any aspect of the day He wants to change. Warning: This could lead to anything from rescheduling a meeting to grabbing lunch at the park instead of at your desk to canceling the entire day and spending it in solitude and prayer. Don’t be surprised when God stretches your faith in this.
  • Whatever you feel led to change, take a risk and change it. Remember that God is the Giver of the gift of administration. He knows how to handle your schedule so that everything that needs doing gets done. Take a risk to trust what you think He is saying, even when it doesn’t make sense to you. How will you learn to follow His voice each day if you aren’t willing to take a risk, right?
  • At day’s end, reflect on the changes you made. Did the “fruit” of those choices confirm that you heard correctly? If so, awesome! If not, ask God to teach you where and how you misread His leading.
  • The next day, start fresh, and begin again.

What personal strategy do you use for planning your day and following God’s lead? Let’s learn from each other. Share your best practices in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

“There are some dragons in my life I cannot slay on my own.” ~ Ted Beasley

It’s no good going it alone.

But that’s what many leaders do: Take the world on their shoulders. Bear the burden. Soldier on. Quietly persevere. That’s what it means to be a leader, right? You carry the weight of leadership so those you serve don’t have to. You find the path forward. You come up with the answer. You make the call. You take the hits.

All by yourself. Leadership is, after all, a lonely calling.

Nonsense.

It’s true that leadership has its costs. But trying to do it all by yourself isn’t good leadership; it’s martyrdom. Moses nearly reached the point of collapse before Jethro finally got it through his bonehead that he needed a team supporting him behind the scenes.

Well then. Consider me your Jethro.

You, my dear leader, need a team. And I’m not talking about your senior leadership team, or your organization’s board of directors. I’m talking about a personal support team ~ a small cohort of wise allies ensconced firmly in your corner, providing advice, support, comfort, direction, and friendship, helping you to live into your full potential as a leader and a follower of Christ.

Some call it a personal Board of Directors; others use labels such as “Team John” or “Team Jenni.” But whatever you call it, you need to create one. Here’s how:

Make a list of potential candidates. If you have a spouse, they should definitely be one of them. Beyond that, consider people who are mature, wise, honest, and trustworthy, and who can support you in one or more of these areas of your life:

  • Your Ongoing Spiritual Growth
  • Your Personal Development
  • Your Growth as a Leader
  • Your Health & Fitness
  • Your Family and Marriage
  • Your Financial Health
  • Your Recreational Life (You know, the art of taking time off and having fun!)

Keep it to no more than five people. It’s fine if one person helps support you in more than one area, but have at least three on your team so you can get a variety of perspectives when you need it.

Choose people who are strong where you are weak. And avoid choosing folks who think just like you do. You want people who believe in you absolutely, but are also willing and able to help you see alternative ways of seeing problems or interpreting events.

Formalize it. When you’re ready to invite someone in to be a part of your personal board, don’t hold your cards close to the vest about it. Tell them exactly what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and why you want them to be a part of it. Formally ask them to be on your team, and let them know what kind of commitment you think that means for them.

Meet regularly. Make it a priority…because it is. At a minimum, meet with each of your board members at least once a month. But more often is better. I meet with members of my own team every single week, and I’ve never once regretted it or felt it was time better spent doing something else on the task list. You can meet with them all together, or separately as you like ~ that’s up to you (it’s your team, remember?)

When you meet, don’t just “report in”; ask for help. This is good practice for you, and a meaningful opportunity for them. (Does it really surprise you that there are people out there who love you and really want to serve you?) Get specific about struggles you’re facing as well as where you want to grow or stretch yourself in each of the bulleted areas listed above, and suggest specific ways that your team can help you get where you want to go. Oh…and about the ubiquitous “pray for me” request. That’s an awesome request; perhaps the most important one you can make. And it can also be a cop out to avoid asking for specific help you really need. Don’t hide. Give your friends the opportunity to authentically serve you.

Your leadership matters a lot. Certainly it matters enough to not try to go it alone.

If you already have a personal “board of directors,” I’d love to hear about it. How do you have it set up? What’s working well? What lessons have you learned? Share in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Click the photo. Take a look. Then read on…

Everything that you desire for your life that you don’t currently have lies outside your comfort zone. At first glance this may seem obvious, but the implications are profound. Everything you want to reach for–every goal or dream–everything you want to change or long to become, all of it lies beyond the borders of what you have known or find comfortable.

All growth, all change, depends on discomfort. All significant change depends on significant discomfort, which we call pain. Fear, discomfort, pain, the pounding heart and sweaty palms, the pit stains and that nearly overwhelming urge to run away–that is the normal environment for growth. This “risk zone” has been called by many names: The Wilderness…The Uncharted Wilds…Off the Map, where Dragons Live…The Desert Waste.

It’s no wonder God called His people into deserts so often. He knows that’s where transformation happens.

Want to grow? Want something to change? Want to be the whole person God is calling you forth to become? Then this is what you must do:

Stop resisting discomfort.

Stop running from your fear.

Instead, use it as a compass to tell you where to go next. Move toward what scares you and stay there ’till it doesn’t.

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” ~ Genesis 12:1

God’s very first act with Abraham was to call him out of his comfort zone. And I’ll bet He’s calling you to do the same. When I read that verse, I hear it like this: Leave the place of your father and mother, the familiar places and lands you have known, and go out from there into the wild lands, the uncharted spaces, to a place I will show you. Go toward the place of your unknowing, where you have no map and nothing is certain but your full commitment, and open your heart there to all that unfolds. Feel everything. Hold nothing back. Know Me there. And discover who you were made to be.

So lift up your heart now
to this unfolding.
All that has been broken
will be restored.
Here runs deep waters
for all who are thirsty.
‘Cause Love has come,
Love has come for you.
~ from “Ten Thousand Angels” by Caedmon’s Call

We tend to think that when Love comes it is always gentle and meek. But Love also comes to call you forth and dare you to live. And that is a very dangerous love indeed.

Where are you being called to step into discomfort or even pain for the sake of your growth?

“Sometimes you have to roll the hard six.” ~ Commander Adama, BSG

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I like to “test drive” stuff a lot. Whether it’s a new sport or social activity, a new product, or a new hobby, I like to “try things on” before really buying in. I dabble rather than dive in.

Truth is, it’s safer. And really, that’s not a bad thing at all. I have my clients try things out and experiment with new possibilities all the time, with terrific results.

But some of the things we want to bring into our lives–including many of the things that matter most to us, such as love and marriage, health and fitness, and the fulfillment of your unique mission in the world–will never happen unless we fully commit to making them real.

In fact, my work with leaders has taught me that there really are at least three things required of us in order to make a significant change in the world or create something new:

 

Courage — The willingness to stretch outside your comfort zone, again and again, risking vulnerability and failure as a regular practice of growth and strengthening for as long as it takes to reach your goal.

 

Clarity — A crystal clear 3D high-definition vision of precisely what you want to create.

 

Full Commitment — The act of “crossing the line” from indecision and distraction into the place of absolute resolve, where you signal to the world and to yourself that you are “All In,” where all other alternatives disappear, and the thing that you desire feels inevitable.

 

Some of the things we want most simply won’t happen until we summon our courage and fully commit to make them so. And if you’re wondering just what full commitment looks like, I came across this beautiful video last week that I think illustrates the idea very well:


Where are you holding back from fully committing to something you really want?

“The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” ~ the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 2:2)

One thing I love about mature leaders is their commitment to always be “giving away” what they have to others. They want to mentor, to invest themselves in younger men and women, to teach them what they’ve learned along the way, and help them become even better leaders than they were for the next generation to come.

And for most of these mature leaders, there’s no shortage of potential candidates. One of the terrific (and terrifically challenging) aspects of being a great leader is that lots of people are drawn to you and want to spend time with you. But there’s no way you can say yes to all of them. There simply isn’t enough time.

So how do you decide? Aside from obvious things to look for like gifting and skill, what kind of person makes for a great investment of your time and energy–and really, of your heart? Here are four questions I like to ask to help me discern whether someone is a good candidate for mentoring:

  • Are they Faithful? ~ That is, will they stick with something once they say yes to it? Can they be trusted to keep their commitments?
  • Are they Available? ~ Do they really have the time and energy available that a mentoring relationship with you will require? They may have great passion and terrific potential, but if they’re working 60 hours a week or traveling all the time, they’re probably not a good fit for a mentoring relationship.
  • Are they Spirit-led? ~ Meaning, have they developed a spiritual practice of “staying connected” with God and following his lead? If not, they may not be ready yet for the level of mentoring you’d want to offer.
  • Are they Teachable? ~ That is, are they genuinely humble? Do they know how to listen? Are they willing to take risks, to make mistakes, and learn? Are they willing to trust you?

I think these four qualities — Faithful, Available, Spirit-led, and Teachable — are essential for an effective mentoring relationship. Plus, they make a handy acronym!

F.A.S.T.

When considering a potential mentee, if I can’t answer yes to every one of these questions, I say no.

What other questions would you add to my list?