Lessons Learned This Past Year

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As we approach the end of another year I can’t help but reflect on this past year.  It was filled with good times, bad times, positive emotions and negative emotions.  I cried and I laughed.  I opened up and I shut down.  I made some good decisions and I made some bad decisions.  I got angry and had a negative attitude and I was filled with joy and had a positive attitude.  I also learned a lot this past year about leadership, my relationship with God and the baggage that I still tend to carry.

If you’re like me this can describe almost every year.  However every year I like to ask myself if I have grown in my faith, character and leadership in this past year.  For me it’s a big yes this year.  Probably more than many other years because of the amount of change I experienced at work.  Here are some of the lessons I learned or went deeper in understanding.

  1. God opposed the proud but supports the humble – Every time I allow pride to creep into my life I get knocked down a few notches.  This often happens to me when things are going well and I start comparing myself to others.  It can happen when I’m meeting with someone that is going through a hardship and I think I can fix it with three simple steps.  Or when I don’t think a certain strategy or decision is the best and my way is better.  Or if I don’t pay attention to my wife and just do what I want.  I keep learning and understanding more deeply to humble myself and in due time the Lord will lift me up, but it’s his decision not mine.  I need to remain faithful, work hard and focus on doing what is right and good and submit to God and other people.
  2. Value your relationships because life can change in an instant – I was reminded through several tragic events that life is precious and things can change very quickly.  I was reminded to spend time with the people I love and to work on those relationship by practicing forgiveness, communicating clearly and often and by loving well.  The Bible says to love extravagantly and that we are bankrupt without love.  Learning to love or how to express love is one of the best things we can do to improve our lives and value the people around us.
  3. Having the hard conversations is a game changer – Conflict is not fun and many people tend to avoid it.  However if you want to grow, make progress, change for the better or have less stress, then you must deal directly with conflict.  Learning to admit when your wrong and confronting issues quickly when they come up does not allow things to fester and get infected.  I had many hard conversations this past year and most of them ended well and improved the relationship or the situation.  Resolving conflict is hard but it leads to relational, emotional and physical health.
  4. Vulnerability and openness are strengths not weakness – I studied and read a lot about vulnerability, shame and courage this past year.  It takes great courage to be vulnerable and be honest, but when you do it, you experience great freedom, creativity and strength.  I became more vulnerable in some of my relationships and took some risks by sharing more of me with others.  I grew in confidence and courage by facing the junk in my life head on and sharing that with some trusted people in my life.  Everyone knows your not perfect so stop trying to be, take off the mask and be real, that’s when things start to change.
  5. Emotional health is one of the most import things a leader can have – Being healthy emotionally allows you to lead at a high level and take on enormous responsibility.  However staying healthy emotionally takes constant work just like staying physically healthy takes constant work.  Caring for your soul and understanding your emotions is a sign of maturity and leadership.  Sometimes you have to go to a professional counselor in order to break through some of the emotional walls that come up in your life.  It’s always worth the time and energy and money to get healthy emotionally.
  6. When you keep God first and submit to Him other things fall into place – My relationship with God has grown and deepened over the years, but this did not just happen, I had to be intentional.  I have found that the more time I spend with God the more I can accomplish, the healthier I am and and the lower my stress tends to be.  Having a spiritual rhythm in life is vital.  What I mean by rhythm is having a thriving prayer life, feeding on God’s word regularly, being silent and being with God and living a life of worship.  That is staying focused on the most important thing in life, your relationship with Jesus Christ.  When that is growing the rest of life tends to be healthier as well.

Keep growing in Faith, Character and Leadership.

A Key to Stronger Relationships

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I’ve been studying the idea of vulnerability and how that plays out in our relationships.   Brene Brown has some incredible insights on this tough topic.  Much of this post is based on her research.

One of the things that keeps us from being vulnerable is shame.  Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgement.  However when we introduce empathy, shame cannot grow.  So in order to be open and vulnerable we need to be around people that are great at empathizing and we need to learn how to be empathetic with others.  Learning how to be empathetic is one of the most powerful ways to improve your relationships.

In order to be empathetic we need to be able to see the world as others see it.  This is all about perspective, being able to take the perspective of another person and not our own.  It’s being able to listen to someone and not interject our own experience but to really what to hear it from them.  It’s not one upping the person by sharing what you did or how you messed up.  It’s being able to realize that our lens of life and our experiences are different than others and being OK with that.

Empathy also requires that we are nonjudgmental.   Most of us are  judgmental and we are usually judgmental in areas where we are vulnerable to shame.  We tend to judge people that are worse than we are so that we feel better about ourselves.  We do that because we are looking for validation that at least I’m not as bad as so and so.

Empathy is not our default or natural mode, it’s a skill that must be worked on and developed in order for this to happen naturally.  Empathy is usually very subtle, it can be just a knowing look or going to be with someone in a time of crisis instead of calling to express sympathy.

When we empathize with someone, we go to that dark place with them, we don’t flip on the lights and try to cheer them up and fix the problem or make light of the situation.  It’s like walking up to your friend that is in a hole and going down into the hole with them, but knowing how to get back out of the hole because it’s not your hole.  Sympathy is walking up to the hole and asking what happened.  When they tell you, you express that your sorry to hear that, that’s a terrible thing.  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.  There is a big difference.

When we empathize with someone, we are creating a safe environment for people to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable is one of the most accurate measures of a persons courage.  To be vulnerable takes bravery, because it is walking into uncertainty, it’s taking a risk and it’s exposing your emotions.  It takes courage because the reality is you can get hurt when you do this with someone that is not able to empathize or keep things confidential.

However if you live in secrecy, and silence you might feel safe, but are most likely miserable.  When we are vulnerable we are our true self.  We are showing that we are imperfect, messed up, awkward and goofy.  The greatest relationships are the ones where you can be all  of that and the person loves you even more.

So if your looking to improve your relationships, first learn how to empathize better with the people around you. Work on those skills of listening and trying to understand their perspective.  Don’t try to fix them or the situation, but let them know we can do this together.  Then work at being vulnerable with the people in your life.  Expose yourself emotionally by being honest about your struggles and your shame.  When we do that there is incredible freedom and life when we push past our fear.

 

Leadership Development

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Today I spoke at a workshop about leadership development and mentoring.  It was a great experience because I was talking about something that I am passionate about.  about 15 years ago I went through a time of searching for meaning in my life.  I turned to God and went deeper in my faith.  At the time I started asking myself what kind of person do I want to be remembered for.  I started praying and questioning myself.  After a long process I came up with a personal mission statement for my life:  Growing myself and others in Faith, Character and Leadership.  Those three areas of my life have been the main focus for me over the last 15 years.  It has helped to keep me focused on the right things and to say no to the things that distract me from those three areas of my life.

Here are the things I shared with the group today at the Equip2Serve conference in Canton Ohio at Malone University.

Leading yourself is always the hardest thing to do.  We spend more time with ourselves than anyone else, yet most of us don’t take the time to be intentional about our own development.  Here are some practical things you can do to work on yourself.

  1. Develop a Personal Growth Plan or Life Plan This is a powerful exercise that can transform your life.  To think about the highest priority areas of your life like, Faith, Family, Marriage, Finances, Health, Work.  Then to go beyond just thinking to actually developing a vision for each of those areas and then setting specific goals to help you get closer to that vision.  The last step is to put those goals on your calendar and actually do the things you wrote down.
  2. Get Accountable – It’s good to do a life plan and set goals for your life, it’s another to share those goals with trusted people in your life and ask them to hold you accountable.  It’s also important for your character to have some accountability in your life.  Confessing to God and talking to him about our issues is one thing, but it’s a whole new level if you can confess to a trusted friend and ask them to ask you about it every week.  Accountability only is effective if you are completely honest and trustworthy.  Start praying right now for a few people that you can trust enough to share every area of your life, and talk about the dark things in your life.
  3. Ease up on Yourself – Don’t take yourself so seriously.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  We can be our own worst enemy sometimes by thinking negatively about ourselves and putting ourselves down.  It’s OK to put pressure on yourself, but not to the point where you feel defeated or depressed.  It’s important to remember that God made you, He loves you and He believes in you.
  4. Plan some Solitude Time –  This won’t happen on it’s own so you need to get it on your calendar.  Block off some time and take a personal retreat.  You might need to take a vacation day to do this but it will be worth it.  Solitude means getting away from the people and things that distract us from connecting with God.  This is necessary mainly for your emotional and spiritual health.  Solitude allows you to have God moments where you connect with Him in ways you could never experience when your running your normal life pace.
  5. Take a Risk – This is huge in leading yourself.  When you take a risk and push through the fear that holds you back there is great freedom on the other side of that.  The danger in self-leadership is that we become content with who we are and don’t push beyond what we think is possible.  IN what area of your life do you need to take a risk?

Leading yourself is not easy and will be something you have to do the rest of your life.  We never arrive and get it all figured out.  Once we make one break through in life there is always another obstacle and other opportunities that will come up.  Make sure your carving out time to lead and develop yourself.  The more time you spend on yourself, the more you can pour into others.

Hard Leadership

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Leadership is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.  It is also one of the most rewarding things you can do.  Whether your leading your children, your family, your department, your company or your team, leadership can be challenging.

Leadership is hard because if you want to lead well it takes time, energy, intentionality and confidence.  To lead well a person has to constantly be thinking ahead and also dealing with the present reality.  The ability to influence others in a positive way starts with the way a person leads themselves.

Leading yourself is probably the most challenging part of leadership.  You know yourself better than anyone and so you tend to be harder on yourself than on others.  You can also talk yourself into things that are not good for you and justify bad behavior.  Unless you have some accountability in your life leading yourself can be a loosing battle.

So here are some tips on how to lead yourself better, so that you can lead others better:

  1. Develop a Personal Growth Plan or Life Plan – This is a powerful exercise that should be done once a year and then followed throughout the year.  Pick the important large areas of your life like; Faith, Family, Marriage, Finances, Work, Health.  Once you’ve settled on 3-5 main areas then write a one paragraph description of what you want that area of your life to be like.  Once you’ve done that, set 3-5 specific goals that can help you move closer to that ideal that you just described.  Once you have that done then transfer those goals to your to-do list or calendar so that you start working on it.
  2. Get Accountable – It’s on thing to set some goals and work on achieving those things, it’s another to share those goals with someone else and ask them to hold you accountable.  Accountability only works if you are honest and completely open.  It also takes a person that cares about you and that can be trusted to hold you accountable and ask the tough questions.  If you have that kind of relationship or relationships in your life it can accelerate your growth and development.  If you don’t have that start working on developing that kind of a relationship with someone.
  3. Ease up – What I mean by that is it’s important to ease up on yourself and not be too negative about yourself.  We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to change or personal growth.  Cut yourself some slack and look for the positive things that your doing and don’t always focus on the negative.  It’s OK to put pressure on yourself, but be careful it’s not too much.
  4. Take a Risk – This is huge when leading yourself.  When you take a risk and try something new or push yourself to do something in spite of your fears, real growth happens.  The danger in self-leadership is to get comfortable and not push yourself to get better.  When that happens your influence with others will start to go down.  If your not stretching and growing you can’t ask others to stretch and grow.

Leadership is hard and rewarding.  It’s either increasing or decreasing and you decide which direction it’s going.

Spiritual Fitness

 

 

Race (12)Recently I ran races on back to back weekends.  First it was a race called Rough & Rugged which was a 5k cross country, trail, mud kind of race.  I finished but was exhausted and struggled along the way.  Then the next weekend I ran a 10k on a flat course.  Again I finished but struggled and had to reach deep to keep pushing myself. After I finished that second race I made the comment that these races are much harder when you don’t train properly.

You see I had been running once a twice a week in preparation for both of these races.  I also did nothing between the two races and I felt it on race day.  I know this because at one time I did train hard and went into similar races in much better physical condition.  I ran better times and felt better after the races.  The preparation I put in made a difference on race day.  I was both mentally and physically ready.  That was not the case with these last two races.

It is similar in our spiritual lives, when we are staying connected to God and feeding our minds the truth, it is much easier to recognize lies and deal with the difficulties of life.  It’s the things we do day in and day out that prepare us for those big moments in life and those small moments that make a big difference.  Those crucial conversations, the big decisions, the temptation that comes out of no where or the unexpected tragedy.  When we are not training spiritually those things can knock us down and take us out.

So here are some spiritual exercises we can all do to keep fit both spiritually and emotionally.

  1. Pray – This is a very powerful way to train.  It has been proven to reduce stress and it’s a great way to express your heart to God.  How incredible to know that the God of this universe wants to listen to what is going on in your life right now.  Short prayers throughout the day or longer prayer times when you able are great ways to stay spiritually fit.  I like to use ACTS when I pray: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
  2. Reading the Bible – For some this is a challenge, because they tried it and didn’t understand what they were reading so they gave up.  Keep trying, try a different translation, try listening to it, but keep trying.  the translation I’ve been reading lately is the New Century Version.  I just read through the New Testament in 30 days and am now reading through Psalms in 30 days.  You might not be able to read that much so set a goal that works for you.  Find a time that you can read for 5-10 minutes and try to stay consistent  When you miss a day, just pick it up the next.  Pray before you read and ask God to help you understand and to pick something up that he wants to tell you or teach you.
  3. Go to Church – I know that sounds simple, but unless you make that a priority in your life you will only go when it suits your schedule.  Today many people only go to church once or twice a month.  That’s good but your missing a lot by not going every week.  I know life happens and I don’t expect people to be in church every time there is a service, but it should be high on your priority list if you want to be fit spiritually.  Find a church that challenges you to grow and get involved.  Don’t settle for comfortable, because it’s hard to grow and train and get better when your comfortable.
  4. Volunteer at your Church and in the Community – When you make a commitment to volunteer it gets you out of your comfort zone and into making a difference through the local church and through good local organizations.  This is one of the best ways you can grow spiritually.  It will help you to serve others and be part of something bigger than yourself.  Serving increases your responsibility and develops your character.  It also allows you to use your gifts and abilities to make a difference.
  5. Get involved in a group – When you meet with other people to build relationships, learn, and care for each other it stretches you and pushes you to grow spiritually, relationally and emotionally.  When you open your life to some other people it brings a new level of accountability and connection that often leads to growth.  Find some other men or women or couples that you can get to know better, have fun with, have spiritual conversations and pray with.
  6. Listen to Messages – There is incredible communicators out there.  Find someone you connect with and start listening to there messages.  Several that I like a lot are Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Jon Weese.
  7. Read – I already mentioned reading the Bible, here I’m talking about reading blogs, articles and books.  Some people avoid reading because they hated in in school. I’m not saying you have to read every day, but try to start reading because it’s a great way to get fit spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  There are great resources out there that can help you improve your marriage, parenting, finances, work life and build your faith, develop your character and grow your leadership.  Here are three books I’m currently reading.
  • The Top Ten Leadership Commandments by Hans Finzel
  • The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick
  • The Cure by John Lynch

I encourage you to pick one or two of the areas I mentioned and start incorporating it into your everyday life.  If you do all of those on a regular basis you will grow and become more fit spiritually.