Category Archives: leadership

when to not be a leader

So many of these articles are about becoming a leader, leading others, increasing potential, etc… I guess that’s the theme of this website and a theme in the jobs and lives that so many of us lead on a daily basis.

However, something I’ve recently been thinking about is when we as leaders are not actually called to be the leader of a group. It’s a weird feeling and kind of hard sometimes. Finding contentment in that different role is stretching.

I’ve played music my whole life. Having the natural leadership ability thing, I’ve often found myself leading the band, either through stage direction, recording, writing music, or planning strategies on how to grow our popularity and marketability. However, the last couple of years, I’ve been playing music in an environment where I am absolutely not the out front leader. There are very qualified, talented, and awesome people in that role – and I’ve been learning to be a supporter, an accessory, and a teammate for the group. A spoke in the wheel, if you will.

It’s been a weird feeling.

It’s different.

Humility.

I’ve had to flex.

Keep the ego in check.

Put the group before myself.

Humility again. 

At the church I attend, I’ve been involved in the music/worship ministry. My favorite role in that band is playing guitar. It’s the most enjoyable band role for me because it allows me the most creativity. But we have a lot of guitarists. Josh, the leader of our group, recently asked me what I’d like to play and contribute. I thought about it for a second and (given this recent venture around servanthood) I responded “I’ll do whatever the group needs and wherever I can be most helpful.” I wanted to put my ego in check and attempt to truly benefit our group. So I’ve been working sound and production. I’ve been playing a lot of bass. Occasional guitar. But the band has been better because of that flexibility. And it’s actually been an awful lot of fun.

The group has been better because of my flexibility and attempt at humility.

And that has been incredibly satisfying to be a part of.

I think this venture has made me a better leader. So much of my time and brainpower is invested in skill and behavioral development. Being able to not be a leader sometimes has allowed me to have more energy when I am a leader (avoid burnout). This has stretched me to grow personally, in my ability to flex, and to refine my character. It’s also provided me with additional empathy for the group environment so that I can understand how people around me feel when I am the leader. Perhaps they’ve been in a similar place before as a leader and they are just seeking to help the group.

So to my fellow leaders – how can you be leaders by not leading?

 

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when the fire inside becomes an out of control inferno.

I heard a really interesting talk earlier in the week that my friend, Josh Madden, prepared and gave…and the concept is worth a big share for all of us.

Josh’s audience was about 120 people large. He through out the question “If we’re being fully honest, who here is too hard on themselves?” Just about everyone raised their hands.

The next question was profound. “Who here would ever say the things they say to themselves aimed at other people instead of themselves?” No one raised their hands. Why would we? That would most likely be mean.

We as leaders are too hard on ourselves. We push ourselves, we scratch and claw and scrape and fight until we reach our unreasonably high goal. Or just before we reach that goal, we raise the bar even higher. Sometimes we never hit that ever-moving, ever-increasing target. Or we hit it…but don’t feel that success because we’re already focusing on the next level. This fire is often what makes us successful and effective, but it can grow into a maladaptive inferno and can cause us to beat ourselves up to a fault.

This morning, I was doing the morning workout and felt like garbage. It could be the newer Keto diet I’m on, the lack of sleep I’ve had this week, or just one of those days – who knows? My numbers and my form were uncommonly below my norm – and I could feel my positive dialogue waning. Those feelings of frustration grew and the statements about “why can’t you do this?” became louder and more emphatic (perhaps exacerbated by the embarrassing backward summersault I did when I failed to hit one lift). I was shocked when the frustration boiled over and I threw the barbell down – something unlike anything I’ve never done in my life. This literally has never happened to me. A good friend (the kind that tells you what you need to hear) put me in check and interrupted the non-constructive inner dialogue. “This is fun, it’s supposed to be fun. Stop it.” My brain snapped back into a more normal, healthy place and over the next 30 minutes of working out, I focused my energy less on the exercise and more on allowing my brain to accept those important words of admonishment.

Do you have a healthy inner dialogue? Do you allow yourself to accept grace, compassion, and patience as you grow into a healthier, stronger person? Or do you push yourself too hard?

I’ll close with this. When we were in preschool, one of the golden rules we were taught was to treat others as we’d like to be treated. Perhaps it’s time to also flip the script and to learn to treat ourselves to the kindness, decency, and positivity that we share with our closest loved ones.

Be good to yourself. You’re probably pretty awesome. And focus on the good stuff. I couldn’t lift how I wanted to…but I burned like 1200 calories in an hour and I pulled off a wicked backward summersault. 🙂

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how to suffer without going crazy.

A few days back I posted about the gift of putting oneself in a position to suffer (so as to learn, grow, and break through plateaus). For me, when thinking about struggle states, the next question revolves around how to get through that state of frustration and duress in a way that allows growth to occur and to get through in one piece.

humility

Suffering stinks. It doesn’t feel good and it is not supposed to. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, pain serves a very specific focus: it forces us to provide effort and attention to an area that requires improvement or to cause a condition change.

Think about a time when you were motivated to accomplish a big task, example being passing a large test. You probably felt an intrinsic stress to study, learn, cram, and get it together to win the test. This distress most likely propelled you to surpass your expectation; without it you may not have accomplished your goal.

So what are some helpful ideas and tools to remain in that state while not being bowled over by the distress? Here are some that help me:

  1. Community – I try to stay connected and avoid isolation. Let’s make it clear – I am an introvert – and big groups of people can make me tired. However, even if I can stay in communication with a couple people who can support and uplift me – or who have been in a similar place and can provide opinions or advice – this helps me to remain confident that I will grow beyond the frustration state I am in.
  2. Reflection – I make time every day to meditate or simply stop what I am doing and reflect on existence. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the purpose and why does it matter? Keeping the big picture perspective in view allows me to know that my efforts can have significance and that intrinsically motivates me to push onward.
  3. Health – I choose to not allow any challenge compromise my own personal and physical health. Ensuring that I am eating well, sleeping well, and exercising allows my body to remain healthy – which allows my brain and conscience to make clear and smart decisions that support my efforts… and to hold a degree of optimism.
  4. Forgiveness – As leaders, we push ourselves to great lengths to be the best. Not being the best at something can be hard but internally berating ourselves when we’re not the best can be easy. Remember to stick it out and that your state of struggle is short-term, not permanent. Allow your max effort each day or time to be good enough for now.

struggle-state-graph

An example of my own intentional struggle can be seen in the daily cross fit classes I attend. Last year, I became bored of standard gym-type exercising and I do not have any mountains around where I live any longer (so I am not able to hike like I used to [and deeply miss]). My goal around doing cross fit was to become stronger, happier, and healthier. Two months in, I am far from my strength goals. In fact, I’m firmly in last place in most classes. I won’t lie – I genuinely hate to see myself, a person used to being successful, struggling to just finish some workouts – and my hyper-competitive internal dialogue can have relentless, shameful, and unforgiving tendencies. But then I think about the above assistance points: I am surrounded by positive people who support me in this endeavor, regardless of what place I come in. I will be stronger long-term because of the pain and ridiculous effort I have to put in every day just to get through these workouts.

My arrow is pointing up and this state is temporary. I must remember that.

Someday I will not be in last place. I might even be good… and that is when the flow state will start to show itself a bit more. I will continue to weather the storm in the temporary to enjoy the future capacity growth and other benefits. I have faith that my hard work is creating ability and will lead to some degree of success, however that may look.

A fifth point not mentioned above is also worth mentioning: gratitude and appreciation. We leaders push ourselves to meet almost-impossible success standards. Don’t just focus on future happiness, but recognize the small moments of happiness and victory during this season. Life is too short to allow a relentless drive to manifest an ever-present sense of discontent. Don’t forget to notice on the happy and wonderful things around you. I actively choose to laugh and enjoy the daily struggle of cross fit – and to embrace the opportunity I’ve been given as joyously as possible, even when it’s remarkably hard, and it keeps me going back every day.

Humility is not fun… but conscious and proactive choices can make this state of being manageable. Because of our intentional struggle, we grow, accomplish, and become more than we can imagine. We further actualize our potential and increase our capacity to be amazing.

What are some struggles you intentionally put yourself through? What things you do to make struggle states more bearable? When have you struggled to eventually overcome a plateau?

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Filed under change management, leadership, motivation, observation

suffering.

flow

“Hold your breath for a better day, and you’ll never learn how to breathe.
You’re afraid of the dark, but that’s where you learn to see.
Your no good to the living if you’re too afraid to bleed.
And that’s why your show starts now Your show starts now.”

– Cloud Cult “Your Show Starts Now”

If “flow” is a new term for you, here is what it is in a nutshell: Flow is a condition in which the self, body, and mind are hyper-engaged and present. Flow occurs at the nexus between suffering and victory. If you think of a time when you won a race or accomplished something profound, you probably felt an rush of success, pride, and relief simultaneously – and you were probably experiencing flow. Flow is awesome and is a condition that everyone wants in their lives and it effects everything from your physical well-being to your brain chemistry to your confidence and intrinsic motivation.

Flow is a loaded concept that I will explore in different ways down the road. However, the aspect of it I want to highlight today is the pain surrounding it.

Flow occurs after great suffering. If you have ever climbed a mountain, you experienced flow (and sore quads) upon reaching the summit. If you have aced a really hard test, you probably experienced flow upon receiving your A+ after weeks of studying and remarkably hard work. If you have ever received a prestigious job after days of focused preparation and anxiety, you probably experienced the flow state upon that memorable phone call or conversation. Suffering is necessary for success.

Are you stuck where you are, personally or professionally or athletically or creatively? One answer to breaking through that malaise might be intentionally putting yourself in a place to suffer. Do something hard. If you are a guitar player who is struggling to write music, you can lock yourself in a room for a day and focus on writing…or you can force yourself to learn piano. If you have hit a plateau socially, join a group that is completely different from what you’re used to.

Go be uncomfortable. Embrace the uneasiness. Let discomfort be your gift. It could lead to one of the happiest moments you will ever experience. Your show starts now.

 

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January 15, 2017 · 7:40 pm

Self Actualization

Some food for thought for your day.

I believe that our world is a balanced system, a depiction of tension between fulfilled results of actions while inherently holding an unknown limit of potential that is simply awaiting further realization and manifestation.

Self-actualization is a major theme in human development. It is covered in several theories, most prominently Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and refers to “the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world.” (dictionary.com) When we fulfill potential and begin to see our dreams become reality, we self-actualize.

Imagine this for a moment: Our world is filled with billions of people, each uniquely created and gifted. Within each of those people are many, many dreams to become something and to do something that has an impact and that may further our civilization.In order to realize dreams, several factors need to occur, including immersion in an environment where the resources are needed and a supportive relationship is imperative.

We are leaders of people. As you walk through your day, look around at the people you witness. Can you play a part in helping a person to reach their potential? Maybe it means giving a person the courage to dream, maybe it means helping a person to have the means to go beyond “just surviving each day” and to think about doing something beyond said survival, or maybe it is something like helping a person to simply become better in their job, in their social circles, or in life.

Finally – imagine the result of all of the world’s leaders tapping into the great potential of others around them. Imagine the impact on the future. Imagine the transformation that could ensue when billions of unique dreams and capacities transfer from a subjective individual vision to an objective, externalized reality. A collective planet of self actualization, a remarkable shift from “can dream” to “can do,” and an actualization of an unknown limit of greatness. Maybe this looks like some sort of scene in a sci-fi movie or maybe this looks like something beyond anything any of us have ever imagined.

Now go help others learn how awesome they can truly be.

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January 6, 2017 · 9:36 am

Becoming Superfluous

We’re leaders. We’re used to – well – leading our teams and other leaders. That’s sort of our thing.

Being leaders, we’re used to calling the shots, making the hard decisions, and spearheading positivity from the front. But what if we were present with our teams but unable to do most of that when it mattered most?

This was my last two weeks.

In retail, the holiday season is gigantic. Come November, one half of our being is spent focusing on the normal job stuff but the other half is spent preparing for the last two weeks of December. I am no different here. However, around December 15th, something unexpected happened: I lost my voice. When I say “lost,” I mean straight up “lost.” We’re not talking Joan Rivers voice or Dom DeLuise. We’re talking whispering as best case scenario but even then it felt like broken glass in my throat. What’s more is that it was almost totally gone up until today, December 26th. What the heck?

I am a firm believer in the value of learning in every moment. It really bugged me that I was stuck stocking or doing office stuff when I wanted to be sweating and laughing alongside my team amidst the holiday shopping frenzy…but it didn’t take long to realize that I was largely not needed… and that is awesome.

It showed me that I have outstanding leaders just waiting to take flight, waiting for their chance to step up and shine. Everything I’d invested in my people could now be put on display…and did they ever shine!

Customers were happy. The sales floor looked awesome. Morale was great. Numbers were fine. No disasters happened. Everything was awesome.

How often do we stand in the way of our leaders, even when it is well intentioned?

How many people are ready to jump up to the next level and take our place of leading leaders?

So here is my challenge to you: Get the heck out of the way. Let your leaders lead and be awesome. Even if it is uncomfortable – and it should be uncomfortable – trust your leaders to learn on the fly, lead their teams confidently, make some mistakes, and make some awesome decisions. Give them feedback and create factors in the environment that will allow your leaders to grow through that process. It may surprise you who steps up and how they step up.

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December 26, 2016 · 8:14 am

Peer Pressure

First off, this is not a story about gyms. Stick with me.

I am a gym rat. I am really driven to improve myself and especially love the challenge and visible/metric results of weight lifting. I’m that weird guy that finds that fun.

The majority of my gym time the last couple years has been spent alone. Just me, my wireless headphones, and my Science Mike podcasts. The “me time” had been good…but it felt increasingly lonely and I’d lost some motivation. I needed a spark.

Enter CrossFit. I’d never been to a CrossFit class or box (gym) but for some reason I thought the super-intense group fitness of CrossFit might be what the doctor ordered. I took a chance to join a gym where I knew no one and knew very few of the unique movements and vernacular. It’s REALLY hard for us introverts to do this stuff.

From day 1, the workouts were intense. My imbalance of strength was obvious. My lack of mobility was even more obvious. I HATE not being good at something and I hate even more to not be the best. I had last place in this CrossFit box pretty much to myself. I was humbled and even embarrassed at times. But I kept showing up and giving it everything I had.

At 4 weeks in, something changed. Sure, the movements became more natural and I noticed a little more core strength… but the feeling of being at CrossFit also changed. I found myself motivated to work out – not just for my body’s sake – but actually to be around this really cool group of people that I began to understand and appreciate. Some of us started to become friends or at least to know each other. The hour long workouts we did as a class were hard but they were shared experiences. We all kind of struggled through them but we did it together. We rooted each other on. We gave fist bumps (that’s a thing). And we began to converse about non-CrossFit life.

That positive peer pressure and eustress – that bond – has become an X-factor for me in my workouts. I now can understand and appreciate the appeal. Beyond that, I’ve begun to think about how to plug this dynamic into my workplace, my church, and any other team environment I am involved in. Positive peer pressure is making me a healthier person and can be profound if authentically, organically, and deliberately integrated. I believe it can be a great way to build a stronger and more motivated team.

What do you think? Have you had a similar experience with peer pressure?

 

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