It’s my day!

The Beatle’s said it best “Today is your birthday”. I turned 12 today, which to many of you explains a lot. I have always tried to celebrate Feb. 29th with something special since it comes around only every four years. I looked back at the last three birthdays and found that they were just like the rest. Maybe getting older has something to do with it but hey, I’m still having birthdays and that is always a good thing. I did a little research today about my day after I read in the newspaper this morning that you have a 1 in 2 million chance of having a birthday today (they are never wrong!). It’s actually closer to 1:1500.

The leap year’s extra day is necessary because of our Solar System. One Earth year does not take an exact number of whole days, it takes 365.2422 days, plus or minus. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar came to power that changes were made. People observed a 355-day calendar – with an extra 22-day month every two years. This was not an solution to the celestial problem since feast days began sliding into different seasons. So Caesar ordered his astronomer, Sosigenes, to simplify things. Sosigenes opted for the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to scoop up the extra hours. This is how the 29th day in February was born. It was then fine-tuned by Pope Gregory XIII. Check this out:

Every fourth year is a leap year, as a rule of thumb. But that’s not the end of the story. A year that is divisible by 100, but not by 400, is not. So 2000 was a leap year, as was 1600. But 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years. “It seems a bit arbitrary,” says Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University. But there’s a good reason behind it. “The year is 365 days and a quarter long – but not exactly. If it was exactly, then you could say it was every four years. But it is very slightly less.” The answer arrived at by Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers when they introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, was to lose three leap days every 400 years. The math has hung together ever since. It will need to be rethought in about 10,000 years’ time, Stewart warns. But by then mankind might have come up with a new system.

Why is February 29, not February 31, a leap year day? All the other months have 30 or 31 days, but February suffered because of the ego of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days, but when Caesar Augustus was emperor he was upset that his month – August – had only 29 days.  Compare this to the month named after his predecessor Julius – July –, which had had 31. “He pinched a couple of days for August to make it the same as July. And it was poor old February that lost out,” says Prof Stewart.

So today, I find myself working from my office at home – alone; until I opened my e-mail to find birthday wishes from friends and family I have all over the country. Some people that you might only hear from once or twice a year but I realized that I wasn’t alone. I am thankful to be alive today and thought of by so many people. What better gift to get on your birthday than to know that you are being thought of? Thanks for making this a great day!

As far as it depends on you

One of the things that a new supervisor is tempted to do is to seek revenge from someone who was once a peer. “Wait until he works for me, I’ll show him” or “I can’t wait until I’m the boss, I’ll show these people”. These are dangerous thoughts and beliefs that will lead to certain failure for new supervisors. When we promote into leadership, we must put aside these desires to seek revenge. An important responsibility that all supervisors have is to create peaceful work places. Some supervisors might consider this “hand holding” and will say “they’re all adults, why do I need to be the one to hold them together?” Your job as the leader is to show people the way to act toward each other and to demonstrate what is expected in the workplace. Peaceful, isn’t saying no confrontation or no discipline. Sometimes, in order to achieve peace you must have a little confrontation. Peace in the workplace opens creativity, which allows people to feel free to experiment with ideas, and then become willing to collaborate and share ideas. Peace makes supervising and leading much easier.

Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The bible teaches us to live in peace with one another, love your neighbor as yourself. Living this way allows us to reflect God’s love toward us by loving each other. How better can Christians show love than by living in peace? This is the message of this verse; “as far as it depends on you”. It all depends on you; how you react to a situation or how you create a situation. We are taught to “stick up for ourselves” and not be bullied. We’re not taught to avoid conflict simply to live at peace. Conflict can be good and healthy for relationships. We should try to find common ground, work out the differences and keep our focus on the issue not the person we have a conflict with. Have the difficult conversation. Starting by making it safe for everyone, stay focused on the issue and how it makes you feel rather than what you think the other person is saying. This is not a time for assumptions. When we deal with one another in an open manner, we can reach mutual understanding much quicker. By living in harmony, we live by God’s word and show others that as God so loved the world, so can we.

The Heart’s Reflection

There is a saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” What is in your heart will reflect on your leadership style. If you are caring for your people, deflecting stress from all angles, sincerely working with them so they can: achieve more, learn more and, reach their goals then your heart is in the right place. Do you say “I want to develop my team so that they can take my place” but are then too busy to spend time with them in one on one career coaching? What are people seeing on your heart? If you’re old enough to remember “Leave it to Beaver”, we all rolled our eyes when Eddie Haskell would say “That sure is nice dress Mrs. Cleaver” when we knew he was up to no good. No one ever thought of Eddie as a kind young man that would never cause trouble. We saw what was on his heart. In leadership positions, we must strive to have our words and actions match. It will take more time to recruit, train and develop new employees than it will to coach them and help them be successful. You will also have a more engaged and satisfied workforce which will make your job much easier.

Proverbs 27:19 – “As water reflects our face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

This verse is about our hearts as Christians. What is on your heart? Do you attend church weekly and sing the songs but go out on Monday and terrorize your workplace by showing no compassion for others or “steal time” by putting in less than a full day so that you can get what is coming to you? God knows what is your heart! Putting God in His rightful place on your heart may take time and it won’t be easy, but God is understanding and has compassion as you work toward it. For many of us, putting God first is a hard transition since we, as humans, tend to be so self-centered. Introduce God into your conversations at home, it may feel uncomfortable at first but that will go away. Daily devotional reading will help you understand the depth of God’s grace and love for you. As God comes into your heart, that will be reflected outward in how you lead others. You’ll be more understanding, have compassion and show forgiveness. What does your reflection look like today?

Creative Writing

Every month I attend the West Valley Writers Workshop. It is a great group of people that support one another as they focus on getting published. I have really enjoyed my time there, I’ve met some great people and have learned a lot about writing. Every month we’re given a prompt to write 500 words on. I’ve attached my response to this month’s prompt – “I suddenly saw her in a new light”. I took a prompt from a couple of months ago and built on it, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

I swung my feet out of the car, stood up, and found myself plunging down a hole. Everything went black – no shadows or stars. I now knew the definition of pitch black. I tried to refocus but the sensation that I was rapidly falling took over all of my senses. My pulse was pounding and I could hear my heartbeat echoing in my head. What happened? I began falling a little slower, as if in slow motion, when I was suddenly brought back to reality. A kick to the gut took the wind right out of me. I focused less on the pain in my head as I tried to catch my breath. I had a hard time trying to get air through the burlap bag over my head.

Burlap has a sent all of its own – a unique musty smell. If it carried potatoes, it smelled dirty, this one had carried a bird of some kind. I was in the back of a van listening to the road as we bounced and weaved through the congested streets of Washington DC. I had done this very snatch and grab a hundred times in my career and now I found myself on the receiving end of one. I got lazy and allowed myself to be distracted by Julia, an incredible woman that I met nine months ago. Her long brown hair and dark, almost grey eyes were mesmerizing. She wore Musk perfume better than any woman I’d ever met. I let my guard down and she played me perfectly.

We drove for about an hour before coming to a stop and I heard a chain-link fence roll open. The van lurched forward and the gate closed as the van parked. My captors grabbed my cuffed arms and dragged me out of the van. I was saving my energy to fight back when the time was right; my training started to surge through my veins, telling my entire body how to respond without a single thought. If I was going to survive, it was all that I had.  They put me in a metal chair and secured my arms and legs with plastic ties to the chair. I heard the familiar sound of high heels walk across the concrete floor; it was Julia! I missed this part of her personality; she was so gentle with me – until now.

Her incredible shape stood before me as the burlap bag was pulled off my head by some hired muscle; I spit a small feather off my lips as I adjusted to the light. Julia stared deeply into my eyes not saying a word as she pulled a knife from the holster strapped to her tight thigh and leaned in close. The sweet smell of Musk interrupted my focus until blood sprayed across the side of my head. She had just slit the throat of the hired muscle standing at my side. I suddenly saw her in a completely new light – who was this woman?

Success vs. Significance

I was fortunate in my career to have a number of people who helped me along the way. Sometimes they were just there to listen and other times they offered really sound advice that helped guide me in the right direction. Having worked in three states, in three different regions, I have met some great people along the way but one person comes to mind – Randy Bruegman. Randy is now the fire chief of Anaheim CA. and I met him almost 20 years ago. He was always there with great career advice and really helped me deal with my retirement when it abruptly occurred. Following his term as the President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Randy started speaking nationally about the concept of being successful or being significant.

His premise is that some people define success as reaching the top position in their industry, making a ton of money, have a nice house or success can simply mean not having controversy in your life. He then describes what being significant might look like: being a mentor, having an impact on those around you, doing things for others with no expectations in return or simply being significant to others. Most of us in the fire service like to think that we are selfless people and that working in this profession is what makes us significant. Sure, we do get to help people “on the worst day of their lives” which IS significant to them, but would we do it if we weren’t getting paid?

You can go through your whole career without ever knowing if you were significant to someone besides your patients or fire victims. I was given a great gift in these past few weeks from people who wanted to tell me how much I helped them. I heard from the supervisor of one fire officer that I had trained, who was glowing about what a great leader and manager this person was. While he didn’t give me all of the credit, (I wouldn’t have taken it anyway) he wanted to know what I was emphasizing to the young officers and would I be willing to mentor him as he looks at a future promotion. Another call came from someone who I just met over the summer. The military exercises that I participate in put me in touch with people from all over the country. My new friend called me to ask for advice about taking a position in another state. We met while working at the same command post but he was given my name by someone who knew me really well. We spend the better part of two hours on the phone as he prepared for his final interview. He called to let me know he was offered the job and was getting ready to start. He couldn’t have been more appreciative of my advice.

My point here is this: Are you being successful or significant to those that you work with? What you accomplish in your work will pale in comparison to what you help someone accomplish. People find great satisfaction in helping others; I know that I did.

Who do you work for?

Another word for work is labor. The dictionary defines labor as hard physical work. If you’re not sure, ask any mother if labor was hard work and I’m sure she can give you a unique perspective on “labor”. Sometimes what we do, day in and day out, isn’t what we’d like it to be. It’s not that its too hard, it simply isn’t satisfying. When we lose our job satisfaction, we loose sight of our purpose and whom we’re serving. At times, we struggle to remain positive, to work hard and meet the mission or vision that is before us; complacency takes over and the “I don’t care’s” start to fly. As leaders, no matter what we’re faced with, we must keep our focus on the mission or the work before us. Are you a front line leader whose actions will have a direct impact on your customers or are you a support team leader that works to serve those impacting the customers? Complacency is where customer service starts to break down and in some professions, can become deadly. Think of the paramedic who is treating you for a heart attack, do you want the one who doesn’t care? Our job as leaders is to keep complacency out of our work and the work of our people.

Colossians 3:23-24 “What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

In times when we’re locked in a battle against complacency, we can be comforted in knowing that when we do our best work, with all of our heart, it is pleasing to God. God is with us all of time, even when we don’t feel like he’s there. When times get harder you should be focusing more on your relationship with God, not less. Our human instinct is to focus everything on the work before us and let the rest of our life take the back seat for a while. Nothing can do more harm than putting God in the back seat! Bring God closer; he will help you through the struggles of work or overcoming complacency. You are serving Him, doing his work as a faithful disciple. God cares about the work that you do and how well you do it. When you are feeling down about work, imagine God smiling at you because He knows what is in your heart. Look to him to get you through, He’ll light the way.

Through the waters

Are you there for your employees? Leadership includes providing direction, vision and support for your mission. Your employees should be able to count on you to be there for them when they are struggling. It is important for them to know that they can count on your help when they need it. Imagine a child who is working through a problem and they need to find a parent to help them. As parents, we see them get lost very easily and just being there with a simple reminder is all that they needed. This is not to say that our employees are children, but a good illustration of an effective leader is someone who is a good parent. Leaders should want to help their people navigate through their challenges (waters) and when things get worse, you can stand by them so that they are not swept away. Do your people feel confident that you’ll be there through thick (rivers) and thin (water)?

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…”

You can feel confident that God will be with you through thick and thin. This is another promise that God has made; to be with us in all that we do and that nothing will sweep us away – we have eternal life through Him. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us. If we develop trust and establish a relationship with our people, they will have faith in us to believe that we will take care of them. We too then, need to develop our relationship with God and continue to learn about His promises. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters.