People are the worst

Our daughter often utters the frustration, “people are the worst!” Unfortunately, she’s more right than wrong on this topic. “People” means us, you and me. We all possess the ability to be the worst when it comes to how we treat each other, our inter-personal communications, or how we don’t care for each other. I was sucked into Facebook today and saw a post from someone who said why can’t we all just along but two days before posted an inflammatory photo that spreads hate. Are you there for the people in your life? Your friends and family should be able to count on you when they are struggling. An important part of being a friend or being part of a family is knowing that you can count on each other to keep you grounded; like standing next to you in rushing waters.

Leadership at work includes providing direction, vision and support for your organization’s mission. It also means being your best so that your employees can count on you to stand next to them in rushing waters. Leaders should want to help their people navigate through their challenges (waters) and when things get bad, you can stand by them so that they are not swept away.

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

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 is with us.

If we develop trust and establish a relationship with our family, friends or the people we work with, 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 puddled waters.

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Extra Grace Required

Everyone needs a break once in a while. When we work with the same people all of the time, we can get on each other’s nerves. Often times we can simply brush off the issue and move on but every once in a while, we just can’t shake it. My mother used to jokingly say: “if everyone were perfect like us, we wouldn’t have these problems”. How true is that? In my case, I don’t think I could handle another person like me. What do we do with these people who annoy us or create problems? We can’t ignore them or stop being engaged at work or socially; so most of us just give them a little grace and move on. We will display our grace in justifying the behavior of the person by saying, “oh, that’s just Bill”. We are giving grace.

Rick Warren in his book Purpose Driven Life, describes difficult people as being EGR or extra grace required people. This really sticks with me every time I encounter someone challenging. As he points out, the key is not to be one of these people. To give someone a little extra grace is to not hold the annoyance against them, listen to the intended message instead of the actual message, and don’t take what they say personally. Southern ladies would say, “Bless her/his heart” when they give a little extra grace. No matter how you do it, the important part is to give the grace; not because they deserve it but because you can.

7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – “ Ephesians 2:7-8

God has shown us such grace in our lives. He gave His only Son for us so that we might have eternal life with Him. He has forgiven our sins, not because we deserved it but because He loves us. God’s grace is larger than we can imagine. We sin every day, yet He forgives us. We doubt His love and question His work in our lives and yet, He still loves us. We take Him for granted, live our lives to satisfy ourselves, worry only about what we need and yet, He still loves us.

For me, little else is needed to define what God’s grace really means. God send a Savior to bring us close to Him, so that we might have eternal life through Jesus. It is through God’s grace that we have been saved but not grace alone. We also need to have faith in Jesus as our Savior. Jesus is the one who took all of our sins to hell and when He rose on the third day, He took His seat at the right hand of God to intervene on our behalf. He turns to God and says, “They are worthy, just like me”. Rejoice in God’s grace knowing that He gives it to us as gift through our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Reap what you sow

I was in Washington DC this past week to learn about solutions to problems facing our cities and town. We also spent time on Capital Hill with our Congressional Delegation discussing issues that connect Washington DC with our city. I wasn’t 100% behind attending due to the simple lack of cooperation that both parties seem to have. I’ve been saying for years that we have 535 Congressmen and thousands of staff people working here and nothing gets done. It’s funny, only because it’s true. I walk around this town and think of all of the wasted effort that has gone on for the past decade. There is no part of local governance that would survive the ineffective approach to leading found in DC.

The whole concept of politics is disgusting and yet, I’ve been re-elected to another term on City Council. I’ve been saying for years that if you want to insult me, call me a politician. It’s true. Why do we do the things that we do? Why are you doing the things that you are right now and who are you serving when you do them? I serve as an elected council member to serve my community and hopefully make a difference. I see others who serve in these capacities simply to feed their own egos. My work on this blog is about serving God and bringing the Word to the world. SO, back to my questions – why are you doing what you do and who do you do it for? It’s okay to work to support yourself and to have fun. Some fundamentalists don’t want you to know that – it’s okay to have fun! You will reap what you sow; let it be good.

8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction: whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8

As I looked around Washington DC, I felt the sense of people pleasing the flesh. In other bible versions “the flesh” is replaced with “sinful spirit” and right now, that’s a better fit for politics in Washington DC. What part of your sinful nature is driving your decision-making? We are all guilty of sin and will pay the price with death. This verse reminds us that if we are pleasing ourselves, we will reap destruction (earthly death).

However, if what we are reaping is pleasing to God, we will be rewarded with eternal life; an eternal life found through the sacrifice of Jesus. Verse 10 tells us exactly how to live our lives – “10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Serve God and His people but also serve others (do good to ALL people). There’s nothing political in that statement, there is no spin and there are no favors, its simple – do good! Our reward for working hard, getting shot down and working hard again is our eternal life with God the Father. God did not give us a pass or any vacation days from being His children nor does He deduct from us our salvation, which is through Jesus Christ.

 

Faith or Confidence?

What do you have faith in? Often times we hear that people have faith in “the system”, the assembly of policies or procedures that govern us. The system is broken these days, so maybe fewer people actually have faith in it. Where do we turn? The phrase, “if you want a job done right, do it yourself” sounds like we put faith in ourselves. In fact, many people put their faith there – in themselves. Something in their lives has driven them to believe in only themselves. They’ve been let down somewhere along the way or have become so focused on what they’ve accomplished that they lose sight of those that helped or supported them along the way. I hate to say this but as a “politician” people must have faith in me in order to elect me. I’ve never been “political” but during a re-election campaign, I have to be.

I take my job as a councilmember very seriously because of the faith that people have put in me as their representative. In any position you hold, people have to put their faith in you too. They have to trust that you will care and defend them as a leader or they have to believe that you will perform your job well as part of a bigger plan. When people count on you, when they have faith in you, you have a huge obligation to live up to those expectations. I pride myself on being prepared to answer questions at any time for a resident. I pay attention to what concerns people express and I’m always looking for ways to keep them informed and educated. People often comment that they appreciated my explanations; my reply is always that I’m just doing my job and that I take my role as their representative seriously. I want them to have faith in me. Be sure that people know they can have faith in you too.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Hebrews 11:1

Faith in the biblical context is filled with ambiguity; there are a lot of things that we do not see. We can’t see eternal life and we can’t see God’s plan for our lives but we have faith in them. Some people focus so much on their personal success that they stop having faith in God to provide for them because they are so busy providing for themselves. The devil wants us to think that we are in control of our successes and that we don’t need prayer to be successful. These people have faith in just themselves. This verse in Hebrews reminds us that we can be confident in what God is doing in our lives and that our hopes are His hopes.

Faith in God also means that we can be sure of His presence and work in our lives even though we don’t see it. Faith is knowing, without question, that God is present in all things. Our sinful nature makes us believe that we are in control and that God only intervenes when we ask; sin puts faith in ourselves and not in God. The devil will shower you with money and success so he can keep you focused on yourself as the most important thing. Sin wants success and the feelings that come with it. When your faith is in God and all that He does, you no longer worry about success because it’s there. You won’t worry about material possessions because He will provide for you. Faith is confidence and we can be assured by the promises that God made which we cannot see. Have faith in God to watch over you.

My ways are not your ways

“If I want a job done right, I better just do it myself”, is an old phrase that you still hear today. People are impatient and less tolerant of change these days. Perhaps it’s the instability in world. The Internet allows people to work anywhere in the world. There are virtual workplaces and virtual jobs – I’m intentionally leaving the puns alone. So many things change, year in and year out, so it isn’t too surprising that people want to hang on to some control over a process or project. As humans, we learn best by trial and error. We make mistakes and learn a great deal from them. As parents we try to tell our kids what to do and how to do it so they avoid making the same mistakes we did, even the small ones. Sooner or later they will rebel and do it anyway. I’ve taught firefighters and officers to avoid repeating my mistakes and I’ve watched them make their own mistakes (safely) so they too could learn.

As leaders or parents, we have to let people do things the way that is best for them. We’ve added our extra step or done something just a little different and we have to let others do the same; this is how great things are made. I’ve said it before, Velcro and post-it notes were mistakes that turned out awesome. Today’s workforce is more innovative, more experimental, more adventurous and less risk adverse than we were. We need to embrace the change, support them and watch what happens. Your way is not the only way to get something done; it’s a way to do it. Imagine what you would have missed if someone you worked for said that there is only one way to do your job. The irony of the statement that started this is that the person who said it first was really saying, “If I want a job done my way, I’d better do it myself”. Unless you intend to do all of the work around you, give people a desired outcome or goal and let them work.

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Can you imagine God saying “If I want a job done right, I better do it myself.” As  I started to write that sentence, I said to myself He’d never say that, however it is exactly what He did. God tried to give signs, miracles, prophets and even 10 Commandments as a guide for us to follow and we still failed. God did it Himself and sent His Son to save the world from itself. We couldn’t get it right, so God did it for us.

In these verses, we are reminded that our thoughts and our ways are not God’s. He gave us the desired goal or outcome – Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you will receive the eternal life. God tells us that we are not like Him and we could never be. His ways and thoughts are higher than the heavens. We focus on earthly things and earthly desires and He is telling us in the New Testament of the Good News found in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what our deeds are or what our thoughts are or anything else; what matters is our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to stop worrying about doing things perfectly and focus on our faith in Jesus. We should be focused on growing our faith and understanding of God’s word not to become superior but to express our love to God for not treating us like we treat those don’t do it our way.

Purpose

I’ve written before that I believe most people function in “orbits” when it comes to their attitude, motivation, drive or simple ability to get along. If the peak of our performance were to be the center, our attitude can be found somewhere in an oval shaped orbit. Sometimes we are very close, while other times we are far away. When we are far away from our peak, things get a little troubling. We are crabby or we don’t feel like doing anything. Our motivation and drive are really hard to find. When we love what we’re doing, we are in close orbit and when we loathe what we do, we are farther out. Sometimes our orbit even grows in size and we are pushed to an even farther away.

No matter what your position in life is: supervisor, employee, executive, line staff, mom. dad, brother or sister; you have to know what keeps you going, what makes you peak? Lisa finds her center point every day at the gym. It’s what gets her up at 4am, everyday. Some people find it in their work because it gives them satisfaction while others find it in their friends. The important thing is to know what “does it” for you. It’s when people lose their focus or their drive that trouble begins. Find your focus and ask yourself where you are in your personal orbit, and then get close to the peak. Smiles and satisfaction await you.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and gooddeeds.” Hebrews 10:24

Some people live near their focus point all of the time. These are the people that ALWAYS have a smile and kind word. They are the ones who can inspire. Do you have people in your life that inspire you and do you inspire others? It’s harder to know if you inspire others but I would guess that everyone does and they simply don’t realize it. Our human nature is to be social; we were not intended to be solitary creatures, God gave Eve to Adam to keep him company.

This verse asks us how we can help each other live Godly lives of love and goodness. It is meant to be a question whose answer lies in being social. If you accept the orbits concept, you will know when you are at your peak, which is when you should be helping those around you. When you are in deep orbit, you should seek those who will bring you back through positive encouragement, love and good deeds. When people are in deep orbit, they can become lost and that is when the devil steps in to lead them astray. If you are losing sight of your center point, surround yourself with those that can spur you on toward love. The bible should be a place of inspiration and is filled with examples of God’s love. If you are at your center point, share your joy with others and become a source of positive influence.

Leadership Lessons

Leadership can be a number of different things to different people. Some seek leadership while others simply provide it. Leadership can be hard to define too. The United States Army defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” I agree whole-heartedly with this definition, being a leader is about being able to influence people. Some will view the idea of “influence others” as a negative thing but in this definition, the goal is to get people to do things that they didn’t know that they could do.

Leaders need to work with every employee to help them achieve their highest potential. When employees feel supported at work, they tend to work harder and as a result, the organization becomes stronger. There are “leaders” who believe that they are leading because their people check with them on all decisions. They think that they are supporting their people because they answer their phone calls. In these cases, they are simply holding their employees back by not letting them make decisions, think critically and be independent. How are they supposed to learn if they never get a chance to make a decision?

If you are a leader, look out for your people and care for them. This doesn’t mean do their work or become protective over them. It means that you care about their future, their growth and work-related wellbeing. Leading is like teaching a child to ride a bike. You give them the lessons, you guide them by holding the seat and running along side them and then you let go. If they fall, you help them back up and reassure them before doing it again. When they ride on their own, you celebrate what they’ve done.

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…” Psalm 91:11

This Psalm sounds like it is describing a great leader doesn’t it? God will guard you in everything: how great would that be? The interesting thing with this verse is that it doesn’t say “He will command His angels to do things for you” which is what most people want out of God. Most people want Him to provide for everything they desire and to protect them from everything bad. And when God doesn’t do all of that, they start to turn away.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Screwtape Letters”, describes what a letter between two demons might sound like and how simple it is to turn us against God. We are quick to turn on Him and begin relying on ourselves, which is really our sinful nature at work.

“He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways”. God is with you every day in everything you do. He is there to guard you and protect you, not from things on earth but to protect you for all eternity. God’s worry isn’t about this life; it’s about your eternal life. Re-read the Army definition of a leader and then apply it to what God does for you. His mission is to have us join Him in heaven and the organization is all of mankind. He wants to influence us so we can influence others. Be assured that God is there to guard you. He will not test or forsake you but has promised to love and care for you. Sounds like a great leader.

Influence

There’s an old saying that warns us all about the company that we keep. We see the impact that people have on each other a lot in the fire service with fire crews. Each crew is usually made up of a leader, a driver and two firefighters. You can take four separate people, put them together and they will eventually become one central personality. The hope of every fire chief is that they will become a personality that is closer to the leader’s than anyone else’s. This same concept is what creates cliques and coffee clutches, as we get older. It seems that every social group develops its own personality that draws people toward it or pushed them away. How is the company that you keep?

“When he gets around his college buddies, my husband turns into a different person”. “My wife has such a positive attitude after she hangs out with the ladies group”. What do you adapt to when you hang around with the various groups of people in your life. Many of us were told when we were kids that “so and so was a bad influence”; our parents were probably right. Give a thought to the movies you watch, the songs you listen to, the things you read and, the company you keep. These things all influence how you act, what you say and what you believe. One of the main principles in Change Management is providing a vision for the workforce. The key concept of visioning is part of influencing thoughts and beliefs by keeping the distractions down and focusing on the positives. Stay focused on the good things in your life and the people who make them that way. By avoiding the negative thoughts and people, you will become the central personality for others. We need more positive influences in our lives!

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8

Just as others influence how we act, we are also influenced in what we believe by the company we keep. For years, studies have shown that college students fall away from their religious beliefs in large numbers. Many experience the freedoms of college and choose to explore “life” while others are simply influenced to go in a different direction. We have to be on guard to make sure the same doesn’t happen to us as adults.

Too many people believe the lie that they are in control and that a higher power may exist but won’t acknowledge that it is God. Humans are unable to comprehend the power of God and won’t submit to the idea that they are not controlling everything in their lives. “I don’t need God to do_____” or “The myth of God is just a crutch for the weak minded” are phrases that these people use. Hearing this over and over can start to influence even the strong willed. St. Paul warns us to “see to it that no one takes us captive”. This life is short when you compare it to eternal life. The feeling of belonging or the friends that influence you are not important if it means losing your focus on Christ. Stay Strong!

A Noble Task

It has been a while since I’ve written about leadership or being a leader. I have found myself “all over the board” by writing on various topics – for good or bad. Last week I had an encounter with someone who questioned my trustworthiness; I was accused of not being forthcoming with information. In my life’s various roles, I am entrusted with very confidential information that I cannot always disclose. Other times, I have to “play my cards close to the vest” until I know who I’m dealing with. I am often a very trusting individual and have had that trust taken advantage of, so I tend to be cautious. When you are in a leadership position, the stakes are often much higher when it comes to establishing and maintaining trust.

In this encounter, I chose to share a little extra information with this person and this individual became confused by my openness. “Why would you share that if you were concerned about confidentiality?” He asked. I explained that sometimes you have to show trust to earn trust. It was a leadership principle that I learned early in my career. Whether you are leading people or organizations, trust will never follow you if people believe you and they will not trust you unless you trust them. The subject of leadership has been written about for decades and there are a number of personal characteristics that impact a leader’s effectiveness; trustworthiness is just one characteristic. No matter what role you serve at work or at home, you are leading someone – formally or not. Keep in mind that you are either being a positive or negative example for others because someone is always watching what you do and say.

 “Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1

It takes a lot of courage to step into a leadership role. The whole debate about “are leaders born or are they created” fails to recognize the courage component. If someone steps into a leadership position without a little fear, they are stepping on thin ice. I’ve said before that leading is a privilege and an honor that we should not take lightly. People are putting their faith in that person and in some professions, their lives. Leading is more than telling others what to do or having a rank/title. Leaders are accepting the faith that others are placing in them. It is a noble task.

Timothy is describing those who wish to lead the church and is reminding them that it isn’t about the power and prestige that comes with it but the honor and responsibility that does. Jesus knew His role as the leader of the disciples. He knew what God was asking of Him and gladly accepted His fate. He charged us to be “fishers of men” by teaching us how to live better lives, be examples for others to follow but most importantly, to rely on God for the wisdom and strength to carry out our daily lives. Leadership is a noble task and it is not to be taken lightly. People are putting faith in you. Rely on God for your wisdom and strength and you will always have their faith.

We All Want to be Served

I just finished a huge project of consolidating all of the reference materials that I’ve accumulated over the past 20 years or so. I carefully grouped subjects together and even packaged up some text books to enhance “my collection”. When I was going through the HUGE stack of leadership materials, I found a large section of materials on Servant Leadership, a leadership style developed by Robert Greenleaf in 1977. Since that time a number of researchers have tried to define the attributes of what a Servant Leader “looks like”. For me, the answer was simple – Jesus Christ. However, the business world needed more. Skip Prichard (2013) posted a unique summary of many of the scholarly attributes that he believes summarizes the leaders using Servant Leadership:

  • Values diverse opinions
  • Cultivates a culture of trust
  • Develops other leaders
  • Helps people with life issues
  • Encourages
  • Sells instead of tells
  • Thinks you, not me
  • Thinks long-term
  • Acts with humility

The attributes of the Servant Leadership model focus the leader on the needs of the employee. When the organization’s goals are aligned with the employee’s and each individual understands his/her role and the expectations placed on them, the organization is set-up for success. It made me think about how we treat each other and how leaders influence other people. Throughout my 30 plus years in government, I’ve seen and heard about some pretty wild working environments. Today’s workforce expects a Servant Leadership type of leader and no matter where you sit in your career – leader or follower, after seeing this list I hope you agree. As I filed away this little bit of research on the subject, I wanted to share how we all could apply the principles of servant leadership to our lives.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

When I’m asked about Jesus as a servant, my first thought always goes to the night of the last supper when He washed the feet of His disciples; nothing says servant like washing feet. We’ve all heard the story about Jesus feeding of the thousands at a wedding. What we often fail to remember about this “story” was that as that event ended, the people were asking Jesus to be their King. He wanted nothing to do with it and left immediately.

Jesus did not come into this world to be served. Everything we read about Jesus is how he served others – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, turning water to wine at the wedding and teaching everyone the true meaning of the words His Father had written in the scriptures. The most important part of this verse is this: He came to “give His life as ransom for many.” He understood that and continued to serve others until His work was done. No matter what our place in life is, we can be comforted in the fact that Jesus died for us – a final act of Servant Leadership. We are forgiven through him.