We Sure Know How to Have Fun.

“We sure know how to have fun!”

It was another brilliantly crafted moment of sarcasm from one of the Gray boys that will be recounted anytime hiking lore is on the agenda.

Moments earlier the only thing that could be heard was the whipping wind, the constant patter of rain, and the chattering of teeth as the four of us huddled together in a three-man tent.  The tent had been thrown together as quickly as possible on an incline that caused about two inches of ice cold water to pool on one side of the tent – right where my sleeping bag lay.

We had taken a beautiful two-day hike into the Wind River Range, WY and spent one day relaxing, recuperating, and fishing a crystal clear mountain lake.  However, my dad, my two older brothers and I crawled out of our tents the next morning to discover a deceitful fog had settled into the valley and a cold drizzle through the night had soaked the landscape and all of our gear. The overcast sky broadcast its intentions for the day. We had a choice to make at this point.  We could hike back the same way we came in or stick with our original plan to hike up and over Flat Top Mountain.  Somebody said, “I think we can hike ABOVE the weather” (I won’t tell you who it was but, his initials are D.A.D.).  Probably not one of the smartest things one of us ever said.

So, up we went.  Lizard head Trail across Flat Top Mountain ascends to about 11,200 feet.  This particular mountain got its name because the top of it is … flat.  In fact, it’s flat for so long that when you hike across it you can forget you are on top of a mountain.  The temperatures dropped to the low thirties. Because we were above the tree line the gusts of wind had no obstacles to hinder them from cutting into our faces. Down-pouring freezing rain and sleet were our faithful companions the entire day.  The four of us exchanged our usual chatter for silence as we trudged along the trail.

Seven hours later I don’t know if I was in a determined zone or a hypothermic daze.  My head was pointed downward to avoid the sting of the sleet as I watched my feet slosh through the water covered trail.  I was feeling extremely sleepy and forcing my eyes to stay open as I marched along.  Suddenly I felt someone tug on my jacket, pulling me behind a huge boulder.  The others had decided we had gone far enough. We quickly set up a tent to shield us from the never-ending storm.  My hands were so cold that they felt like nubs at the ends of my arms.  No matter how hard I tried I could not move my fingers and I couldn’t pull off my gear.  Despite his own soaked clothes, cold and pain my oldest brother saw my predicament and stepped over to help.  He had to peel my jacket off for me as I stood there a little like a frozen mannequin. I was surprised by my own spontaneous, uncontrollable tears that began to flow down my face. Prior to that moment I didn’t realize how bad our situation was.

For the next sixteen hours we huddled together in that small tent attempting to get warm and escape the mountain’s antics.  It was then that my brother uttered those now famous words, “We sure know how to have fun!”

It was also in this moment that I realized the power of these words:

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. If one falls down, the other helps.

Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night.

By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped” (Eccl. 4:9-12 Msg).

I like being independent.  Usually, I try to handle things on my own.  I don’t like being told what to do and I especially don’t like admitting that I need help.  When I walk into church on Sunday, or in the office through the week, I want people to think that I have everything under control and that I am always cool, calm and collected.

I want to be someone my kids can look up to, someone they respect, someone they can count on when they are in need, and someone they can go to for guidance.  Even my sweet wife, though she knows me better than anyone else – I want her to think I am a strong man who knows the answers and always knows the best decisions to make.

Independence.  Men tend to idolize independence.  Strong, independent, lone-ranger types garner our attention.  We are drawn to the ones who beat all the odds and rise to the top; the sole vigilante against the world of injustice; the singular superhero.  It’s the guys who don’t seem to need anyone else, who have the drive, perseverance and tenacity to push through regardless of the obstacles that we admire.  We eat up the stories of people like Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, and Warren Buffet.  We love movies with characters like Rocky Balboa, Pale Rider, or Superman.  Not only do we love those stories – we want to be that guy!

I didn’t realize how much trouble I was in that day.  I would have continued on that path headed for disaster if my brother had not stopped me. I was determined to keep on marching down the trail regardless.  I was in a zone.  The problem with the man who doesn’t think he needs anyone else is he usually doesn’t know when he’s headed for trouble.  God knows that without the companionship, strength, and encouragement of others we will be defeated.  My Dad said, “Looking back I’m glad we had that experience together. It makes you a stronger person.”

God never intended for us to go through this life alone.  He never intended for us to face the hardships, difficulties and circumstances of life by ourselves.  When God saw Adam alone was the first time in the history of the universe that He declared something was “not good.”

To ask for help, advice, or even an opinion is in a small way an admission of weakness.  Weakness is the last thing I want to be associated with.  But, this is exactly the position God wants to bring us to.  It’s only when we get real and admit our weakness that God can really show off.   It is in recognition of our weaknesses that we understand our desperate dependence on God. Our deficiencies prove our need  for the other members of the body of Christ.

The good news is that God already knows you don’t have it all together.  He declares, “My strength is made perfect in weakness!”   When you recognize this truth, there can only be one conclusion: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Cor 12:9 NLT).

Five Questions About Leadership

Recently I was asked five questions about leadership by a friend of mine who was putting together a presentation for her organization.

Hope you enjoy.

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1. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

The most important characteristic a leader is: Integrity/trustworthiness. Skill, talent, or experience may launch a leader into the spotlight – but it will NOT keep them there. When people do not trust their leaders they will eventually no longer follow their leaders. Various leadership materials will list out different traits and characteristics that cause leadership success. And they’re good and contain good information. But, I’m telling you, without the integrity piece – the rest of it is worthless. Typically people buy into a person before they buy into a vision or a cause. If they don’t buy into the leader, the cause will fail. The only solution is to get a different leader. When I was working in sales one thing I learned was – people buy from people they trust. If they don’t trust you it doesn’t really matter how good the product is – they won’t by it.

2. What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

The number one mistake I have seen is autocratic leadership. When decision making rests on a single person the others, whether subordinates or not, feel devalued and unimportant. What’s interesting about this concept is that one doesn’t even have to be an autocratic leader to have this malady affect their leadership. Let me explain: if they generally collaborate and utilize group involvement in decision making, but just one time they make a decision without consulting others, it immediately makes those normally involved question their place and the respect they receive from the leader. When a leader consults, collaborates, involves others in decision making – others feel valued, respected, needed. Besides – having a group collaborate and brain storm almost always leads to better decision making.

Let me give you a paradigm, let’s talk about “Effective Decision Making Quotient” (I learned this concept from Stephen Covey): Let’s rank decision making on a scale of 1-10. 1 being a lousy decision, 10 being a perfect decision. Let’s also rank buy-in on a scale of 1-10. 1 being low buy-in from team members (including subordinates) 10 being high. If I make a perfect decision for my organization, by myself, and just tell team members the decision I’ve made – it will look something like this: I get a 10 for perfect decision, but I will only get about a 2 on buy-in (some will buy-in simply out of loyalty). 10 x 2= “20” on the Effective Decision Making Quotient.

Another scenario: let’s say a group of us collaborate on a decision, leaders, team members, employees, etc. As a result the decision itself may only rank as a 7 (there has to be some give, some compromise). But, because I have involved all the team members, the buy-in will rise to somewhere around an 8 (some still won’t buy-in because they didn’t get their way). That decision looks like this: 7 x 8 = “56” – a much higher Effective Decision Making Quotient. In this scenario, the decision itself may not be as great, but, the team is more energized, enthusiastic, vested in the outcome, valued, and will probably be more loyal to my organization and long term as a result. And, I’ve still got a really good decision on my hands. Plus, the more we collaborate, communicate, and learn to trust one another, the better decision making becomes.

So, really, which decision is better?  To top it off, research shows that the younger generation is much more interested in collaborative leadership than previous generations. So, if an organization is going to be effective and attract younger talent – they HAVE to move toward this model. Autocratic leadership, or even decision making = bad news.

3. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

I feel like I really answered this in question number 1 & 2. But, let me add, that character and integrity include the idea that a leader is competent. Just having the characteristic of integrity doesn’t make one a good leader. People want to know that their leaders know what they’re doing too, that they are skilled at. experienced, and/or knowledgeable about whatever it is we are striving for. If I don’t know anything about food preparation, regardless of how much I know about profit and loss, I will probably not be a good restaurant manager. At the very least, I will not garner the respect of my employees, which greatly derails my ability as a leader.

4. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Advice: 1. NEVER STOP GROWING! Read. Go to seminars or conferences. Ask people smarter or more knowledgeable than you.  Get a mentor.  Whatever it is – never, never, never rest on your laurels. The better you are, the better the organization, your family, and everyone around you will be. The best investment you can make in an organization is an investment in your own personal growth.  Most importantly – learn people skills! My God – I can not emphasize this enough. No matter what you know about whatever it is you do – if you can not get along with people you will fail!  Mark my words. as John Maxwell says, “you have to get along to go along.” Having people skills will carry you farther than any expertise ever would. I have seen many a positional leader fail because they did not know how to work with and deal with … people, especially difficult people. Responses and reactions are huge. Word choice, demeanor, presentation. Most importantly – care, concern. Again, let me re-emphasize – when you view people as valuable, you will succeed. Which leads to a second word of wisdom: surround yourself with good people. People who are maybe smarter or better than you. Trust them. Believe in them. Collaborate with them. Rely on them.  Never assume you know more or always have better ideas than the next guy.

5. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

Personally – I am always reading a book. I rarely read fiction. Not all my books are on leadership. The books I read are often about other stuff like marriage, or my faith, or what-not. But, it is still growth. And, as I said, if I am growing – it will have an impact on my leadership, my organization, and those around me. In fact, I have found the books I read on Marriage and relationships are often times more effective for my leadership than many leadership books, at least concerning building relationships, learning communication and dealing with people. (Click here for some info about communication in marriage or listening skills )

Second, I frequently watch and listen to podcasts of leaders I respect.  Finally, I am constantly observing and evaluating how others speak, respond, interact, etc. – trying to learn from others.

I hope this helps anyone looking for some basics on developing leadership.

The DVR Saved our Marriage

I don’t know how we survived before DVR technology.

For all you youngsters out there, back in the day we actually had to … watch commercials!  Shocking and slightly unbelievable I know, but it’s true.  And, if we thought we were going to miss our favorite show we had to program our VCR’s ahead of time to record it. This task was fraught with difficulty.  And even if we had the technological prowess to figure it out at all, it would rarely catch the whole program.

Then, one glorious day, someone invented the DVR.

Press a couple buttons on the remote and presto, favorite program lodged into the mechanical memory banks forever, or until I delete it.

But the DVR had another unintended consequence. Picture the days before DVR. Husband and wife both come home from long, stressful days at work.  Husband wants to plop down in front of the TV to hide in his mental cave, zone out for a bit and de-stress.  Wifey wants to … share.  Oh yes. Every single detail of every conversation and every emotion she went through during the day.  Unending details of the lives of people husband has never met and doesn’t care to know.

Now, this might all seem fine.  I mean hey, they’re both just detoxing from their respective days in the way they are wired to do it. All well and good until you realize, wifey is unloading at the exact same time husband is trying to watch TV. Now, oh yes, now we have an issue.  Husband gets frustrated because wife talks over the TV and he is missing parts of his favorite TV program.  Suddenly he feels his wife doesn’t respect him or doesn’t care that he’s had a long day.

Continue reading “The DVR Saved our Marriage”

It’s a Stand-Off

The Democrats won’t talk to the Republicans.  The Republicans won’t talk to the Democrats. The debate is relegated to sound bites spoken at press conferences without real face to face conversation.  Our representatives talk “at” each other not “with” each other.  Name calling, accusations, and stonewalling ensue.  The presidential candidates pronounce that they have all the answers while their political opponents have it all wrong.  Subsequently, members of both parties feel ignored, constituents are frustrated, and multiplied thousands suffer the consequences.

Intrinsically, all of us know there is something wrong with this picture.  We ask the obvious question, “why can’t our government officials just get together, talk it out, and come to some sort of compromise so that we can all move forward?”  Though we may respect some for standing on their principles, all of us recognize the problems with this scenario.

Yet, a similar scene plays out in multiplied thousands of homes across the country every single day.  Husbands and wives won’t really listen to each other.  Neither party wants to compromise.  One person tries to prove they are right and prove the other wrong. Both parties begin to talk “at” each other instead of “with” each other.  Name calling, accusations, and stonewalling ensue.  Emotionally, households “shut down.”  Both spouses feel ignored, family members get frustrated, and children, co-workers, and other bystanders are hurt in the process.

It has been said that “marriage is the chief cause of divorce.”  But the truth is poor communication skills are what usually lead to problems in a marriage.  Without a doubt there will be times when there are differences of opinion, disagreements, and conflict.  But, research clearly shows that having conflict in marriage is not the problem rather, how a couple handles their conflicts will determine their level of success and marital health.

The challenge is we are not born knowing how to communicate successfully.  We usually learn these skills by observing our parents. If we did not see them having loving, collaborative, effective communication, then there is no reason we should know how to do it ourselves.  The good news is that we can learn how to communicate effectively at any stage in life. And, learning to communicate well is the best thing you can do for your marriage.

A great place to start improving communication in your marriage is with the Apostle Paul’s challenge to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition … but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3-4).  This means putting your mate’s needs before your own.  It means seeking to understand your spouse before making sure you are heard or understood. One thing is for sure, it is impossible to listen and talk at the same time. Listening behind the words and listening for understanding is the bedrock of good communication and might be the best way to communicate love, compassion, and grace to your spouse. In fact, theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich once said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”  This is why James declared, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). Understanding causes anger to dissipate.

So here’s my challenge for us today: Let’s open our ears and our hearts to really listen and understand. Let’s end the stand-off.  Maybe our government officials could start there as well.

(To read more about “Listening” click here)