Looking Back on 2018: 10 Reflections on Life and Leadership (Part 1)

Saying that everything is important is like saying nothing really is. It’s not helpful. Use your mental skill to sift, sort, and select the things that matter most . . .
— Ram Charan, The High-Potential Leader

As I prepared to embark on 2019, that great ship of adventure to places familiar and mysterious, I devoted some thinking time to sort out key learnings from 2018. Here are the first four:

1. Lean on technically competent people.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jeul Davies, Cameron Stuart, and Drew Shafer. Jeul has built every website I run, creating an attractive look and feel along with friendly functionality. Cameron’s growing mastery of various electronic mediums has resulted in polishing and posting 114 podcasts (he is the producer), posting more than 120 books and reviews to On My Walk, and making shared resource content available at Leaders Life & Work. Drew Shafer is the creative brilliance behind the 3 Hour Retreat and branding for my sites. Drew plays on a big stage, but you’d never know it. Every client (even “little ones” like me) gets the same attention.

Now what? I’m asking, “What can I outsource and with whom can I partner to create a stronger collaborative advantage?” I am doing this personally and organizationally.

2. Do creative work first.

I shifted my work flow about a year ago. Previously, I always arrived at the office early (well before the sun was up) and set about my work. I am an early guy, plus I was operating with the mindset: “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.” I’ve come to realize if the team needs me to be physically present, I’m working with the wrong team. Yes, presence is important, but how much is relative. Additionally, Jocelyn K. Glei’s, Manage Your Day-To-Day, gave me the metaphorical kick in the seat of the pants I needed:

Creative work first, reactive work second: The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.” Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, And Sharpen Your Creative Mind, 161. Side note: Cal Newport, author of Deep Work would add his resounding, “Amen"!” to the advantage of working with singular focused attention.

Of course, one needs a place to do creative work. My mom lived with us the last twenty years of her life. When she passed, her room became my study (believe me, she would be pleased). “Place,” my friend Mark Eckel reminds me, is theologically as well as emotionally significant. My home office has become a very important place for quiet, time with God, deep study, reflective thought, as well as writing and podcasting.

Making the shift to creative work first and having the place to make the shift has been a proverbial game-changer. I chronicled some of the quantitative results in my post, “That’s A Wrap.” I would encourage you to take a look.

Now what? Lean in! Those are the words that flutter in my head. Because I want to be perceived as the “hard working guy,” sometimes I jet to the SRC office sooner than I should. I have to lean in to the creative work, whether that is sermon planning, long-range thinking for SRC, reading, writing, or any of the foundational activities necessary to discover, create, and equip.

3. Oh what a difference a strong team makes!

Today marks the beginning of my thirteenth year at Spanish River Church. I am closing in on ten full years as Senior Pastor. We have always had competent leadership teams, but there is something special about our current group. They are proactive, united around our mission and vision, and responsible (“on it” and “done” are key words in their vocabulary). They develop, empower, and release people to serve (e.g. one leader has more than 100 volunteers serving with joy). Is it any wonder I enjoyed my role last year more than any time in my tenure at Spanish River?

Now what? I am asking, “What can I do to contribute to their growth and expertise?” Peter Drucker says, “The organization that first succeeds in attracting and holding knowledge workers . . . and makes them fully productive, will have a tremendous competitive advantage” (Drucker: Management Challenges For The 21st Century, p. 48). Drucker’s words are no surprise, but knowing how to do that is not always easy. I’ll be employing personal growth plans and enhanced team learning opportunities as a starting point.

4. Stop looking for encouragement where you know you won’t find it.

Drucker said, “Leadership is a foul-weather job.” The management sage knew as exhilarating as life and leadership are, both are inherently difficult. Difficult as in “uphill both ways!” The challenges faced along the way can dishearten the strongest climber. That means encouragement is essential. The writer of Hebrews addressed Christians facing their own set of difficulties when he wrote,

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

Why did he employ the words, “one another”? Because everyone needs it! E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E (Leader included). That is why when Truett Cathy asked the question, “How do you know someone needs encouragement?” His answer was, “If they are breathing.”

Shifting metaphors from climbing to sailing, if someone is in “dead water,” with no breeze, a long way to go, and unhappy passengers, it’s not just the passengers who need the encouragement.

The preceding three paragraphs are my prologue to this truth, “As a leader I need encouragement!” To ignore that need is dangerous as best, fatal at worst. What I’ve discovered this past year is that too often I’ve been hoping for encouragement and looking for encouragement from people who have proven that are never really going to give it — at least give it to me. For whatever reason I am not on their encouragement radar.

McFly, Stop looking for encouragement where you know you won’t find it.

Stop looking for encouragement where you know you won’t find it.

Leaders are responsible for their own morale. Without running around pleading, “Will you encourage me?” I must spend time with the people who I know will put wind in my sails, whether that is over a cup of coffee, on the phone, grabbing lunch, and sending a text.

Now what? Stop waiting for the serendipitous moments of encouragement. Plan more consistent times with those people who naturally encourage me. I’ll be much stronger and won’t have that “poor lonely puppy” mood of the soul.

More reflections on life and leadership . . .

Tomorrow I will pick up where I left off. I want to share the best life and leadership advice I received all last year. It was just four words, but they ring in my ears practically every day.