When You Leak as a Leader

Hang with me for just a moment while I tell my…

Take-forever-to-get-somewhere-whiny-traffic story.

It took me nearly 3.5 hours to drive 36 miles last week. I was a bit frustrated and out of whack because I couldn’t do anything about it. I sat there dead stopped on the freeway and had no choice but wait for it to clear.

My frustration level ran to an all-time high as I was taking my students to the morning of the Global Leadership Summit by the Willow Creek Association. I had relayed to the students the importance of being on time. And here I was unable to get there until after it started. They graciously understood and we did end up having a great morning.

Although, I have to say that after getting settled I realized how I had let a little episode like a traffic jam completely unravel my sense of peace.

I whined to at least three people from the check-in person to the book table to the coffee station. I was leaking words and phrases that revealed what was going on in my heart.

When I leak it is not good.

About halfway through the morning, the leak continued to drip. I was tapped on the shoulder and there apparently had been a misunderstanding of how many sessions we were allowed to take in as we had received free morning passes. I left my seat determined to make sure we would be allowed to stay.

I would like to tell you that I handled it with grace and the maturity of a leader who has lead for over three decades.

NOT! I completely and aggressively defended my position and demanded that it was their error and not ours and we weren’t leaving.

Sigh…REALLY? Cynthia?

This moved from a slow drip to a gush on an innocent person who was trying to serve us.

As I slid back into my seat a sense of guilt and regret crept over me.

What was going on? What was wrong with me? I don’t respond to people like this!

I realized that my world was incredibly full and I was not handling my emotions and responses well.

This could mean one thing and one thing only. I need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

The month was full of multiple speaking events, teaching class, working my job and some over-the-top stresses that were happening in my personal world. It was time to take a soul check and make some adjustments because my tongue was definitely out of control.

I was not just leaking I was flooding.

Too often we as leaders find ourselves in this place. As a verbal processor I have to work harder at keeping my tongue under control. Some leaders I know are able to exercise much greater restraint for they are reflective introverts, but for those of us who are the opposite and who literally “talk for a living” it can be disastrous if left unchecked.

I decided that I couldn’t push on any further and something needed to change. Here’s how to stop the leak if you find yourself in the same place.

1. Step back and take a breath. When we are busy and stressed we often don’t breath very well physically and our brains need oxygen to be able to function. Go for a walk, leave your desk, and just breathe.

2. Check the calendar and see what you can shift in order to build in some restoration time. For me, if I keep going when I leak then I am going to be a train wreck and take some significant people I care about down with me. Breathe, look at the calendar and make some changes.

3. Make some “restore-me time.” I don’t know about you but when I am under extreme pressure as I have been the past several weeks, I have to get back to refueling. It’s different for everyone. Taking an afternoon and walking with my favorite playlist of music is restorative for me. Working on something creative with my hands that is totally opposite of my day-to-day routine also restores me. Whatever it is for you, take time to not only discover what that looks like but also make it a part of your routine.

4. Disengage from the Internet for a morning, afternoon or a whole day if you can. The constant noise from email, social media and responding can add to the already stressed situation. Take a break and be intentional.

5. Talk to someone. It’s a given for me because I am committed to following Jesus and that means I spend time in prayer talking to God and reading the bible. It is also helpful for me to have someone I can wholly be myself with and lean on them for encouragement and counsel. We aren’t meant to do life alone, and as a leader we don’t get better by isolating ourselves.

I didn’t get it right this week and felt like beating myself up. Instead, I reached out to the staff person I leaked all over before I left the event. She was incredibly gracious and we ended up having a meaningful conversation about leadership. Whew…averted a complete character meltdown. She thanked me for being vulnerable and looked forward to connecting over coffee at a later date.

I am grateful that I can have a do-over and since then, I have made some changes to stop the leak from continuing to spill over.

The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.          Proverbs 10:19

What Do I Do When the Big One Hits?

My sister and I were waiting in the ferry line with the wind howling and rain pelting my small SUV. We were on our way to Vancouver Island where I was going to be the speaker for a women’s weekend  at Camp Qwanoes.

We both had to go to the bathroom and wanted to wait to see if there would be a break in the storm. The loud speaker kept reminding us of the obvious – extreme winds, the BIG storm that was moving in and the ferry which would be delayed, again and again, and again.

Finally, after we couldn’t stand it any longer we braved getting out of our car in the high winds and blowing rain to go to the ferry terminal to take care of the bare necessities and grab some dinner. Once we’d practically been blown off the asphalt strip weaving in and out of cars we found shelter inviting us into the warmth and bustling terminal with other passengers who had the same thing on their minds as we did, bathrooms and food.

The ‘BIG ONE,’ the storm of the century was supposed to hit the island with predicted 100 mph and we seemed to be heading straight into what they were calling was yet to come, the aftermath of a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean. I had told my husband before I left that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to which he replied, “You have to go, you are the speaker!” Oh right, I forgot. Sigh…I gathered my courage and remembered God was the God of the storm and this was my assignment and headed to the ferry terminal with my sister who was as nervous as I was.

The weekend started and as Friday moved into Saturday morning and the morning moved into the afternoon and the afternoon moved to the evening, we noticed that the weather seemed calm and mild at the camp. Funny, where was the storm?

What was going on?

We soon learned at dinner that something miraculous had happened.

The camp staff had fervently prayed all week that nothing would interrupt the women’s weekend.

They prayed specifically that the ferries would run on Friday and Sunday for the women to arrive and depart.

They pleaded heaven’s doors that the power would stay on and that God would do what He does best breaking down walls and transforming hearts through worship and His word.

They prayed believing that God wanted to do above and beyond what we could even imagine.

And God moved.

He destined that the camp would be the eye of the storm.

We heard reports that the ferries stopped running on Saturday due to the magnitude of the storm. The power was cut-off in the cities around the camp, but the small community where the camp was, the power never even blinked once.

As I listened to a camp staffer, Gretta, relate the miracle, I couldn’t help but have spiritual goosebumps.

God did something significant for all of us on the weekend.

In the sessions we talked about storms in our lives and how they can cripple our influence. We spoke about being misunderstood and harboring unforgiveness and the need to let go and lean in because we don’t always have control when a storm moves in.

God gave us a physical in our face visual reminder that as we surrender to Jesus in obedience there is one place and only one place we can be safe. Jesus, who holds us in the very eye of the storm, He is our shelter.

And when the BIG one hits we are to do just three things.

1. DON’T PANIC – RUN to the shelter which is Jesus – stay close for He is the eye of the storm. Listen to worship and feed on God’s Word. Lean in close and listen for the next steps.

2. DON’T TRY TO FIX IT – TRUST – only God knows the big picture and He always, I mean always has the last word! Stay in the eye of the storm and don’t get distracted by the chaos. Just like the meterologists this past weekend who were dumbfounded that their computers weren’t accurate with this supposed “storm of the century.” God knows. He sees. He knows the outcome. He can do anything!

3. DON’T BE TEMPTED TO GIVE UP – BELIEVE and don’t lose hope. Keep praying. He is our refuge.

The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord do not abandon those who search for you. Psalm 9:9,10

As my sister and I drove home from the camp to catch the ferry we saw a rainbow like no other. I couldn’t help but thinking how God sheltered us on the weekend and how His promises are faithful and true and that’s the reason I know I can run to Him, trusting and believing that He is in control over even yes, the storms in my own life.

 

 

5 Ways to Kill a Team

Every Tuesday morning I show up at a university campus to teach leadership to international students who mainly come from China and the surrounding region. We have a fascinating time as we merge Eastern thought about leadership with Western ideals.

This semester we are discovering the group dynamics of teams and most of our work is experiential learning in class. My students are hungry to learn how to create effective teams for optimum results and I love watching the interaction. Working as a team with shared ideas is new for some of them. They are used to the idea of autocratic teams instead of teams that are more collaborative.

I’ve noticed one thing that stays the same between our cultures and it is the bottom line. We all want to have an effective successful team to reach common goals. We are learning together some important steps to maximize our effectiveness as teams. And yet, we still fall back on our human nature striving for performance and falling into leading only task driven. And as much as the leadership theories we learn help us, our humanity can get in the way and lead to what I call – The 5 Team Killers.

There are ways we can unintentionally easily kill a team in our efforts to be effective. As a leader, it can become a team blindspot. In my experience with teams I’ve served and lead, this is what I have learned (the hard way) that can cause a team to lose it’s effectiveness.

1. Task First Think Later

As a young leader in my 20’s and 30’s, I thought organizing a team meant putting together a group of people to get the job done.  It was all about TASK! And I was the one as the leader to call the shots.

Partially true?

Maybe.

I had little regard for what others on the team might think about what we were doing TOGETHER.

I soon learned the hard way through some crucial conversations that I wasn’t the only one who had the best ideas on how to get the task done.

In fact, sometimes my ideas weren’t good at all!

Thinking together as a team was a slow learning process for me. As we thought things through together, the team actually improved.

I am not advocating group-think in this instance but rather fostering an open-minded atmosphere where everyone’s thoughts about getting the tasks accomplished lead to the best results.

2. Choose Not to Collaborate

Part of what makes a successful team is leveraging everyone’s strengths on the team. When we choose not to collaborate and don’t make it a priority to understand the strengths of each team member, true collaboration can’t take place. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. No one person has all the skills to lead an effective team and no one person on the team can get the job done well all by themselves.

3. Using People Instead of Relating to People

If you really want to kill a team fast, the best way to kill a team is to not care about your people. People will follow the vision and goals for awhile, but when stress starts to play in, if we as a leader don’t genuinely care for those on our teams, motivation will diminish. We don’t want people to feel they are being used. We want them to not just know we care but that we really care about them beyond what they can do for the team.

4. No parties, No celebrations

Teams need to celebrate successes and especially small goals.

Celebrating as a team creates more motivation to reach the end goal.

We often just celebrate the end with a big splash as we cross the finish line.  I have found that when we celebrate small goals it brings the team together and provides encouragement. Every team will reach an obstacle at some point that can bring discouragement. Celebrating along the way helps to keep everyone moving forward toward the goal.

5. Enforce Accountability

There are many different ideas of how to hold team members to account. I have found that the best way to hold a team accountable is to empower others by working intentionally as a leader to motivate team members.

Lack of motivation can kill accountability.

When a team loses momentum due to lack of motivation, members can slip into the “just doing enough to get by.”

I believe the key to accountability is to keep the team motivated as a whole. When everyone on the team is energized there is less chance of  those on the team falling into the slacker category.

These five team killers aren’t rocket science and yet they bring awareness to highlight what is really important when it comes to functioning as a healthy team.

When my students share how to create a dream team, their passion emerges on how their greatest wish is to help others and leave a lasting imprint in their realm of influence.

As we reflect together in discussion on these and other theories, one common goal surfaces in discussion. We all want to be the very best leader we can be to create a working team that makes a difference!

If everyone is moving forward together then success takes care of itself. Abraham Lincoln.

 

 

 

 

How Cleaning My Oven Took Over My Day

Yesterday my calendar said, “Writing Day.” As I proceeded to get organized to sit down and make my favorite cup of tea, I was woefully distracted as I waited for the water to boil. I stood by my stove and made the mistake of leaning down too closely.

I have a confession, there has been problem in my kitchen. It has been lurking for several years. Nearly seven to be exact and I am now going to make a full confession.

I haven’t cleaned the inside of my oven since we moved into our house.

Please don’t judge me.

I hadn’t thought it looked too dirty until it was sparkly clean and besides I regularly wipe it out if I spill something, at least mostly. Just for the record, my oven is well used and I like to keep a relatively clean kitchen but the oven door is closed 99% of the time right?

Instead of writing (and that is why this blog post is a day later than scheduled) I set the dial to clean the oven. You are probably thinking, if this is a self-cleaning oven why couldn’t you write while it was cleaning?

Sounds logical.

Practical.

Reasonable.

Somehow because I decided to get that oven clean, everything else  screamed for attention and then I made a decision. Monday is going to be a cleaning day so I can feel better about the house when I really sit down to write. Did I tell you that I am a recovering perfectionist? More on that later.

As I was wiping out the charcoal dust after cleaning the oven I noticed some extra stubborn baked on spots that needed a little soft scrub and muscle. I was scrubbing and scrubbing when God gave me a picture of my own heart. There are crevices that are months and probably years old that I have turned on the self-cleaning button thinking that it was fine.

He reminded me that sometimes I have to get a little ‘Holy Spirit Soft Scrub’ and put some muscle into those stubborn spots of bad habits and wrong thinking patterns. I have to linger and scrub, wash out the scum, wipe, scrub and repeat several times until the remnant of my burnt on habits are gone. I have to pray and pray some more. Take captive those thoughts that would stick to the old places already baked on. Have you ever noticed that when you bake how one and then another layer of oozing dessert or a casserole might fall on an already burnt spot making it more difficult to get off?

One of the burnt on baked on places in my heart is falling into negative thinking. It’s easy for me to clean around everything else and wipe right over the crusty habits believing I am okay. I whine. I justify and it doesn’t work, because God cares about my whole heart, not just the places I think are clean.

I realized that the way I think represents a few crusty baked on places in my heart. Life has thrown some curve balls as of late and I can’t fix any of it.

Frustrating!

The negative thoughts pile on one another and it can build and build until it screams for attention. God showed me through a simple once every seven-year chore of cleaning my oven. It may take longer than it took for me to clean it but I am making a choice to stop long enough to pay attention to the crusty places and what needs to be surrendered in my heart.

Here are three simple steps to attack those burnt on places in our hearts.

  1. STOPYes, we might even have to set aside something planned, something good, something needful to take a step back and pay attention.
  2. CONFESSBe honest with yourself AND God. Sometimes I think that we think God doesn’t know about the crusty baked on places in our hearts. HE DOES! And the beautiful piece is that He still loves us. His love isn’t based on how thick or crusty those layers might be.
  3. SCRUBand then scrub some more. Make time to reflect and use the tools God gives us. Scour those places away by renewing our minds with His promises and pray over wrong attitudes and thinking patterns. Get feedback, honest feedback, not from someone who will tell you what your feelings want to hear, but someone who will help hold up the mirror and be brutally candid.

As I was leaning into scrubbing the baked on crusty junk, it was hard. My shoulder hurts today from pressing in. It’s the same way when we work at getting rid of old habits, it can hurt and it might take a while. Lean in and know that God will reward your efforts and your desire to please Him with a pure heart.

After David had sinned and repented, he wrote this, Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a faithful spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (God’s Word Translation). That’s what I am asking God right now. After the scrubbing happens and the crusty places are removed that God would clean me up, create new thoughts and renew in me a faithful spirit. How about you? What crusty baked on places are layering up in your heart?