Sunday, April 15, 2012

Duck, Regrets & Judo Masters: How Regret Can Be Good

The face of the elderly woman on my TV screen is moving in painful contortions as she repeats a single phrase over and over, “If only…if only…if only…”  It is gut-wrenching to watch.  She is a prisoner to the regrets of her childhood past, which she spent as an orphan.  Her life is little more than a cautionary tale for us:  left unchecked, regret will embitter our hearts and choke the joy out of our lives completely.

But you can transform regret into a powerful tool for good. In order to do that, you’ve got to become a judo master in the way you handle it. Take the energy of regret when it comes rushing into your head and hurtle it into the future.  Simply ask, “If I continue on my current path in life without any changes, what regrets will I have in my last days?”

If you allow that question to percolate deeply, it is bound to change how and why you work today.  For some people, answering the question will help them choose to work fewer hours.  For others it will have the opposite effect, it will motivate them to work much harder.  It might make you more willing to take risks with your career.  It might give you the courage to forgive someone that brutally put you down. It might empower you to confront someone that has been taking advantage of you. For sure it will make lasting impacts on anyone who is willing to ask it and then let it plumb their soul.

This last week, "Duck", a college friend of mine from 30 years ago died with no warning, leaving behind a wife, children and many friends to stumble through the sudden loss.  He never reached the age when most people struggle with accumulated regrets.  And it has reminded me that there is no better time than today to perform judo on my own potential regrets, allowing them to be a powerful catalyst for change in my life today.

“For us to get real results in the real world, we must be in touch with what is, not what we wish things were or think things should be or are led by others to believe they are.  The only thing that is going to be real in the end is what is.”  - Dr. Henry Cloud

L to R:  Mike "Duck" Taylor, me, my wife Kathi and Michael Hairston after a road race in Mulvane, Kansas in 1982.
To quote Neil Young, "Long may you run."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Volunteers, Mercenaries, Drones & Indentured Servants

Marc Dickmann is a pastor. Like most pastors, he depends on volunteers to complete the bulk of the work for which he is responsible. It’s not “church as usual” where Marc leads.  Marc’s volunteers lead innovative and critical ministries like “LiveBirds,” a growing business that creates jobs for people impacted by HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe; “Christmas Village Toy Store", a pop-up Christmas store that empowers at-risk families to provide affordable new toys for their families at discounted prices; “Family Promise,” which uses the church facilities as a week-long shelter for families that are working towards getting back on their feet.

Can you imagine entrusting the most critical and complex portions of your strategy to volunteers?  How on earth do you keep workers motivated when you have no compensation to offer, no real authority to control their calendars or power to simply direct them?

Saying "thanks" and defining reality...the note amidst my desk reading.
Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader is a servant.”  One reason Marc is such a smashing success with his all-volunteer workforce is the consistency with which he defines reality, then says thank you and serves people in between.  When you have a meeting with Marc to cover the details of the work you are doing with him, you can expect a card to show up in your mailbox a few days later.  The card will say “Thank you for making a contribution by ---.” Then he goes on to detail what contribution you are making and why that contribution is so important, thereby defining reality. When you get that letter, you feel indescribably warm inside.

Marc motivates volunteers by tapping into people’s deep-seated desire to make a lasting contribution that is appreciated by others.

You’d be much more effective and your workplace would be much more ensouled if you regarded your employees as volunteers; people over whom you have no authority or power, but who will accomplish remarkable things when they see the contribution they can make and sense gratitude from you for making it. 

The notion of an “employee" is illusion anyway. Workers are either volunteers or they are something completely different. If your “employees” are only working for the almighty dollar, then they are really mercenaries.  If you are directing the whole show, then they are just drones. If you are micro-managing temp/contract workers, then they are indentured servants. The difference between a volunteer and all the others is that the volunteer does the work because they want to, all the others do it because they have to.  Question is, who do you think is going to do the best job of the work before them?  Someone that wants to do it or someone that has to do it?

Ensoul lives and advance the organization’s mission by showing your “volunteers” that you understand the contribution they are making and that you are grateful for their efforts.  How will you follow Marc's lead today?

To find out how a chicken is changing the face of HIV/AIDS in Africa, read on here Live Birds.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Work

It’s Good Friday and I am willing to take the risk of mixing religion and work, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Why Christians call this Friday, “Good Friday” seems odd.  This is the day when they remember the arrest, torture and execution of the founder of their faith, Jesus of Nazareth.  Some Christians refer to events of that day as ‘the work Christ did on behalf of others.” 

From Jesus’ example we see that work has a spiritual reality.  Jesus is still one of the most highly-respected spiritual leaders today.  He did not exempt himself from the heaviest and most difficult work that needed to be done.  Instead, he embraced the work before him, even to the point of his own suffering and death.  He did that work humbly and he did it for others, in order to “ensoul” them.

No one really knows how this day came to be called “Good” and maybe that is a good thing in and of itself.  The lack of a certain explanation allows each of us to consider the story of Jesus’ work. Whatever our individual traditions, we can ask ourselves, “What good is there in such selfless work?  What good, if any, was there in His work for me?”