Leading Through the Storm of Emotion

Life is filled with emotion. Crowds are swayed by it and individuals get caught up and often don’t even know why. Leadership is required to navigate the storms of emotion well.  One of the places that I have best learned this lesson is on the football field. In honor of Super Bowl 50, the timing of this post seems appropriate.

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I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to officiate youth and high school football for 26 seasons. What started as a great time to spend with my dad has turned into a career avocation and led me to numerous All-Star and championship games over the years. I can recall many games filled with emotion due to rivalry, championship aspirations or even just frustrated fans.

What does this have to do with leadership? Whether you are a sports aficionado or not, there are many things I have learned on the football field that apply in leadership regardless of the context.

1 – be prepared. Leaders can only lead out of what they know. This is most often a combination of education and experience, but there is no excuse for a leader to not be as prepared as possible. I have studied the football rule book for 26 years, taken countless tests and learned how to hone my judgment through many mistakes, learning from mentors and growing with the game. Preparation allows me to execute my craft of officiating well.

2 – communicate. This starts with my crew for the night. We have pre-game, talk through potential scenarios and ensure that our signals all match. Communication then continues to coaches, players and fans as we strive for integrity on the field. A well called game that is communicated poorly will feel like a poor game. Communication is essential to effective leadership!

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3 – establish your tone. As officials, we strive to work a game, keep players safe, ensure justice for both teams, and to walk off the field mostly unnoticed. At the same time, we determine how a game will go by what we allow. Late hit out of bounds not flagged? Get ready for fighting later in the game (most likely). We establish the boundaries of how players will play, how coaches will communicate (and complain), and how the overall tone will be for the night. Leadership sets the atmosphere for all contexts – what tone do you set with your team and for your projects?

4 – be consistent. One of the biggest complaints against officials is inconsistency. Whether real or perceived, this must be addressed. The best officials are consistent – coaches, players, fans and support personnel should know how a great official will work a game. It is the same wherever you lead. Be consistent in your style, your communication, your expectations and your encouragement. Consistency allows people to adjust and function well within prescribed boundaries.

5 – trust your judgment and instinct. Sometimes a situation occurs that is not explicitly covered within the text of the rule book. It is imperative that the referee make the right judgment at this point, whether it involves safety, sportsmanship or some other concern. I have called games early when the score is a blowout and kids are getting hurt due to size and strength discrepancies. All of the books, trainings, and mentor conversations become real when judgment is necessary. Trust all of these aspects and go with your gut! This is where the true test of leadership happens – how can you lead and influence people when there is not a perfect principle to follow.

While I know that not every enjoys sports, the lessons on the field apply across the board. Where do you have opportunity to function as an official in your leadership context? See how any of these ideas might add value to the leadership mantle you carry.

~ Mike

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Help! Leadership is Killing Me…

Have you ever had the feeling of being overwhelmed? Of losing control? Of having no idea what to do? It is the aspect of leadership that is most unnerving because leaders are used to and prefer to be in control…to know what comes next…to have the answers! Leaders don’t typically do well when things are on fire and we don’t have a solution.

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Leadership is filled with many peaks and victories and successes and a great deal of joy. However, there is always the flip side. People won’t like your decisions, they will gossip and criticize and will leave on your account. Fun, right? On a regular basis, I can find myself in a situation where my battle cry becomes “Help! Leadership is killing me…” Please tell me that I am not the only one?!?

So, why do we sign up for the pain, the stress, the challenge and the overwhelming feeling of dread that leadership can cause? Because we innately have learned that it is exactly these circumstances that provide the greatest opportunities for growth. If leadership was not challenging, then everybody would be a leader, right?

Fire is cleansing in nature. It purifies water, helps nature to remain in balance and cooks food. Fire out of control can bring great devastation, but in the right hands and circumstance, it provides great benefit. Leadership involves a great deal of fire. Don’t run from it, don’t rush to put it out, don’t look for a different way. Sometimes the best leaders know to walk through the fire because there is something on the other side calling their name.

When you get to the point of feeling like leadership is killing you, it might just mean it’s time to learn a new skill, gain a new perspective or obtain a new lesson. Life spent in a comfort zone loses its appeal for leaders – by nature, we must be trailblazers and try new things…and bring people along the journey with us. Embrace the feeling of overwhelming dread, remember that it is just a season and that you will come out stronger on the other end. Fire provides just the credibility you need as a leader to inspire others when the going gets tough.

~ Mike

4 Keys to a Successful Work Environment

Unless you are in a very unique role, you participate on a regular basis in a work environment, interacting with others. Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else in life. It’s safe to assume that each of us wants this environment to be successful, both personally and with projects to be completed.

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I have worked in many different environments, some more casual and some more corporate. I have been part of large department teams, been my own department and almost everything in between. Along the way, I have learned one crucial truth: work environments are filled with people! Crazy, right? But this means that there are certain principles that will extend across multiple work places.

First, I have to remember that it is simply not about me. If my energy, focus, concern and conversation rotates around myself and my projects, several things happen. I become unable to see the big picture and I no longer include others in the journey. Others begin to pull away as they realize that their presence is no longer important to me. This self-centered egotism is a sure bet to destroy any chance at a healthy work environment.

Second, the job description is rarely the job description. While this fun document might be what opened the door to employment, I would suggest that your boss is looking for more. More creativity, more initiative, more wisdom and more desire to engage with the greater good. I must find places to serve, groups to participate in, special projects to accomplish and the like.

Third, we all have a sweet spot – find your groove and get to work! How do you add value to the organization? What can you bring to the table that nobody else has? While this is not permission to ignore areas of less strength, it is a strong reminder to shine brightly where you are most gifted.

Finally, spend a little time caring about people more than projects. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in tasks and to-do lists and accomplishments that we find ourselves not truly knowing the people we interact with on a daily basis. The better a team knows and understands each other, the better they will work together. Have lunch together on occasion (not a working one), celebrate birthdays and find other simple ways to encourage and connect with your co-workers.

Work is consuming and takes up the majority of the day. This can either be a drudgery or can become a place of great satisfaction. Take the time to create a healthy work environment and enjoy the benefits that you and your team will receive.

Any other ideas for healthy work places? What are some things you do currently that create health? I would love to hear about it!

~Mike

Sometimes, Sweat the Small Stuff

I cannot tell you the number of times in college that I ran out of gas in my truck. The worst was that it typically happened in a moment of urgency when I had a deadline to meet for either school or work, yet that familiar sound of a coughing engine would taunt me. My truck was new, was in great shape and I loved it – I just found myself often distracted by the big and important things in life and I forgot about small details such as filling up the gas tank.

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Now, I admittedly am a bigger fan of and more natural at vision, future, big picture, etc. While these are crucial components of leadership, I have learned over the years that there are times that it becomes essential to sweat the small stuff, regardless of what the experts might say.

I am not a proponent of worrying and stressing about every little detail and expecting perfection. However, I am a proponent of the idea that my journey begins with the first step…and this is typically small. Even jumping off of a cliff requires a small step.

What is the small stuff worth sweating?

  • Paying the bills on time – might seem trivial, but why waste hard-earned money on late fees
  • Putting gas in the car in a timely manner – enough said
  • Checking your work presentation for typos – nothing says amateur or “I don’t care” more than spelling and grammatical typos
  • Learning the important aspects of life for those on your team. While you might not remember everybody’s birthday, do you put them on your calendar as a help?
  • Listening when your spouse or children talk – not merely hearing, but taking the time to listen, to empathize and maybe, at times, to even understand
  • Being faithful and honest when nobody is looking – it is far too easy to cut corners, but in the long run I have discovered that integrity wins out virtually every time

What about you? Any small stuff in your life worth sweating over? I would love to hear about it…until then, don’t forget to check your gas gauge!

~ Mike

Leaders Need Perspective

Left to ourselves, we often get bogged down in mundane details and issues. Other people make their problems into ours and attempt to pull us into the drama and struggles of their lives. While healthy leaders serve and look out for others, there must be a place to step back, say no and gain a little perspective.

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While there is no magical formula, I have learned the importance of perspective. It is necessary on a personal level, for my family, at work and basically everywhere that I am. Without perspective I can begin to spend my time chasing shadows, worrying about things that don’t need worrying and find myself rundown. Since I am really not interested in living this way, I must intentionally seek perspective.

How??

  1. The Word of God – my perspective becomes healthy when it filters through the Bible. While I know that not everybody subscribes to this lifestyle, it is what works for me. I have too many experiences without this filter and they never end well. Daily disciplined reading, prayer and meditation make a huge difference for me.
  2. Slow down and look around – when did it become cool and fashionable to be busy, to be late and to over schedule? This is a terrible way to live and definitely does not give space for perspective. The old phrase “stop and smell the roses” carries more truth than most give it credit.
  3. Try something new – drive a different path to and from work, listen to a new podcast, take up a hobby, volunteer at church or learn a language. Whatever the specifics, new things force us out of our comfort zones which naturally leads to new perspectives.
  4. Spend time with people more than tasks – I believe this is obvious. Tasks do not typically alter perspective, but working with and doing life together with people does. It requires that I listen more than speak (not easy, I must admit) and that I am okay with agreeing to disagree. Also, I must intentionally spend time with different generations as perspectives change drastically between them.

So, how important is perspective to you? Which of the suggestions resonates with you? Be encouraged to take that challenge for a test drive this next week and see what happens.

~ Mike

Getting Back in the Saddle Hurts

I’m a rhythm guy. I like to wake up at the same time, eat the same foods, go to the same places and in general stick with what works. I take risks and try new things, but I have my standards that get me through life pretty well.

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Unfortunately, holidays can disrupt my rhythm fairly easily. I have not posted in over a month, my alarm is my enemy, my eating discipline was replaced by homemade fudge and egg nog, and in general a sense of laziness began to creep in.

So, how can I get out of the rut and back into the saddle again? I know that it’s gonna hurt…but the alternative is far worse than taking the steps to get back to where I need to be.

First, there is great wisdom in reflection and evaluation. Was the rhythm I was in previously the ideal? I have taken the time in the past week to determine the best wake up time, the best bedtime, book reading, devotions, exercise, etc. While most has stayed the same, there are a few areas to tweak for 2016.

Second, write it down. Write down the goals, the ideal, the plan and the rhythm hoped for. Make it visible and memorable. It is far too easy to avoid discipline when it remains a theoretical idea in one’s mind. Writing it down brings a greater level of accountability and reality to the process.

Third, aim high! I don’t know about you, but at times I will lower the standard in order to feel more accomplished. Sad?? Yes…but true nonetheless. The problem is that this does not actually work because deep down I know that I could have done more. Truth is that I do better aiming very high and then coming up a bit short.

Fourth, provide grace for yourself. You might fail, forget or just need a day off from discipline. The perfection expectation is a guarantee for failure which then often leads to quitting. Don’t go there! Understand that you are human and might not always reach the lofty goals.

Lazy feels good for a time, for a moment or maybe even for an entire weekend. However, it does not last so no matter how much it might hurt, be encouraged to get back in the saddle.

~ Mike