Lessons From My Past 25 Years

There is more than one way to learn something, but not all are created equal.

For example, I love to cook meat on my barbecue and I also enjoy slicing the meat to prepare for eating. And there have been at least two ways that I have become experienced in how to cut meat.

The first method involves my wife. Since she is quite the culinary woman, she has instructed me in how to slice certain meats for both aesthetic appearance as well as a satisfying eating experience by our guests.

The second method happened on Christmas Eve. I was cutting a prime rib using my electric knife (you probably already know where this is going). I was cutting at an odd angle, and before I could course correct, the blades nicked the end of my finger. 

To which there is the same reaction: long pause. Am I going to die? Assess the damage. Fortunately this was only a two-bandaid affair.

In both situations, though, I did learn how to cut meat. One just provided reinforcing measures that the other did not.

The hard knocks of leading

In my 25+ years in the workforce, learning how to lead has been similar to the story described above. Some principles have become habits because I saw the amazing fruit that came from using them. Others…well, have been grasped because I used the proverbial knife in the wrong way and ended up injured.

But both ways have value. The key is in the takeaway, both in the short-term and long-term.

My son works for Southwest Airlines and recently received a promotion to a supervisory position. Super proud of him in this new leadership role. And in his first week going into his position, there were thoughts I had of things I wished I had been told at his age of 23 for how to lead well. Because many of the fundamentals of leading I had to learn the hard way.

And so I sat down and drafted for him my “top 10” truths of leading well. And please know that writing these down does not imply mastery. Because I always feel I am in a state of “becoming” with this topic. But I wish to now share these with you.

My top 10 for leading well

These 10 work with all people in all situations. And at 50 years old I do not anticipate them changing. 

And so I offer these to you with the hope that they might spur some new thought and activity for you in 2017. Or at the least keep you from “cutting your finger.”

  1. Love people. Genuinely love them. I have seen that I do not naturally do this on my own and so I have had to beg God to develop it in me. I cannot think people are stupid or hopeless. Because I just have to remember the hopeless state from which the Gospel rescued me.
  2. Their success is my success. This has made some of the biggest impact with those I partner with. Look for ways to make them successful and I guarantee you will be successful. Looking out for my own needs never got me what I thought would satisfy. Leadership has given me both authority and responsibility. And I have learned that using it to move others forward multiplies benefits exponentially.
  3. Hear them out. I am still not great at this but God is growing me. As a leader, I have thought that my role is to speak and to speak some more. But I have found that my better role is to listen – not only to what is said but to read their body language and emotions for what is not said. It is an interesting thing: people are not always looking to have their problems solved but many times just desiring someone to listen to their story.
  4. Never react. Only respond. I have worked with some real pieces of work in my 28 years in the workforce. And as I interacted with them they about pushed me over the ledge. But God is growing me and reminding me that it is all about the relationship. And if that is true, then I must only respond in such a way that keeps the relationship growing and moving forward. Reacting only puts up walls that may never come down. Every interaction is a chance to model the Gospel. I wish I had remembered that more when I was younger.
  5. I will be held to a higher standard. I used to not like this because, after all, things just need to be fair. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that there is a bigger target on my back with me in a leadership position than those who are not. Fair? Probably not. But it is reality. And when I began to figure that out it helped me to not be disgruntled when I was held to a different standard.
  6. Ask a lot of questions. In my roles I have been tempted to use a lot of “leadership-y” type statements, figuring that as the leader, I know what is going on. Not always true. It has been much more effective to ask a lot of questions and lead people to a conclusion rather than dictate a mindset.
  7. Be willing to step into people’s messes. I wish I had learned this way earlier in my career. Handling conflict is never easy, but it is much more effective than side-stepping issues or acting like a problem does not exist. And I have learned that the edge gets taken off when I ask to make an observation into a person’s life, then state my interpretation of what I saw, but then allow them to clarify because I may not understand the whole story. Reconciliation is one of the greatest pictures of the Gospel.
  8. There is always another side to the story. In various leadership roles, people have come to me with their injustice of what has happened to them. And I have believed that person and then allowed myself to get ramped up, only to find out there were more details that completely changed the story. And then I felt foolish for jumping to a wrong conclusion. When a person comes to me with a big fire, I need to hear them out, thank them for speaking with me, and let them know what they told me is important. Then I get with the other party or parties and hear the other side of the story. At that point I can make a clear decision, but never before that.
  9. Notice what people do right. I am quick to notice what is wrong, but God is growing me to also see what is right in what others do. It is imperative for me to notice the good in others and tell them. It usually is a 1-2 minute conversation, but it is fuel for the other person’s tank. I give 25 cents of praise and get back 2 dollars of output. People live stressed lives, and a small word or note of thanks goes a long way.
  10. Care for the people God has placed under your leadership. That might mean giving them full attention when they are talking to me. It might mean taking their concerns seriously. It could also mean just stepping into their world of a death of someone close, hardship in their lives, or just a bad day. I have realized that a lot of the attitudes or frustration that I receive from others is not necessarily directed at me, just near me. Meaning, I am not the source of their chaos. Sometimes people just need to have someone, anyone, in their lives who cares about their life and what is going on.

In my 25+ years of leading, these have pushed me to lead well. I have the opportunity to create a culture with my leadership and that is powerful thought in my life.

As you lead today, regardless if you have a title or not, let this truth be the grid through which you influence and have impact.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also much forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)


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