10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports

IMG_4560 - Copy

We just finished another season of youth sports in our household. Over the years our kids have participated in a variety of team sports including soccer, football, wrestling, softball, baseball, and basketball.

As a larger family with five children, we need to be intentional both with how we invest our time as a family and with the activities in which our kids participate. This includes the need to be intentional about involvement in sporting activities.

As a family thinking through the stewardship of our family time, it is helpful to think about youth sports not only from the angle of what is fun, but also from the angle of what is meaningful. In light of this…

  • In what way are youth sports meaningful?
  • How do they contribute to the development of children and youth?
  • What life lessons may be learned from participation in youth sports?

On the heels of another season, a few members of the Irving household sat down to think through the value of youth sports. Out of this conversation came our list of “10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports” that fall into five main categories: Physical Lessons, Emotional Lessons, Relational Lessons, Mental Lessons, and Spiritual Lessons.

Physical Lessons

Lesson 1: Physical Health Is Important

To begin, youth sports remind us as a family, and remind our children in particular, that physical health is important. As parents we really do not care about what specific sports our children engage. We just want to them to engage a sport, or an activity, because through this engagement they are able to stay active and physically fit. When their days of youth sports end, we hope that they take the value of physical activity with them into adulthood. Care for our physical bodies is not the only part of life, but it is an important part. Youth sports help children value the importance of physical health.

Lesson 2: Athletes Are Born and Made

Youth sports also make it clear that although each individual is equally valuable as a person, not everyone is equally gifted with particular skills. To say it another way, athletes are both born and made.

People are born with gifts that differ from others. Those engaged in youth sports quickly see that not every person on a mat, field, or court has equal abilities. Youth sports provide an opportunity to face such realities, and these are realities that are true in other areas of life as well.

Although everyone is born with different levels of specific gifts and talents, everyone has the opportunity to make the most of what they have been given. Discipline and hard work go a long way in the realm of sports and in the realm of life.

Regardless of the level of talent that one has at the start, everyone can take the talent they’ve received and make it grow through discipline, hard work, and practice. Youth sports teach such lessons. Youth sports help young people to recognize that athletes, and mature humans in general, are both born and made.

Work with what you have been given and then take this talent to the next level.

Emotional Lessons

Lesson 3: How to Lose, and Win, Well

As with recognizing different levels of gifting, youth sports also provide a chance to recognize that not all outcomes are the same. Some teams win and some teams lose. Such realities raise emotional lessons for life as well and provide powerful opportunities for maturing. While defeat is difficult, youth sports generally provide a safe environment where children can learn how to both lose, and win, well.

Another way to talk about this is how to win and lose graciously. As individuals and teams battle it out on the mat, field, court, and beyond, they encounter the need to face deep emotions such as fear, disappointment, sadness, joy, excitement, and more.

Through defeat and victory in youth sports, children are able to face diverse emotional experiences in a structured environment. Although the world of youth sports may not always feel gentle, the adult world will likely be less forgiving. Learning to engage both loss, and victory, is ultimately a gift and a key life lesson that youth sports provides.

Lesson 4: How to Press through Perceived Barriers

Along with the flood of emotions noted above is the reality of facing both real and perceived barriers. Whether it is in a challenging practice or in the heart of a sporting event, youth sports provide numerous opportunities to bump up against barriers. In these moments, when it feels like quitting or giving up is the easiest solution, children are challenged to dig deep emotionally and find a bit more to offer to both themselves and their teammates.

The feeling of wanting to give up, and the feeling of being so tired that you can’t go on, is not limited to the world of sports. It relates to life in general. It relates to the world of study and academics. It relates to the world of family and relationships. It relates to the world of work.

Youth sports provide a place for children and youth to recognize that the feeling that there is nothing left to do or nothing left to give is not always the reality. The emotion is real, but the emotion is not always accurately expressing reality. Sometimes there is more that can be done. Sometimes the barriers that are felt are perceived rather than actual. Youth sports teach how to press through such perceived barriers.


I’ll stop at Lesson 4 today and pick up next time with Lessons 5 – 10 in the relational, mental, and spiritual domains.

In the meantime, how have youth sports contributed life lessons to you or the youth you know well?

Wide-Angle Leadership

Lense, by Richard Heaven, Flickr

Lense, by Richard Heaven, Flickr

What makes leaders distinct from other organizational members or employees?

This question may be answered several ways, but one key answer centers on ownership and perspective. First, leaders bring ownership to their work—they own challenges and problems rather than pass them off to others. Second, leaders bring perspective to their work—they focus on the big picture and see how the various parts work together.

Leadership Lenses

When thinking of lenses for leadership, I imagine the diverse lenses available to a professional photographer as a helpful leadership metaphor.

For instance, there are macro lenses that allow for a magnified perspective of the micro level as a photographer captures images extremely close to the subject. Through macro lenses, we can gain great perspective on small and particular objects at a granular level.

There are also wide-angle lenses that allow photographers to capture a broader perspective on the subject. Through macro lenses, we gain great perspective on broad and sweeping views of the whole of a scene.

I would argue that leaders need to draw on both of these metaphors in their leadership practice. They need to be able to zoom in on the details of an issue, but they must bring to this detailed analysis the broad perspective that comes from seeing the big picture. While organizational members or employees have their specific area of work, leaders not only look at the specifics, but also the specifics within the context of the whole.

Wide-Angle Lenses and Organizational Perspective

If you desire to move into leadership within your organization, one of the first steps is to begin thinking like a leader from your particular vantage point. This means that you need to begin using not only the macro lens of seeing details, but also the wide-angle lens of looking at the big picture.

Wide-angle leadership is about looking at the organization as a whole. In a traditional business setting, this means thinking through how various departments and units need to work together to bring success to a particular venture. From product development, to marketing, to sales, to customer service, and beyond, wide-angle leaders are not content to just pay attention to particular job responsibilities, but rather to think like owners and look at the whole of the venture in broad perspective.

“That’s Not My Job”

How many times have you either heard, or perhaps said, the phrase “That’s not my job.”

As opposed to those who think like leaders, organizational employees who are not thinking like leaders are often solely focused on what is in their job description alone. If a question, need, or demand arises that is outside of that job description, the response may simply be: “That’s not my job,” or “That’s not my problem.”

If one does not aspire to leadership responsibilities, “That’s not my job” may work as a response. But for those that want to progress into leadership responsibilities, such a response no longer cuts it.

Aspiring leaders must begin to think like leaders. Aspiring leaders push aside the “that’s not my job” logic and begin to take ownership of the problems as a whole and the solutions as a whole. They begin to think and act like owners.

Ownership over Excuses

Leadership comes down to taking ownership rather than making excuses. Leadership comes down to moving beyond just the narrow concerns of one’s job, and seeing how these narrow concerns connect to the big picture of the whole enterprise. Leadership is about ownership over excuses.

Wide-Angle Leadership

Not only is leadership about ownership, leadership is also about gaining perspective on the broader situation. Marketing leaders cannot simply be concerned with marking problems. Product development leaders cannot simply be concerned with product development concerns. Sales leaders cannot simply be concerned with sales problems. In contrast to just looking at problems at the micro level, leaders need to gain wide-angle perspective to inform area-specific problems.

In other words, wide-angle leadership is holistic leadership—seeing the unique demands of a particular business area in light of how the whole of the organization works. In contrast to a “just doing your job” mentality, leaders recognize that part of their job is about seeing the big picture, and this comes by engaging in wide-angle leadership as particular problems are addressed.

Next Steps—Starting to Think and Act Like a Leader

Leaders bring ownership to their work—they own challenges and problems rather than pass them off to others. What opportunities do you have to take ownership and responsibility in your work? Are you intuitively responding with a “That’s not my job” approach, or are you learning to take ownership for solutions?

Leaders bring perspective to their work—they focus on the big picture and see how the various parts work together. What opportunities do you have for taking a wide-angle approach to your work? Are you learning to see the big picture rather than just focusing on your specific area of work responsibilities? While you need to deliver on your particular job responsibilities, this will be best accomplished when done from a place of wide-angle leadership perspective.

11 Lessons for Those Feeling “Stuck” or “Trapped” in their Careers

Limitless, by David Melchor Diaz, Flickr

Limitless, by David Melchor Diaz, Flickr

Have you ever had the feeling of being “stuck” or “trapped” in a career or job? Most people have at one time or another.

The question of what to do with this “stuck” feeling is vital for anyone facing a challenging season, and is at the heart of what I’d like to engage in this brief reflection.

Changing Your Work Context

Sometimes this experience or feeling leads toward a shift away from one’s current role, whether this shift is dramatic or more subtle.

One expression of this might be the bold step of quitting a job even though a next step is not in place. Another expression of this might be putting your résumé out and getting a feel for other options. Still another expression of this might be going back to school in order to eventual make the jump out of a current role.

Changing Your Perspective on Your Work Context

Other times, the answer is not a shift away from a role or organization, but rather a shift in perspective within that role or organization. This path is about taking a proactive posture toward the stuck feeling. Rather than seeing this as something brought upon you by the organization or others, this is about shifting to take ownership and responsibility for what you have control of as you face this feeling.

Advice for Getting Unstuck

On this point, Robert Steven Kaplan provides thoughtful reflections in his HBR article entitled Reaching Your Potential. Here are some recommendations and reflections drawn from Kaplan’s work for those desiring to move out of this feeling of being “stuck” and “trapped.”

  1. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
  2. Use this Understanding to Guide Your Career Choices and Goals
  3. Identify Three or Four Tasks that Are Central to Your Work Responsibilities; Make Sure You Excel at These
  4. Show Character and Leadership within Your Role and Organization
  5. Put the Interests of the Company and Your Colleagues ahead of Your Own Interests
  6. Be Willing to Speak Up, Even Voicing Unpopular Views
  7. Don’t Play It Too Safe
  8. Identify Your Dreams
  9. Develop Skills to Realize these Dreams
  10. Demonstrate Courage to Pursue these Dreams
  11. Remember their Will be Bumps Along the Way

What Are Your Next Steps for Getting Unstuck?

Although we could identify other recommendations to add to these, Kaplan provides great insight here for those wanting to move forward from this place of feeling stuck. The key is to move away from a passive posture and on toward an active posture of taking ownership in moving toward your career potential.

What steps have been most helpful for you in getting “unstuck” in the context of your job?

Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation (Leadership Practice 2)

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

Last week I highlighted the first practice—Modeling what Matters. This week, we turn to the second practice—Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation.

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Serving as a foundation for authentic modeling of what matters (Practice 1), the next servant leadership practice is Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. One of the unique features of this practice is its emphasis on self-evaluation sequentially prior to the leader’s evaluation of others. While it may be easy for leaders to recognize faults and mistakes in others, leaders must first engage in in the hard work of looking in the mirror and engaging in a self-evaluative process of reflection.

The Leader’s First Look

This practice is consistent with the biblical admonition to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Engaging in honest self-evaluation requires leader humility. It requires a capacity for self-awareness. It requires a willingness to reflect on personal faults and shortcomings which shape the organizational environment and the experience that followers have in the organization.

Being (and Growing as) Humans

Shann Ferch argued that “one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to discern one’s own faults, to be broken as the result of such faults, and in response to seek a meaningful change.” Leaders are not exempt from such important human characteristics. The issue is not whether or not leaders have faults and make mistakes in their leadership practice at times. Rather, the issue is whether or not leaders have the capacity to reflect on these mistakes and engage in honest self-reflection and self-evaluation. Leaders who do this are able to learn from their mistakes and then grow as persons and as leaders.

Greater Influence Necessitates Greater Reflection

Emphasizing the importance of honest self-evaluation, research participants noted among other things the danger of leader blind spots and unquestioned assumptions. One participant noted, “Honest self-evaluation is utterly important for leaders,” and that, “the blind spots of leaders tend to be far more destructive than the blind spots of non-leaders [because leaders] … impact more people.” In other words, the scope of one’s influence matters. While honest self-evaluation is vital for all people, it is critical for those with significant influence.

Self-Evaluation and Role of Trusted Friends

Research participants further noted the dangers of unconscious self-exaltation and the drift toward arrogance and individualism. They argued that honest self-evaluation is best accomplished when trusted friends are invited to provide the leader with feedback on their growth edges. In addition to effecting the leader’s personal growth, the absence of honest self-evaluation on the part of leaders decreases the capacity of teams to change and attain goals in an effective manner.

Looking in the Mirror 

It’s one thing to read about self-reflection and self-evaluation as a leader. It is another thing altogether to actually do the work of honest self-evaluation.

Have you taken time recently to pause for self-reflection as a leader? How are you evaluating your engagement with those on your team? Are you doing this evaluation on your own, or have you invited a trusted friend to provide honest feedback so that you may better see your leader blind spots?

Though pausing for self-reflection and self-evaluation may feel like you are simply not getting your work done, the research study that backs these reflections prioritizes leader self-evaluation as a first-order priority for leaders. Pausing for reflection and evaluation allows you the opportunity to make mid-course corrections in your leadership, contribute to higher levels of follower job-satisfaction, and contribute to the increased effectiveness of your team.

Take time for an honest look in the mirror today.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014

2014 was my first year entering the blogging world on the writing end. This new year marks my 15th year teaching in higher education, and this blog has been a great place for me to share some of the core lessons learned over the years. Blogging is a helpful pathway for sharing insights in a brief and accessible format. I have enjoyed learning a bit about blogging this first year, sharing reflections on leadership, and connecting with a many new people through this format.

As I look back on my first year of blogging, here is a list of the Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014. Feel free to take a look at these posts that drew the most attention from Purpose in Leadership readers.

Top 5 Posts from 2014

  1. 37 Barriers to Change 

    Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

    Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

  2. 7 Levels of Leadership Communication

    Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

    Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

  3. Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

    Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

    Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

  4. Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

    by Arya Aiai, Flickr

    by Arya Aiai, Flickr

  5. 6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision

    mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

    mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

Thanks for taking an interest in the Purpose in Leadership blog, and I hope some of the blog posts in 2014 were helpful to you.

Blessings to you as we press into 2015 together!

– Justin A. Irving, Ph.D.

Rethinking Resolutions — Prioritizing for the New Year

New Year's Resolutions, One Way Stock (http://www.onewaystock.com/zzz_page_NewYearsResolutions.php)

Photo Credit: New Year’s Resolutions, One Way Stock

New Year’s Resolutions

What are your typical New Year’s resolutions?

I’m actually not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I am a fan of using the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to reflect. As I look back on one year and then consider the next year ahead, it is an opportunity to step back and pay attention to the big picture—to pay attention to the things that matter most.

As you consider this past year what have been your significant challenges and what has gone well? What are the key lessons you are taking from this past year? How is this look to the past influencing your goals and desires for the future?

What Are the Big Rocks?

The reality is we cannot do everything. We have to make choices. We have to prioritize. As I look to the year ahead, one of the most helpful metaphors for me continues to be the image of Putting the Big Rocks in First suggested by Steven Covey.

Familiar to many, in First Things First Covey shares the following story about prioritizing:

I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-si zed rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

After we make our guess, he said, “Okay, let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar…then another…then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?”

Everybody looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”

The he said, “Ahh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he grinned and said once more, “Is the jar full?”

By this time we were on to him. “Probably not,” we said.

“Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went in all the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more he looked at us and said, “Is the jar full?”

“No!” we all roared.

He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “Well, what’s the point?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, you would never have gotten any of them in?”

(Source: Covey, Stephen R., A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill. First things first. Simon and Schuster, 1995.)

Prioritizing What Matters Most

So here is the major take away from Covey’s story: As we consider the hundreds and thousands of things that can be done in the year ahead, what are the specific things that matter most? What are the areas in our lives and the goals that we have that must be prioritized? Generally speaking, if we don’t carve out space and time for the things that matter most, our priorities often get pushed aside by the daily demands of life. So what are the things in your life that are just too important to be pushed aside?

Ongoing Priorities and New Priorities

As I consider my own big rocks, some big rocks are priorities I desire for each new year—quality time with my family, treasuring Christ and His love shown to us in the gospel, and faithfully serving others through my work. Other big rocks for a specific year and require focused energy for a specific time in my life. One such example for me is working to complete a majority of my remaining MBA classes in the year ahead.

In the coming year my life will be full of both planned and unplanned events. This means that I need to hold my plans loosely. But as I plan for the year ahead, I want to keep the “Big Rock” priorities in mind so that the things that matter most are not needlessly pushed aside by daily busyness. Some of my plans will likely need to change as I respond to new circumstances, opportunities, and invitations that emerge. But in the midst of the busyness, if I put the big rocks first I will be able to keep central the things that matter most and then allow the other necessities of life to fill in between the spaces left between the metaphorical big rocks.

Identifying Your Big Rocks

So what are your “Big Rocks” for the year ahead?

Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, I’d encourage you to reflect upon and identify your priorities for the year ahead. This is not about making resolutions or promises to yourself that will fade away by mid-January; this is about a deep process of thinking through your core values and core goals, and then prioritizing what matters most as you move into the year ahead. Enjoy this opportunity to look ahead to the new year and then make your priorities explicit as you launch into the next twelve months.

Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

by Arya Aiai, Flickr

Photo Credit: Image by Arya Aiai, Flickr

One of my areas of research is examining the role of resiliency in leadership. Here’s a link to an overview of one of my recent academic articles focused on the role that obstacles and resiliency play in the development of leaders (Management Research Review, Vol. 37, Iss. 5, pp.466 – 478).

In our research, we found that a variety of developmental assignments, relationships, experiences, and training were associated with increased levels of leader resiliency. Often, these developmental variables take the form of personal and professional obstacles that build resiliency in leaders.

What is Resiliency

Resiliency is about the capacity to bounce back after difficulty. Resiliency is about the capacity to persist through and overcome diverse challenges in life and leadership.

In this day and age, resiliency is increasingly important for leaders. Our world abounds with uncertainty, and it is individuals and leaders who are able to bounce back and make the best of difficult circumstances who will thrive in the days and years ahead. This is what resiliency is all about—persisting, or even thriving, in the midst of difficulty.

How Resiliency Works

Engaging the theme of How Resilience Works, Diane Couto argues that resilient people possess three defining characteristics.

  1. Resilient People Face Down Reality: “…coolly accept the harsh realities facing them.”
  2. Resilient People Search for Meaning: “…find meaning in terrible times.”
  3. Resilient People Continually Improvise: “…have an uncanny ability to improvise, making do with whatever’s at hand.”

These characteristics are vital for leaders today. Facing down reality means accepting the harsh realities and facts in front of us, but doing so in a way that finds meaning and purpose in the chaos.

The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins referred to this tension between facts and faith as “The Stockdale Paradox.” The Stockdale paradox, named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, is based on the observation that those who survived in the most difficult of circumstances (such as prisoners of war) do so by both confronting the most brutal facts of one’s current reality AND retaining faith that one will prevail in the end. It is not merely choosing optimism OR pessimism—it is the experience of embracing BOTH difficult facts along side optimistic hope.

Brakes Break for a Reason”

My wife took me to a movie last night entitled The Hundred-Foot Journey. It is the story of the Kadam family who left India for a new life in France. As the story unfolds, this new life begins in a French village due to their vehicle breaking down. Overlooking this village, and through the events that follow, the family embraces their reality that “Brakes break for a reason.” Through embracing the reality in front of them, the Kadam family finds meaning in the moment and forges a new and hopeful future for their family.

It was a beautiful movie, and in a simple way depicts this tension between facing down reality and finding meaning in the midst of reality.

Purpose in Leadership

This tension is one of the reasons I’m passionate about “Purpose in Leadership.” Leaders who are able to make sense of the world around them—to find meaning in the face of the mess—often are characterized by a resiliency that allows them and their organizations to thrive in the midst of great difficulty.

Creative Improvisation

This blend of finding meaning in the face of reality sets the stage for Couto’s final observation—the ability to improvise and make do with what is at hand. Resilient leaders face reality from a place of purpose and meaning, and from this place engage the resources around them (human, physical, structural, financial, etc.) to resolutely move forward toward their driving purpose.

Because the future is always being created as we go, leaders learn to improvise along the way. They respond to the needs around them. They collaborate with the people and resources at hand. They find unique and creative pathways forward to accomplish their goals in new ways.

______________

How are these characteristics of resilient people at work in your life? Are you nurturing this capacity to (1) face reality, (2) find meaning, and (3) forge a path forward through creative improvisation?

You Are Not Alone — Interdependence and Dependence in Leadership

Steering Wheel from a Vessel, Wilderness Kev, Flickr

Photo Credit: Steering Wheel from a Vessel, by Wilderness Kev, Flickr

How do you begin your day as a leader? I recently heard a friend share his leadership challenge of “waking up with the steering wheel in his hands.” Perhaps you can identify with this metaphor.

As leaders, it is all too easy to mentally and emotionally dive into our daily to-do list the moment we wake up. This level of all-in leadership engagement often continues throughout the workday and beyond. While understandable, such engagement can adversely effect us on multiple levels — our personal well-being, our interpersonal availability, and our team/organizational productivity.

In light of this challenge, we need to be intentional in finding time for pause, perspective, and refreshment in our day-to-day leadership responsibilities. I plan to write on several pathways for this intentionality in future posts, but I begin with this point — Remember You are Not Alone

Awareness of Our Finitude

Leaders are often wired toward independence … toward going it alone in the task of leadership. Thankfully, the practical nature of human limitation reminds us that we cannot do it all on our own. Leaders are reminded daily that there are only 24 hours with which to work. Leaders are reminded daily that our bodies need food to eat and the rest of sleep. Our finitude reminds us that going it alone is neither practical nor beneficial within the context of leadership.

You Are Not Able to Do it Alone”

Moses faced such limitations multiple times in his life and leadership. At one point, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro stepped in and challenged Moses’ independent approach to leading: “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).

Thousands of years later, leaders are still battling this reality Moses faced. So how can we work against this tendency? A quick answer to this is we need to remember that we are not alone.

Interdependence and Dependence

First, as with Moses, we have other people within our communities with whom we are able to partner in meeting the goals that matter to our organizations. As with Moses, we need to learn healthy interdependency in our leadership. We rise to greet the day with a community of people who are likely much more willing to partner with us than we think. We rise to family, friends, and associates with whom we may link arms and work toward the goals that matter most to our organizations.

For some communities, cultivating this interdependency means that leaders need to equip and empower volunteers. For other communities, this means equipping and empowering staff and coworkers with whom we serve on a common mission. As with Moses, we need to resist our tendency to go it alone. We must look for authentic partners with whom we may work and serve.

Second, as with Moses, we may rise to greet the day with a heavenly father who is ready to lead and guide us. As with Moses, we may learn our healthy dependency on God in life and leadership. Although leaders have a tendency to “wake up with the steering wheel in their hands,” leaders who are mindful of God’s presence recognize that they are not alone even when no one else is around.

On this point of remembering God’s presence, I appreciate a prayer of St. Patrick. Here are some excerpts from this prayer:

I arise today through the strength of heaven….

I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me….

Christ shield me today against wounding.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me….

I arise today
through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation”

Though sometimes drawn toward independence, leaders need to remind themselves early in the day that they are not alone.

  • I arise and awake to a God who is ready to “pilot me,” “uphold me,” and “guide me” through the demands of my day.
  • I arise to a day where there are opportunities to partner with others in work that matters.
  • I arise, and I remember that I am not alone in my leadership journey.

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty

Joy, Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Generational Poverty

Generational poverty is a real issue in our world. While many people experience individual poverty in their lives due to the loss of a job or another tragedy, generational poverty emphasizes patterns where two or more generations continue in poverty within the family structure. Generational poverty is often characterized and reinforced by such causes as limited educational opportunities, poor health or ongoing battle with disease, and an inability to access resources such as land, finances, and information in the pursuit of a sustainable living.

Leaders are certainly not the only answer to addressing such issues and breaking the cycle of poverty, but leaders are important partners along the way. I’m passionate about training leaders, so I’m particularly drawn toward the conversation of empowering leaders to think intentionally about their role in this vital conversation.

From Nonprofits to Business

Engaging generational poverty is not only a topic for nonprofits, governments, NGOs. It is also a topic worth the engagement of leaders from multiple sectors. Many companies are moving toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in an effort to play a part. One global example I’ve especially appreciated comes from the Indian-based Tata Group whose founder believed: “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder, but is, in fact, the very purpose of its existence.”

Local Models

Some of the best models I’ve observed are not in large-scale corporate CSR initiatives or multinational NGOs. I certainly value large-scale efforts, but sometimes the models that are most helpful for learning are the smaller and local examples.

So what are effective models for helping to break the cycle of generational poverty?

Here are two I’ll highlight:

A Few Blocks Away…

A few blocks away from where I live, I’ve had the opportunity to see Urban Ventures play a role in breaking the cycle of generational poverty in Minneapolis. Leaders from Urban Ventures often say they do three things in an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty—jobs, families, and education. They orient their programs around job training, support of families, and support of children in their educational development. Through these targeted three areas, Urban Ventures is providing a proactive strategy around which partner organizations like businesses, foundations, churches, and other community groups may come together and break this cycle locally.

To Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti

Generational poverty shows itself internationally as well, often in more stark forms. I have the privilege of working on the board of HCDF (Haiti Christian Development Fund), and through this connection have a front row seat to one of the best models of community development I’ve seen. Inspired by and started out from the community development work of John M. Perkins (founder of the Christian Community Development Association), HCDF launched in 1982 to bring its model of community development to the Fond-des-Blancs region of southern Haiti.

Agricultural Project

HCDF Agricultural Project

With a passion to break the cycle of poverty in Haiti, HCDF has a 30 year history of working to develop and empower the people of Fond-des-Blancs. Through their approach to K-12 education, church-planting, micro-lending, agricultural initiatives, and intentional leadership development, the Fond-des-Blancs community is experiencing transformation.

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What Can I Do?”

So what can you do to help address generational poverty?

First, look around you for organizations like Urban Ventures and HCDF who are actively engaged in holistic models of addressing generational poverty. Partner with these local groups.

L’Exode School

L’Exode School

Second, look beyond your context and be a part of global solutions. HCDF is a powerful example of community development done well. Would you consider a donation to the agricultural, educational, or leadership development work of HCDF as you look to your year end giving? If so, please go to HCDF.org where you may donate online and join me in supporting this important work.

Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

Photo Credit: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, by Scott Maxwell, Flickr

“A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself
and his contribution to praise the skills of the others.”
– Norman Shidle

Most people participate in some form of a team or group on a regular basis. This happens through recreation in the realm of sports and clubs. This happens on the job as people come together to get things done within organizations.

Although you likely have been part of both groups and teams in the past, do you understand the difference? What are the key distinctions between a group and a team?

Defining Teams

Larson and LaFasto describe three basic characteristics of teams.

  1. Two or more people
  2. Specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained
  3. Coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective

Independent or Coordinated Effort

Larson and LaFasto’s third point is the key to answering our question.

  • Groups organize around individuals bringing together independent work in light of individual goals.
  • Teams organize around individuals bringing together coordinated work in light of collective goals.

Contrasting Groups and Teams

Groups

Teams

Independent Work

Individual Goals

Individual Accountability

Individual Evaluation

Coordinated Work

Collective Goals

Mutual Accountability

Collective Evaluation

Valuing Both

I highly value teaming done well. However, there is a time and place for both groups and teams.

Groups are generally more helpful for quickly and efficiently getting things done in the context of a temporary working relationship. When individual and independent work can be brought together to advance the individual goals of multiple parties, then a group is an efficient way to work together. Many of the group projects and assignments I’ve completed over the years of my schooling fit into this group model.

Teams are generally more helpful for taking on bigger projects over a longer period of time. When the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective way to work together. Although teaming done well tends to take more time than working as a group, this extra time investment pays off in the quality of the team’s performance.

Speed or Quality

  • Groups are best when the stakes are lower and speed is the key.
  • Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than speed.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

– African proverb

This African proverb sums it up well. Though most of us want to go fast AND far, usually we have to prioritize one over the other. Groups help us go fast. Teams help us go far.

Enjoy the journey of working with others. I’d love to hear your experience of working with groups and teams!