Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

I recently took on a lengthy Summer project of renovating an older house, in a college town where my son attends. This is probably the largest undertaking, outside of my on residence, I have ever attempted. My father, while nearing his eighties, has come along side of me to offer his encouragement, insight, and support.

Over the last few weeks, while working with my father and my son, I began thinking about many of the life lessons my father taught me. I have compiled some of the more significant here. It seems appropriate for me to release this blog post on Father’s Day.

  1. Being a model father is about the Father, not the model.

My Dad is a model father.

Of course, we all know what a model is. A model is a smaller imitation of the real thing. That’s right, when it comes to being a father, my Dad is a smaller imitation of the real thing.

Before you think I’m being too harsh toward my father, let me explain. When it came time in his life to be a father, Dad did not look to the example of his own father. Nor, did he look to the example of the earthly fathers he knew.

Instead, he sought the Scriptures to learn everything he could about how his Heavenly Father nurtures and cares for His Children. From there he learned and modeled unconditional love, passion, sacrifice, wisdom, instruction and so much more about raising and releasing his son.

I am not sure I truly understood this until I became a father myself. In one particular conversation, shortly after my first child was born, Dad put his arms around my shoulders as I held my new born daughter and said: “Son, I would much rather know that you are following God’s example than mine.”

That is when it hit me. Being a “model father” is all about THE FATHER, not about the model.

2. How hard you work is a reflection of your character.

Dad worked hard all his life. He knew the meaning of work, hard work. Often he would leave our house before I got up in the mornings and many times not return until after I was in bed. Even with working long hours and sometimes two jobs, Dad was still fully active and working around the house, or somewhere, during his off time.

I remember as a teenager and young adult realizing my Dad could and would work circle around me. He would not leave until the task was finished. Even today, with the physical limitations of age and life, he can still outwork many men half his age.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we see the instructions in “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Your work should be a reflection of God’s glory. In that respect, how hard you work is a reflection of your character.

3. Providing for your family is not only meaningful, it’s Spiritual.

Like I said, Dad worked hard all of his life. He worked hard to provide for the needs of his family. We did not have everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed.

Dad recognized the positive side of 1 Timothy 5:8 meant that providing for his family was as much a Spiritual endeavor and a physical one.

4. You are never too old to learn. The earliest you can ever begin learning something new is now.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting in a crowded auditorium, as an eleven year old, watching Dad walk across the stage to received the College Degree he had earned. It was not until I was a little older that I realized how much of a challenge this was.

For much of his early life, Dad’s formal education had been somewhat limited. In fact, it was after he was married and became a father that he was the first enrollee and graduate from a new community technical college in our area, learned a trade that ultimately provided well for his family, and after working many days from before sun rise attended university in the evenings to earn his degree. He has lived out, the earliest you can begin to learn something new is NOW.

It is still amazing to watch how he enjoys learning something new. Even as a senior adult, he purchased his first computer and continues to learn about the technology that has passed by so many of his generation.

5. Knowing why things work the way they work is important.

For as long as I can remember, Dad has had a strong mechanical aptitude. For much of my young life, he did almost all of his own mechanic work on any automobile we had. As a young teenager, he would have me with him changing the oil, rotating tires or otherwise servicing whichever vehicle was due for maintenance. He taught me the importance of maintaining our assets. Understanding why things work (or should work) the way they work is important. This understanding helped him draw the line between doing it himself and seeking more professional help.

I have really come to appreciate this aspect of my Dad while working on my recent house project. As he has come along side, Dad encouraged me to not just replace what is broken, but to look at everything structurally connected. He has taken the time to explain how structural systems should work and how they interrelate within the construction of a house.

He has given me a greater appreciation for the importance of understanding why things work the way they work.

6. It is only failure if you quit.

Growing up, Dad required me to finish any activity I started. No matter how I much I like or dislike a particular activity, if I committed to participate, I had to see it through to completion. This was not only school, sports, or extracurricular activities. This included everyday things as well.

My first trip to the emergency room for sutures came not long after learning to ride a bicycle on two wheels. I drove off our drive way on to the tar and gravel road we lived on only to have a patch of loose gravel shift under by back wheel, sending me face first into the street. After a few sutures to close the wound on my chin and we were back home, the first thing Dad did was repair the damage to my bike and that afternoon he made me get out and ride again.

Falling down after taking the training wheels off is part of the process. Every result is something you can learn from. It is only failure if you quit.

7. Responsibility is something you live, not something you take.

I never once remember hearing Dad say he was “taking responsibility” for anything. Oh, he was responsible. He was a very responsible person.

Like work, Dad saw responsibility as a reflection of his character. He recognized that if responsibility was something he could take, that meant that it was something that could be taken away. But, if he lived responsibly, God guided him in his areas of responsibility. Therefore, Dad never “took” responsibility, he just quietly lived it.

8. Being a man is biological. Being a gentleman is optimal.

Growing up, Dad always taught me, you don’t have a choice being a man but you do have a choice being a gentleman. He modeled for me the importance of being kind to those who could do nothing for you in return.

Even now, I cannot help but inwardly chuckle as I watch him open doors for people significantly younger than himself. He is absolutely beaming and smiling as they walk through. Many appreciate his effort, but even when some do not, the blessing still belongs to him. Being a gentleman is optimal.

9. When more of your days are behind you than ahead you realize the importance of legacy.

Dad has really embraced this in the years since he became a grandfather. I am almost envious of the relationship he has with his grandchildren. He is one of their biggest fans and cheerleader. He has embraced teaching them at every opportunity he can. More than anything he desires their lives to be richer and more vibrant because of the investments he makes in each of them.

More than anything, he is living our Proverbs 13:22 by building an inheritance for his children’s children.

10. A Godly father nourishes his family tree for branches he will never see.

More than ever, I believe Dad realizes the direct impact he will have on future generations is limited. Time and age have a way of making one realize that. Dad has embraced this realization. With it he has recognized that he can have a positive influence in his family tree for many generations to come by how he invests in and fosters the relation with the generations he knows. Dad has taught me: A Godly father nourishes his family tree for branches he will never see.

Thank you Dad for these and many more life lessons.

From a son and a father, to all the fathers’ children reading this, Happy Father’s Day.

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Like many others, of a certain age, I was introduced to the Latin phrase “Carpe diem” by the movie, Dead Poets Society (1989, Touchstone Pictures).  In the movie, English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) inspires his students to discover their love for poetry and seize the day.

Taking his students on a tour of the school grounds, Keating pauses at a display of classical poets.  It is here that he introduces his students to this inspiring phrase.  As the class stands looking at the memorial displayed, Keating makes a profound comparison of the poets and his students:

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Carpe diem, seize the day. It was and is an inspiring reminder to make the time we have worth something.

Carpe diem is not circumstantial, happenstancal, or even accidental. Carpe diem is intentional. Carpe diem is an intentional attitude of making every moment of every day matter.

More recently, while reading some of the devotional writings of R. C. Sproul, I was introduced to another Latin phrase Coram Deo.  Coram Deo literally means in the presence of God.  Coram Deo is another intentional action.  Coram Deo means an intentional movement toward and within the presence of God.

Now, I have not thought about Dead Poets Society in many years.  When I read this Latin reference in Sproul’s writings, it triggered something in my memory.  I began to remember the challenging words of John Keating inspiring his students. Carpe diem. Carpe diem!

I continued to think on these seemingly different settings, I began to put these phrases together:

Carpe diem – Seize the day

Coram Deo – In the presence of God

Carpe diem Coram Deo – Seize the day in the presence of God.

Seize the day in the presence of God.  Carpe diem Coram Deo.  How interesting that sounded as I rolled the phrase around in my head.

Could I find examples encouraging us to live it out? Carpe diem Coram Deo.

How about these:

Psalms 91:10, 12 (a Psalm of Moses) – The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Ephesians 5:15-17 – See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Luke 9:62 – But Jesus (referring to the costs of discipleship) said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Philippians 3:12-14 – Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.

So, here we have the words of the Prophet Moses, the Apostle Paul, Doctor Luke, King David, King Solomon and our Savior Jesus Christ encouraging us to seize the day (Carpe diem) in the presence of God (Coram Deo).

Carpe diem Coram Deo. Carpe diem Coram Deo!

Are there other references?  I’m sure there are many.  Feel free to add more.

But, let these words encourage, inspire, empower and propel you.  Carpe diem Coram Deo.

Carpe diem Coram Deo.  Seize the day in the presence of God.

What is God calling you to seize from this day? Take hold of it.  Seize the day, while it is still here. Grasp it for everything its worth.  Take hold of its full potential.  This is a day like any other, it has the potential for extraordinary things.  It is up to each of us release the extraordinary from the ordinary out of this day.

As Keating inspired his students and our heroes of Scripture inspire us as well:  Make your life extraordinary…                             for the glory of our Lord.

Carpe diem Coram Deo.

I have been blessed with a wonderful Dad who invested and continues to invest into my life. Even with a fabulous role model in my home growing up and with other great dads as examples to look to, there are still a few things I learned by being “Dad” to my daughter and son.

It is Spring and my youngest will be graduating high school next month.  Looking back, I have many fond memories of being a Dad for two wonderful children.  Realizing that I will soon have two children in college and basically living on their own, I began to reflect on some of the things I have learned over these past few years of DadLife.

There are no real profound concepts to any of these.  These are just things I recognized as a Dad raising children into young adults.  Some are lessons I learned.  Others are just my realizations of the joy of my DadLife.

As a Dad, I’ve learned:

  1. Actions lead and Directions send.  There are times when Dad’s directions are important to send a child on an appropriate path.  However, As a Dad, it is far more important that my own actions lead my children through life lessons.  My actions will lead where my directions may never send.  More importantly, if Dad’s actions do not closely mirror his directions in an area, his children are more likely to learn his example rather than the lesson he desires to direct.
  2. Dad must teach results.  As parents, Mom and I found it important to positively teach our children.  We found when we used negative wording in our instructions our children often heard us in the positive.  For instance, if we told a child “Don’t run in the house” that child’s actions indicated he/she heard “Run in the house.”  In this example, we found a simple instruction to “walk” produced the desired results.  We also taught our children that TRUTH is specific and TRUTH MATTERS.  The one lesson we were able to teach our children early that has produced the brightest results is:  “Delayed obedience is really disobedience with a time limit.”  As a result, even as teenagers, our children followed our instruction quickly.  We never had to break their disobedience, because they learned the benefits of obedience early.
  3. There is a big difference between Discipline and Punishment.  The word discipline is derived from the same root word as the word disciple.  As such, discipline means a refining of beliefs and behavior leading to desired results.  Discipline leads to desired results, by consciously reviewing consequences of actions and refining the decision processes causing those consequences.  Punishment is the negative consequence to one’s actions or decisions.
  4. Dad must always have Mom’s back.  It’s going to happen.  Some time, somewhere, something is going to come up where a child or children try to play one parent against the other.  This is why it is vitally important that parents are on the same page.  However, the tone Dad sets in this area can go a long way toward reducing the number of these events.   The best thing I realized as a Dad in this area was:  She was my Bride long before she was their Mom and she will be my Bride long after they move out of the house. There should never be any question whose side I will be on in this arena.  Dad has Mom’s back.  When Dad has Mom’s back, Mom is more likely to get the respect she deserves from the beginning.
  5. It’s okay for Dad to show emotion.  Dads are still human.  We get mad, sad and glad like anyone else.  It is important for us to establish a good example for handling those times when our emotions are less than desirable.
  6. All words have meaning, but Dad’s words have weight.  For better or worse, Dad’s words will impact a child’s life.  As Dads we have a choice to positively lift up our children or negatively tear them down.  Either one will impact a lifetime.  It is important to use the weight of our words to compliment, encourage and enable our offspring to succeed in life.
  7. Dad is going to mess up, but it’s not the end of the world.  There is no doubt that Dad is going to make mistakes.  What is important is what Dad does after he messes up.  When Dad faces his mistakes and seeks to make corrections, he teaches his children that “failure is not final.”  Excuses are not an option.  It is far easier to go from failure to success than it is from excuses to success.  Like I said earlier, we want to teach results, which means teaching success.
  8. The best investment Dad can make for his grandchildren is being a Godly parent to his children.  This is a direct reflection of the truth of Proverbs 13:22.  The best inheritance or heritage we can leave for our grandchildren is not money or material wealth.  The best heritage we can leave our grandchildren is Godly parents, which we raised by example in our own home.  Our children are blessed that my wife and I both have parents who live out with purpose Proverbs 13:22.   I have no doubt that each of them will be a parent that seeks to continue this heritage.
  9. I miss being Dad to my children, but I love being Dad to two outstanding young adults. They are not children any longer.  That time seems to have passed so quickly.  They have grown up.  I could not be more proud of the adults they have become.  They are two of the most outstanding young adults I know.
  10. I absolutely love DadLife.

It’s my birthday.  It has become my habit, on my birthday, to reflect on a lifetime of lessons learned.  So, here are a few off the top of my head.

I’ve Learned:

  • Salvation is all about Jesus and none about me.
  • Being a Christian is about a relationship, not a religion.
  • Promises are sacred and God’s promises are forever.
  • My opinion of God’s word is less important that my obedience to God’s word.
  • The Creator gave us creativity and we invented control.
  • When I resist God, I suffer.
  • A relationship without commitment is just an acquaintance.
  • True fiends are a priceless treasure and false friends are too plentiful.
  • All the events, circumstances and people in my life were placed there by God to prepare me for this moment.
  • The same hand that wrote the law in stone (Exodus 20), wrote my sin in sand (John 8) and redemption in blood. (Matthew 27)
  • Only as I love and respect others will I be able to love and respect myself.
  • Freedom is the result of letting go, not hanging on.
  • “Faith” is a verb.
  • “Hope” is a noun.
  • Blessings taken for granted are easily lost.
  • It is far easier to go from failure to success than it is to go from excuses to success.
  • The Bible always points to the true character of God.
  • Jesus loves me even when I am not lovable.
  • A Godly wife is a precious jewel. (Proverbs 31)
  • The “Power of God’s Word” and the “Word of God’s Power” cannot be separated.
  • A Godly Pastor should be quickly followed and an ungodly pastor more quickly fled.
  • God’s call on my life does not expire.
  • Prayer is about listening, not talking.
  • My need for accountability outweighs my desire to be accountable. (Proverbs 27:17)
  • God promises to supply all of my needs, not all of my wants. It is my responsibility to recognize the difference.
  • Believing in predestination does not excuse me from witnessing.
  • Believing in election means that I am still responsible for nominating lost souls.
  • There are some things I will never understand.
  • The more I learn the more I realize I do not know.
  • God is sovereign, just and holy.
  • God does not take a day off.
  • I am responsible for building a witness for my grandchildren tomorrow, through my children today. (Proverbs 13:22)
  • Stewardship is about life, not money.
  • As I age, my definition of “old” changes.
  • Even with a lifetime of learning behind me, I still have a lifetime of learning ahead of me.
  • I’m never too old to learn.

Earlier this year, my team experienced the sudden tragic death of one of our teammates.

I am fortunate to lead a great team.  Our team members had been in place and unchanged for over five years.  We knew how to support each other and perform as a highly functioning team.  As we left the office together on Thursday evening, for an extended shutdown weekend, we wished each other a good weekend.  Sunday morning, a couple of us began to notice some comments on social media about “prayers for Jane’s (name changed) family.”  By the time we were returning to work Monday morning, our fears were confirmed.  Jane had died suddenly Saturday evening as the result of a traffic accident.

As I said, our team had been intact and unchanged for over five years. We were a high performing successful team.  We are also a very lean team.  One person on an extended absence creates increased workload for the remaining team members. But this wasn’t an extended absence. Jane, a highly respected manager and seventeen year employee, was gone and she was not coming back.

As a team and as a leader, we were on an odyssey we would have never chosen.  Yet, our team must continue.  We have customers to service. We have a mission to accomplish. We must succeed.  We had to navigate through the morass of emotions and increased job requirements before we could begin to recover and return to the highly performing team which we are capable.

Like many leaders navigating new experience, I turned to wisdom base of the internet. I searched for anything related to “leading after the death of a team member.” My search results provided little to no guidance.  I guess it is such a painful and emotional event, many leaders would rather not relive their experience by writing it out.  That is probably why it has taken me nearly eight months to sit down to complete this blog post.

Throughout our recovery, I have tried to capture notes of leadership lessons learned in my journal.  I have consolidated these to nine key leadership lessons for leading through the death of a teammate.  I hope you never experience these, the way we have this year.  But if you do, I hope you find some comfort in our shared experiences.

Understand Mourning Process – When we returned to work Monday morning, we were slapped in the face with the reality that Jane would not be returning.  A couple of us had pieced together information from various social media posts.  Others were just learning of Jane’s death that morning.  We did not need to take time for mourning.  The mourning was confiscating time for itself.

We spend as much time, often more time, with the people we work with than we do our own families.  On this particular Monday morning our work family was deeply hurting.

Jane’s workspace was the first space you saw as you enter our team area.  As a team, we felt it was important to have a memorial, a small vase with some of her favorite flowers, at Jane’s desk. It was a stark reminder of our loss that encouraged memories of happier times.  It was important that we mourn our loss as a team.  It was just as important that we mourn individually.

As a leader, it is important to realize that each individual mourns differently.  It was important for each person to have the freedom to step away whenever needed. We still had jobs to do.  Our customers had no idea what our team was going through.  As much as possible, we had to maintain business as usual, so stepping away was the safety net each needed for overwhelming emotional moments.

In May 2014, Dave Stachowiak, on his Coaching for Leaders podcast, discussed the emotional side of leading after a workplace loss. His podcast offered some excellent advice for dealing with team members’ emotional wellbeing.  For me, the podcast was a great reassurance that we had handled the emotional aspects of our loss fairly well.  Dave and I have shared a couple emails since.  With his permission, I have included a link to the podcast episode at the end of this post.

Together, We Are A Team – “As a leader, you set the tone for your entire team.” (Colin Powell) 

As we stood consoling each other and discussing what we needed to do first, all I could think to say was: “Together, we are a team.”  We will get through this, together.

That word carried a lot more weight than I ever imagined.  It was more than just a reminder that each of us is there for the others.  It was a reminder that we are watching out for each other.  We would remind each other to “breathe” when the weight of the moment became too much.  We found greater comfort in mourning our shared loss together. We attended the visitation for the family and funeral, together, as one team.

We discussed how we would need to adjust our workflow, for the immediate future.  But all of that seemed miles away during the early moments.  As the days rolled forward, it was our commitment to together that helped us focus and succeed as a team, even though business was no longer usual.

Leadership Can Be Lonely – John Maxwell says: “Anyone who says, ‘It’s lonely at the top’ is not a leader. A leader wouldn’t be at the top by alone.”

While a completely agree with Dr. Maxwell’s statement, in this situation there were certainly some lonely leadership moments.  Securing access and rerouting Jane’s email, even though business related, felt like an invasion of privacy.

Going through her desk to separate out any personal belongings definitely had a more personal feeling.  You truly recognize what is most important to a person, when you look at their personal effects around the workspace.

The lonely task that hit me the hardest was changing the voicemail message on her phone.  Listening to the old message, hearing Jane’s voice drove home the realization that my team would never be the same.  How we navigated the next few weeks and rebuilt our team would determine our recovery and continued success.

The worst days were behind us.  It was time to focus on the rest of our journey.

The “Hit by a Bus” Plan Is Inadequate – In every leadership position, I have encouraged key people to maintain what I call a “hit by a bus” plan.  The hit by a bus plan is a set of instructions of where key information, status of current projects, and current commitments can be found, if the individual has an unexpected absence for a period of time.

We even tested our “hit by a bus” plans when each individual would take vacation or be out for multiple days.  We would make adjustment for anything that had to wait until the individual’s return.  The worse situation was when we would need to call someone on vacation to find answers to problems we could not solve.

Now Jane was no longer a phone call away.  She could not answer any questions.  Any short falls in the plan were ours to work through.  We soon realized our “hit by a bus” plans seldom assume we will never return.

Respect Time in Replacement – Immediately after Jane’s death, our remaining team covered the additional duties, similar to the way we would cover during vacations or temporary absences.  The team’s mission was our biggest driver.  In reality, it was a very healing process for each of us.  As I spoke with each team member, each relayed that honoring Jane’s memory was a large motivator.

Filling all our activities with a smaller team is a short term solution to a long term problem.  The leadership challenge, for me, was finding the balance between respecting the time needed for emotional healing, the toll of the temporary workload increase, and refitting the team for our long term success.

In the end, it was nearly two months before we began seeking the right person to complete our team.  It was a wait that really stretched my comfort level, as a leader.  Ultimately, I am glad I did not allow my desire for expediency to overrun the team’s need to grieve, reprocess and begin to look forward.  The best leadership decision for me was to keep pace with my team so we all arrived at our destination together.

“Leadership is not something you do to people. It’s something you do with people.” – Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi (Leadership and The One Minute Manager)

The delay provided time to think through our team needs.  We had a blank page.  We had the opportunity to design our ultimate team, define our talent needs and find our new mix.

Compatibility, not Conformity – There is not another Jane.  Searching for her would be frustrating, at best.  Finding her would prove impossible.  Selecting the new team member is important.

Hiring to fill our needs and build the team is most important.  We had to avoid the hiring to “replace Jane” trap.  This is not “Jane’s Job” any longer.  Conformity to the old mindset was not optimal.  In the building of the new team, compatibility is paramount.

Respecting the time in replacement and defining our team needs encouraged a metamorphosis in my own thinking as the team leader.  We are not rebuilding the team; we are building the NEW team.

Team Building Phases Still Apply – We had been fortunate to have our team intact for as long as we did.  We had enjoyed a significant period of sustained high performance.  It would be easy for those of us who experienced that period of time to force the same expectations on the new team.  That is the mistake I most wanted us to avoid.

In the 1960’s, Dr. Bruce Tuckman defined the phases of team work as:  Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing – Transforming

I have found these to be true in my own experiences, as well.  There is a process to building a team.  No matter how good we are, we are not exempt from the process.  We must respect the process.  Knowing this is part of what drives us to continually improve.  We are not yet where we need to be, but we are a long way from where we started.  Our team’s best days are in front of us and getting closer all the time.

Honor History, Focus Forward – Not many days go by without us thinking about Jane.  We still see her influence in our processes and activities.  We find her notes and contributions in project files.  We have memories of times past and the benefits of lessons learned.  There are now more pleasant thoughts than sad.

Building our new team didn’t ignore history.  Instead, we found the best measure of honoring history was by focusing forward.  The best way we can honor history is by making this team the best ever.

It has been a difficult journey.  I have learned many more lessons, than I could ever mention here.  Those lessons will not be easily forgotten.  It is that knowledge that brings me to the greatest lesson of all.

Together, We Are The Team – We are moving forward together. We are succeeding together.  Together, we are the team.  That is what leadership and teamwork are all about.

 

As I promised, here is the link to Dave Stachowiak, Coaching for Leaders – Podcast 142:  http://coachingforleaders.com/podcast/what-to-do-after-workplace-loss/

During my professional career, I have visited many executives in their offices.  I am always interested in the things I see on the desk or around the office.  Yes, many have pictures of family, friends, colleagues, etc. There are often trophies, awards or certificates.  There are sometimes products of hobbies.

The one thing that always interests me is that one unique item.  The one item that is a reminder of a powerful lesson learned.  Through the years I have seen some unique items, like strangely deformed metal, blobs of plastic, coins of every type, paper clip art. Then there is that unique ordinary, almost trash worthy, item that only the occupant of the office can appreciate.  That special item is there as a constant personal daily reminder of a powerful lesson learned. Those are the items I enjoy learning about.

In a small space in my office, in a place only noticeable to me, is just such a memento. I placed the item as a metaphoric reminder of a lesson learned as a leader.  Before I show you, let me tell you a little about its inspiration.

A few years ago, I heard John Maxwell challenge a group of executive leaders with this question:  “If you and the person who replaces the toilet paper in the restrooms are both absent tomorrow, who will your people miss more?”

The question generated a lot of nervous laughter. It was a rhetorical question that carried a lot of weight. The question was asked to challenge leaders to focus on servant leadership.

About a year later, I listened to a recording of that same lesson from John Maxwell.  This time the question stuck me with greater interest. This time I added a tangible reminder of the lessons of servant leadership. 

As I notice this item from time to time, it has not only reminded me of John Maxwell’s original lesson, but many additional valuable leadership qualities.  Discretely tucked away where only I will notice it, is this item:

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I have replaced this a few times through the years, as one would get messed up or accidently thrown away.  The first one had only a big question mark drawn on it.  This is the current version.  What does an empty toilet paper tube have to teach us about leadership? Here are a few it reminds me of:

Remain Humble – Humble leaders inspire people.  Humble leaders are more approachable.  Humble leaders recognize they can learn from others.  A humble leader recognizes it is more important to surround himself with a team that collectively knows everything necessary, than to try to know everything himself.

Value People – There are no unimportant people.  Valuing people is the primary key to becoming a servant leader.  Choose to place a positive value on every team member.  I often remind my team: “You are the best team anywhere.” It is up to them to perform up to that definition. I have found, when I treat them like the best, the team performs like the best and usually surpass my expectations.

Serve Others – All positions in your organization are important. The ultimate purpose of any position is serving others. Servant leaders understand their job is to serve those they lead, not just their employers.  Regardless of your position in an organization, your ultimate job is always customer service.  Customers may be defined differently based on the role you fill.  As a leader, your primary customers are the people you lead.

Respect the Unpleasant – Whether you’re the CEO of a multi-national company or the guy that mucks the drainage pit, every job includes some unpleasant tasks.  Don’t allow the unpleasant tasks to define you, or define the individuals you lead.  Unpleasant tasks are just that, unpleasant tasks.  Respect the tasks for what they truly are, a valued service to the organization. When you find yourself in the middle of an unpleasant task, focus on the benefit completing that task provides.  Help the people you lead see the importance and benefit of the unpleasant tasks.  Always, show genuine appreciation when the unpleasant task is done well.

Finish the Job – The job is not finished if the paper work remains.  Jobs and projects contain many pleasant and sometimes unpleasant tasks.  No project is finished until the final task is complete, no matter how unpleasant.  Finish the job well.

Martin Luther King Jr.: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

That is exactly how leaders should embrace the role, as “Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed”.

There is one other personal reminder from the empty toilet paper tube:

“Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end the faster it goes.” – Enjoy the Journey 

It’s your turn.  In the comments, share some of the unique items you have seen or used as a constant reminder and the lessons learned.

My daughter is the Valedictorian of her graduating class for 2014.  During her Graduation Address, she gave some great advice for her classmates. I asked her permission to include the transcript of her speech as a guest blog.


Family, Friends, Faculty, Staff, board members, and Mr. John David Phillips, thank you on behalf of the class of 2014 for coming and celebrating with us on all of our accomplishments.  Thank you, Mr. Phillips, for your inspirational message.  If it were not for all of your love, encouragement, and support through the years, we probably would not be at this point in our lives.  To the Class of 2014, it is my honor and privilege to be among the first to address you as GRADUATES of Faith Christian School.

Now, classmates, over the years we have experienced many changes through teachers, staff, and classmates that have come and gone.  We have also seen the school grow and the campus change.  When we were in elementary school, we played on a playground which is now a parking lot and were picked up by our moms where the office is now.  We have seen our long hope of finally eating lunch in a lunchroom be fulfilled.  We have adapted through all of the changes and have become closer together.  Especially in the last few weeks, we have begun to notice that “Sometimes we are all too quick to count down the days that we forget to make the days count.”  But now this is the night we have dreamed about and thought would never come.  It is here we complete our mission at Faith Christian and must head on to become doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, military leaders, or whatever career we choose.

Like a jigsaw puzzle contains many pieces and is not complete unless all pieces are put together.  We are a class and when one is absent; it is like a piece is missing from our class.  In a puzzle all of the pieces must be arranged correctly to reveal the picture which is its sole purpose.  Looking at you I see athletes, artists, some who are laid-back, some who are highly motivated, friends, and most important of all; I see family.  All of us are unique individuals –or puzzle pieces– that have come together to form our small, unique class of twenty three.   Our entire life and career at Faith has had one goal which was to prepare us to go on to adulthood.

I know that everyone is trying to give us advice and it is probably confusing us more than helping, if most of us have even listened to it at all.  We have been like a chain where each link represents every one of us, classmates, our teachers, family, and administration.   A chain can be used for many purposes, but all the links must work together to be successful. Our ‘chain’s’ purpose has been to prepare us for tonight, High School Graduation.

But I have one thing to tell you before we complete our journey at Faith.   Just like we have been like a chain for all these years, we are still a link even as we go our separate ways.   Even though the chances of all of us being together again are slim, we are still a link in that chain.  The chain is our high school career and each of us is still a link in it.  Tonight seniors, I have a gift for you to help you remember what I am telling you.  This is the surprise I have promised you.  I have a set of carabineer clips for you and your parents, like the chain has many purposes.   It can be used for hiking, holding your keys, hooking ropes together, and many other purposes as well. These clips can be linked together to form a chain.

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You are probably wondering how this clip relates to me.   Well, like a carabineer clip has many purposes, we each have a purpose that is unique to each of us.  In Proverbs 16: 9, the Bible says, “In their hearts humans plan their course but the Lord establishes their steps.”  God has created us with a special plan and purpose for each of us.  But it is up to us to discover our purpose and to follow it.  Most of us have an idea of where we would like to be whether it is owning a business, working in a hospital, or working for a great company far away. That may be our plan, but God may also have another idea which will be greater than any of our selfish wants or desires for our lives.  We must remember what we have been taught for the many years here at Faith, and follow God’s plan for us. Like Mr. McDaniel said Tuesday at Baccalaureate, Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “   Each of our plans is unique.    I have given each of you seniors a carabineer clip so that you can remember not only our special class, but also to fulfill your purpose.  You can use this clip however you choose, even though I do not suggest using this one to climb with it.  I challenge each of you that every time you see this that it will remind you of our class and to follow your purpose.  Always remember you are a link in the chain.

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Now, classmates, we have spent most of our lives in one place.  If nothing else, we have learned this year that time flies by quickly.  This past week as we were hanging out at the lake and working around school we all realized that we could not spend enough time together.  Do not take time for granted.  Do not miss an opportunity to fulfill your purpose.  I am not saying it will be easy all the time, but as E. E. Cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  We cannot fulfill our purpose on our own.  We must rely on God for help, but that also requires work from us.  We must always strive to do our best at everything.  As one of the fastest runners to ever live, Steve Prefontaine, said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”  Do not sacrifice the opportunity to fulfill your purpose, you may not have another chance.

Now, classmates, we have spent the many hours of studying and preparing ourselves for the next stage of life. We have turned in our final tests, quizzes, papers, and assignments to Faith.  We have spent the countless hours together in class, sports practices, athletic games, club meetings, choir concerts, and the many other afterschool events.  I urge you to not forget the great times together and all of the sweet memories this school has brought to us, like singing and jamming out with all of the teachers.  We are off to continue our lives and fulfill our perfect purpose planned by God.  Remember to rely on Him and He will reveal the way to go.  Classmates, Dr. Seuss says it best

“You’re off to great places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!”

Classmates, let’s get on our way to finding our purpose and living the rest of our lives. Do not forget that our chain does not break tonight because we are all going our own ways, but instead each link is fulfilling its purpose. Remember you are a link in this chain and now, we must get on our way.


Now it is your turn. What words of wisdom and great advice do you have for the Class of 2014?