Tuesday, January 29, 2013


There are two basic root lies that I believe all human beings suffer from believing. They are as follows:

  1. I'm not...(fill in the blank)
  1. I can't...(fill in the blank)

As a young child I began believing a lie that haunts me to this day. The lie was that I was not good enough. This lie was fed, both intentionally and unintentionally, by how others interpreted who I was in addition to what I thought about myself. 

I can remember one of the very first instances that this lie was fed. I started playing hockey a little later than some of the other kids I grew up with, and because of this, I initially struggled with skating. I would be provided with extra special on ice activities during our practice time in order to help me potentially grow in my skating ability. The additional instruction was great, but it also unintentionally ostracized me from the rest of the team. I became a target of ridicule and scorn. Thankfully I used this as motivation to grow and develop my skating ability, and by the end of the season that year I became one of the better skaters on our squad.

I learned to manage this lie but letting what others thought of me fuel me to succeed. If someone told me I couldn't do something, I set out to prove him or her wrong. While the determination and competitiveness may be admirable in seasons, it can also be destructive. There are moments when I am completely driven towards an end goal that I can intentionally or unintentionally bulldoze my way through both people and problems. 

All of this stems from one lie that I chose to believe...and it makes me wonder how many more of us wrestle with the effects of this same lie?

I'm fascinated with both the written and unfolding story of God. There is a section of the story that carries with it a twist that I find both helpful and inspiring when I come face to face with the reality of the lie that I chose to believe. In this unfolding scene, God reintroduces himself to humankind in an interaction with one central character named Moses. Moses, as you may know, was someone who has a storied past. He found out that he was adopted into the royal family in Egypt, and the family he knew was actually enslaving the family he was biologically connected with. Confronted with this new emerging truth, Moses unintentionally murdered an Egyptian slave master for physically assaulting a Hebrew slave. Moses fled the community and settled into life in a rural setting away from the pressures of his past.

It was in this moment that God decided to interact with Moses through a most famous sequence of events beginning with what the Bible refers to as a burning bush (something that was on fire but not being consumed). During their interaction, God invites Moses to be a part of His unfolding story for the enslaved people in the land of Egypt. God asks Moses to lead His people to freedom. Moses, skeptical of the situation, begins to provide God with a litany of excuses as to why it wouldn't be such a great idea to have him lead the enslaved people to freedom. A discourse ensues, and when Moses finally agrees to be a part of God's unfolding story, he asks God one simple question: Who will I say that you are? The people of Egypt believed in many gods, so knowing which God was legit would have been key to understanding his emerging role as a freedom fighter. God responds with the Hebrew word Yahweh, which means, "I am." 

Here is the miraculous phenomena that takes place when we allow ourselves to be introduced to God, and become lifelong friends with Him...we get the benefit of being associated with His true identity. God, as defined by Himself, is the great "I am." Who He is stands is stark contrast against the root lies that we as humans seem to believe. Because God is, we are. Think about that for a moment. If I believe that I'm not good enough, but God is, then if I allow myself to see myself as He is, then I am and I can instead of I'm not and I can't.

This mental shift is way more than just an adaptation of flawed human logic, it's a way of seeing life for what it is truly meant to be while embracing the concept that our lives are like unfolding plot lines that are connected with a greater unfolding story that the God who is authors.

Maybe you don't believe in God, but He believes in you. You are because He is. Fight the lie and embrace the truth.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Thoughts on Experience

We live in an increasingly experience driven culture. Some folks have gone to far as to call this over fascination with experience as relativism. Regardless of our opinion about the current cultural climate in which we exist, we cannot deny that experience is an essential thread in the fabric of our society.

And experience isn’t all that bad. Think back with me for a moment. Can you remember the first time you experienced great joy or hope? How about when you had your first kiss? Or the first time you rode your bike without training wheels? Perhaps the experience that comes to mind is one of great pain or sorrow. What can be said of all of these experiences in your memory (recent or past), they have shaped you in some fashion.

My favorite food to eat on our planet is pizza. I really enjoy it! But this favorite food of mine would not have become my favorite if I didn’t first experience what it was all about. My experience of tasting pizza shaped my personal preference in favorite food options…and that’s ok.

The challenge with experience is when we desire for our experience to be the experience of others. Call it jealous, envy or controlling behavior, our intentions (however good they may be) of seeing others experience what we’ve experienced are often misinterpreted as something negative instead of something positive.

Here’s an example. You might enjoy the fact that TELUS provides your cable service, while others may not share your enthusiasm for this particular cable provider. Your experience might have been great, but another person’s experience of the very same thing you greatly enjoyed might not be. This, I would suggest, is probably the number one challenge for today’s parent. We make our decisions on how to parent our kids based on our own personal experiences. We either want them to have what we didn’t have, or we want them to have what we had. The misconception with this parenting reality is that our own experiences cannot and should not be the experiences of our kids. Just because our experience was great, doesn’t mean that theirs will be…there are no guarantees in life other than death and taxes, right?

My daughter’s school experience is a valuable reminder of this basic concept for me as a parent. In her school, you would be hard pressed to find a single desk outside of those the teachers occupy. The learning experience for these students is one that is based upon a learning focused community instead of a teaching focused one. What this means is that students are invited to engage in learning according to their natural learning outlet (visual, audio or kinesthetic). When I was in school, there was only one way to learn and if you didn’t get it, your experience of school may have suffered. While my personal experience of school wasn’t terrible, outside of the generic rhetoric of disliking it, but just because my experience wasn’t bad doesn’t necessarily mean any of my kids would experience the exact same thing as I did in the setting that I did.

As a parent, and a leader, I shouldn’t succumb to the pitfall of fixating on creating or subjecting others to the same experience that I had, but instead I should be looking for them to simply have a great experience. Isn’t that all I could really hope for? I can’t recreate what I’ve experienced to the same degree that I experienced it…or am I really that vein to think so?

Experience isn’t a bad thing, but our experience should never seek to be THE experience of others. Instead, I should have the courage, freedom and wonder to allow those whom I care about to pursue and embrace a great experience, even if that means it’s different than what I know. There is great beauty in embracing the diversity of life and the experiences that it brings. Differing experiences adds to the richness of the full life that is promised to all of humankind if we simply accept the invitation to be part of adventure that truly does last a lifetime.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Hockey

I will proudly proclaim that I am a hockey fan. It is definitely my favorite sport to watch or to play...and I've literally watched thousands of games in my lifetime (while maybe only playing hundreds).

As October commenced this year I admit that I was missing something, and that something was NHL hockey. The NHL team owners and players were having a difficult time playing nicely with one another and sharing their toys (dump trucks full of money), so they all decided to take a break from one another for awhile (enter the lockout).

Well, that while has finally ceased and they are about to begin a new NHL season...finally.

Mere days away from the beginning of this new season, my favorite team (the Toronto Mapleleafs) decided to fire their General Manager. Now I'm not writing about this to get into the details of why something like this would happen, nor is it my desire to evaluate any of the uniqueness’s around this situation including timing. Instead, I want to share what I'm learning about leadership as a result of this particular set of circumstances. Here are my three takeaways from this past week:

1. Just because we think it might be a good idea, doesn't really mean that it is. Our former general manager, Brian Burke, was known to possess a larger than life personality. He was brash, borderline arrogant and sometimes intolerant of others. Toronto has long since claimed to be the center of Canadian culture, and their hockey team has generated a significant following of fans. The media coverage of the sport in the city is second to none, and the franchise itself is said to be the most profitable and valuable in the entire NHL. 

It sounds as though an individual who possessed great confidence, desire and willingness to lead would be a perfect fit as GM of a hockey team in this type of environment. While initially all indicators may have been in agreement, it became evident that the aforementioned idea of a "fit" between personality and circumstance was incorrect.

All signs pointed to this being a perfect solution. We have a larger than life environment and a larger than life personality...it's a good idea for them to co-exist isn't it?

What I've learned about this happenstance is that even though my idea might seem like the best fit, I should first ensure that I've examined other possibilities instead of simply enduring the most obvious of solutions. Sometimes my good ideas are actually hindering the great idea that is waiting to bring forth the best possible solution for the challenge that I'm dealing with. Will I have the courage and discipline to refine my dreams, or simply run with the first "fresh" idea that comes my way?

2. Bigger isn't always better. I've been told over the course of my leadership career about the many deficiencies that I possess as a leader. It's great to be self-aware, but self-awareness always needs to be held in balance with self-confidence. Personally speaking, I do not possess a larger than life persona; I hate the idea of marketing myself as a brand. There are times when my unwillingness to engage in the creation of this persona has limited my leadership opportunities and times when other opportunities have been enhanced. The lesson that I've learned through this all is to be myself. Doesn't sound like rocket science does it? The truth about leadership is that all different kinds of personalities, opinions and gifts are needed to create momentum and vision for long-lasting change. It's important for me as a leader to celebrate what I am and not necessarily what I'm not. Yes, I should be aware of my deficiencies, but they do not define me, nor does the success or failure of other leadership styles and types mean that I am the prototypical leader. There is room for great diversity in leadership. Am I confident in whom I've been created to be in order to lead according to my own personal convictions? A great leader is someone who knows who they are while knowing when it's appropriate to risk and when it's appropriate to ask for help.

3. When you know something doesn't fit, stop trying to change it. The most impressive part about this entire situation regarding the dismissal of a leader from my favorite hockey team is this: the timing. There is a lot to be said about having the courage and tenacity to admit a mistake and correct it immediately. Often times we know that something isn't working but due to a lack of discipline or an unwillingness to embrace being uncomfortable for a season, we simply endure the situation until something more catastrophic occurs...we become unwilling to be led or to lead...we become stuck. If we have a vehicle that isn't working properly, we fix it, don't we? The same should be said of our leadership. If there is a habit or environment that isn't working, we need to fix it...and sometimes fixing means removing it. If your vehicle is rusting you have three choices: 
1. Pretend the rust isn't happening 
2. Paint over it
3. Cut it out, weld in a new piece of metal and paint over it. 
Only one of these three solutions will actually deal with the problem on a more permanent basis.

Sometimes we as leaders need to tinker with different things like systems, environments and habits. Other times we need to stop trying to fix it and just get rid of it. Leaders have the ability to wisely discern which response is required at the appropriate time.

The NHL may be back, but all of the issues that caused them to fight in the first place have not been solved. There will always be a need for great leadership. Keep fighting, keep hoping and keep stewarding every moment with great confidence, commitment and consistency. Who knows when you may be given the opportunity to lead, so you might as well be prepared.