Perspective Doesn’t Come Easy

binocs

Leadership demands perspective.

That ability to see above the fray in order to navigate the present in light of the future. Perspective differentiates leaders from followers and leaders from better leaders. But, here’s the deal. You have to fight for perspective. It doesn’t present itself gift-wrapped. It’s fragile. Elusive. In fact, the relentless gravity of the urgent and the immediate cannibalizes perspective.

For twenty years, I have been training leaders on ways to find, sustain, and lead with perspective. Lately, I have been thinking more about what it takes to win that fight.

By lately, I specifically mean the past two months–the beginning of a long-awaited sabbatical. One of my early “projects” has been to reflect on the things that tend to eat my leadership lunch. Among my observations, a big one is that I have taken my ability to maintain perspective for granted. I allowed the demands of a growing organization to seduce me into thinking that perspective from the past will carry me into the future. New habits overtook former ones and as a result, these past couple years I have been repeatedly sucked into the swamp of operational weeds where perspective is almost impossible.

One of my sabbatical goals is to reinstate and refine the game-changing disciplines that help me live and lead at a higher altitude (my favorite analogy for perspective.)

These disciplines are not rocket science, in fact, it might be best to call them simple practices. The key is in the practice of them, not talking about them. They are much too obvious for extended rhetoric.

You might need things I don’t, but for the sake of a concrete starting point, here is what I have found I need and what seems to be a good framework for most leaders.

1. READ: Read constantly in the area of your normal disciplines AND read broadly on subjects outside of your normal orbit. To say it another way, read things that have no urgent need or useful value. (Consider: Warren Buffet and other uber-successful people talk about spending 80% of their time reading and thinking. For more: click this link.)

2. REFLECT: Use some kind of journal to record what you did and what you learned in the midst of it. Most significant learning happens while we do stuff. Severe your technological tentacles for a while to think, dream, and process what lies behind and ahead of you. (Example: I not only journal regularly, but every week I review the week that just transpired and use what I see to inform the way I will approach the upcoming week or two. I do the same in a more robust way when I do monthly goal setting and calendar work.)

3. RE-CREATE: All of us have things that are life-giving in a re-creative way. For me, it’s a simple two-pronged focus for me: I have to give attention to my soul and to my body. That means time in prayer /communion with God and time in some sweat-producing exercise. (In addition to these core two, I also need time with highly stimulating people and time spent in artistic endeavors.) The thing is, most re-creative endeavors have a non-productive feel to them. Don’t be fooled.

As for me, I know that I need to spend some time in all three areas every day and a lot of time in them every week.

What have you found works for you? Add to the conversation by adding your comments below.

For more thought about sabbaticals, click here.

 

Lord, Teach Me to Number My Days

Yesterday, we had a normal text conversation with a really close friend of ours about the custody hearing of his daughter regarding her child. Then at 7:14 this morning my phone rang and I learned that this same friend and daughter were shot and killed by her ex-husband last evening.

Emotionally I’ve spent the day vacillating between shock, sorrow, anger, and indignation. This was a good friend and truly a fine caring man. He was a loving generous grandfather who gave himself in sacrificial ways to his family. He and his wife had hopes and dreams about their retirement years. There are many things I could say about Russ, but since you don’t know him I need to write about the personal reflections I cannot escape.

In the words of David, the great song writer, “Lord, teach us to number our days.” (Ps 90:12)  In my own words, “Lord, help me put today in perspective, by attending to the fact that each day is a sacred gift, a limited commodity. Help me live aware of the fact that I will never know how many days I have ahead of me.”

The truth is, in my entire life, all I ever have at my disposal is one day: today! Yesterday is a memory I can celebrate, treasure, learn from, etc. Tomorrow is a day I can plan for. But, the only day within my grasp, the only day where my purpose and priorities and values can be actively lived out, is today. In a tangible way, the real number of our days is ONE.

“Lord, teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” Wisdom, not drivenness. Drivenness would be the American way–run faster, do more, strive harder, live in a panic. On the contrary, embracing the reality that only one day lies within our grasp should lead us to depth, direction, and the de-cluttering of our lives.

I think this is one of the core messages of my life: the power of one day. When I live in the light of one day, it keeps me sensitive to the sacred nature of my own life and the people who populate it. It focuses my attention on the direction of my life and how I might lived connected to the Kingdom. It keeps me passionate about living in intimacy with Jesus as I seek to follow him. Today is the day when I get to live out my convictions, give my life away serving the potential of others, participate in the redemptive work of the Gospel. Today–every day–is pregnant and holy and fragile.

In all my life, I only have one day at my disposal. So, Lord, as I lean into the sorrow and loss of my friend, show me more about how I might live into the sacred trust of life called “today.”

———————-

p.s. I have touched on this theme of life as fragile and sacred before. Here are a links to some of those posts:

Life is Sacred:

http://aboutleading.com/2009/03/13/life-is-fragileand-sacred/

– Grieving and the Health of my Soul:

http://aboutleading.com/2009/10/07/grieving-and-the-health-of-my-soul/

– Life is Long and Fragile:

http://aboutleading.com/2008/03/20/life-is-longand-fragile/

Law of the Pencil and Stone

I want to talk about having goals and plans. I think they really matter. I am not compulsive about them and don’t let them rule my life, but for me they are essential to living an intentional life. I hold life as a gift to be stewarded, an entrustment to be handled with care.  Setting goals for my personal development and for the things I believe God wants me to work on is one key to intentional focus.

However, there are some complicating factors. How do you balance having goals with being sensitive to the ongoing leading and direction of the Spirit? How do you align yourself with goals and pursue them intentionally without becoming driven?  How do you live in that dynamic tension that calls for daily dependence on God and his direction at yet at the same time align your behavior, decisions, and priorities to what you believe you are supposed to be working on?

In other words, how does a leader live by and provide focused direction while simultaneously remaining responsive to the dynamic leadership of Christ?

I would like to suggest a principle that I believe serves individual leaders, families, churches, and ministry organizations of any size. I call it, the “law of the pencil and the stone.

It works like this.  Knowing that circumstances are always changing, at any given moment all I have to go on is my best understanding to date. I never know every detail or nuance that is important. At any moment God may break in to to redirect, clarify, or interrupt what I understood I should be doing. Therefore, I imagine my goals and plans are written on that elementary-school paper with the really wide lines by one of those finger-thick pencils. They aren’t fancy or polished, just my best understanding to date, and therefore I hold them with a loose grip. Anytime God has a new assignment, I am ready to relinquish those goals for another sheet of penciled writing on elementary school paper.

At the same time, because they are indeed my best understanding of God’s priorities, plans, and direction for my life I need to live in obedience to those goals as if they were written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. Yes, they might change, but until they do they are the best I know. In fact, during my entire life all I will ever have is my best understanding to date. I need to align my life to that understanding and live in obedience to it.

That’s it: holding onto your goals as if they are written in pencil while living them out as if they were written by God on a tablet of stone unlocks the potential for responsive but focused obedience.

It’s Not hard to understand, however I need to address what might be the issue beneath the issue. A great many people and organizations resist setting goals. Something in us likes keeping our options open. We dislike the feeling of having limits. We like the freedom of going with the flow and dislike being accountable to stay on task. And we are really good at masking this personal resistance in some lofty language. In the Christian community, we talk about being Spirit-led — as if the Spirit can only lead in the spontaneity of the moment.

One final thought: When it comes to a group of people, be it a family, a ministry team, or a church, clear agreed upon goals and plans are the way a group of people lives in obedience as a community. The law of the pencil and the stone is a powerful posture for a group that longs to follow Christ together.

So, I have to ask, how has God been directing you?  Isn’t it time to take those good intentions and put them into action?

— Gary

P.S.  By the way, in a changing world and changing marketplace, the law of the pencil and the stone has great value as a corporate posture as well.

The Easiest Way to Avoid Change

It is December 30th and that means we are in the red-zone for the annual “get your life together” rhetoric calling for New Year’s resolutions to fuel personal growth. But, what do you do if you don’t buy into this annual opportunity for a fresh start? What if you would rather avoid another attempt at change and the potential disappointment that comes with it? What if you like things just the way they are?

If you’d rather avoid the risk of change, this is your lucky day!

I would like to let you in on a secret. It is the easiest way to avoid change with the least amount of effort. In fact, by simply mastering the well-timed use of two words, you can indefinitely avoid the unpleasant risk and hard work of change on a personal level or even thwart an initiative for change in any group you are part of.

The secret?  Learn to use these two magic words:  not yet.
Here’s how it works.

Imagine you have or let’s say you “know someone” who has a few pounds to lose. By simply saying, “I really need to lose some weight, it is really important, but not yet. I have this holiday to get through or that trip to take first.

Perhaps you need to get your financial house in order. If so, try this one: “I am working on a plan for how to do it, but with all the Christmas bills now is not the time, at least not yet.”

Or, maybe, you need to make a few changes at work or you are facing some other challenge that will require courageous change.  Look yourself (or anyone else that matters) in the eye. Affirm the need for change, but in sobering tones finish your sentence with, “but the timing just isn’t right. I’ll need to make the change soon, but not yet.”

The secret power of this little phrase is nowhere more transcendent than in a group setting, let’s say at your church. Picture the scene, some leader suggests changing a program or tradition you find personally meaningful all in the name of greater impact on other people in your community. Sure, maybe at some point in time it would be a good idea, but not yet.

Instead of suffering in silence, this is a perfect time to speak up and wax eloquently on why this proposal is a fantastic idea. But, before anyone can shout amen, continue right on and in the most sensitive manner point out to the group that considering all the current challenges at hand, now is not the time.  “It is clearly a great idea, but not yet!”  Pontificate that before diving into the disconcerting waters of change on something so important, it would be good to do more study, more preparation, more shoring up some of the core programs and practices that already need attention. Thank those that have offered the proposal. It is a good idea, but not yet.

Before you know it, by your skillful use of the non-taxing strategy of “not yet” you will have postponed change indefinitely. You will have avoided all risk. You will have been able to maintain status quo. What could be more comfortable?

I know that “they say” if something needs to be done, there is no time like the present. And, I know thatin the Bible James warns us about walking away without making any changes after looking in the mirror and seeing exactly what needs to be done. Even the book of Hebrews says, ‘today if you hear the Lord’s voice, do not harden your hearts…” But certainly all these people understand that now is not the time to seize the day and make those changes that have been nagging at you for some time.  They are good ideas, but not yet.

Unless of course change is actually needed.