Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finishing the race

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." -- Acts 20:24

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." -- Hebrews 12:1

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." -- Timothy 4:7

(The cartoon is from the New Yorker cartoon-a-day calendar, 6/29.)


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The power of process: Getting the cart and horse lined up right via "a keen sense of sequence"

I love process. It’s everywhere, even in what seems chaos. It’s fun to encounter a Gordian’s knot tangle of a situation, because when you take the time to “proceed to untangle the entire area*,” sense emerges and process can be applied.

Pastor Ken, my Fishers, Indiana pastor, commented about me, saying, “He became the default project manager, always keeping an eye on where we were in the overall process we were working on. He has a keen sense of sequence ….”

I love that phrase “keen sense of sequence.” It’s accurate and fits me. What a wonderful compliment!

Simply defined, process is “a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result.” It’s seeing the whole while managing all the pieces in the correct sequence to yield optimum results. It’s understanding what elements can be done in parallel and what must be iterative.

If you are seeking any kind of result, driving toward any objective, trying to accomplish any goal, then process is essential to your success.

Paul applies process to faith by stating in Philippians 2:12, “...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling....” Even righteousness is not about once and done. It’s a process that takes place throughout our lives.

In Luke 14:28-32, Jesus talks about process:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”
Building a house starts with establishing a firm foundation and then building up. You don’t start with a roof and work down. You don’t put a roof on until the supporting walls are framed up. You don’t put in the wiring after the walls are drywalled and painted.

Everything needs to happen at just the right time in the right order.

The first step in any process is assessment. You need to assess if you have the resources, time, money, people, knowledge, skill, information, and whatever else you need to accomplish your goal. If your project is to write an article, then your resources include, at a minimum, time and research.

Your second process step is to map out your steps, create a blueprint, develop a project plan. For your article, you need to allot time for research and time for writing that ensures you meet your deadline. Then, when you are ready to write, you need to create a map (or outline) for your article.

Many times process is usurped because someone is in a hurry and feels the process is hindering progress. They just want it done all at once—right now! So they step out of the process or try to skip steps.

What happens when process is ignored?

Buildings eventually collapse, misplaced decimals bankrupt companies, typos litter writing, facts are not checked, trains collide, planes run out of fuel, unedited comments spark wars, work must be redone, recipes are botched, reputations are tarnished, lives are risked or lost.

Well, you get the point. Ignoring process is always more costly than respecting it. Period.

Before embarking on any endeavor, stop, count the cost, lay out the sequence, hold steady, and be patient as you walk out your process.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step followed by another, and another, and another…one step at a time...with “a keen sense of sequence.”

* CSN&Y – Preface comment to
“Almost Cut My Hair” on their 1970 album, Déjà Vu. I always heard it as “untangle, however others indicate he's saying “entangle, which to me, does not make sense, so I'm sticking with my interpretation.

Have you ever just run ahead into a project without taking the time to get organized? How did that work out for you? Do you get frustrated with chaos? How do you deal with it? Is process important?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Proverbs according to kids

A first grade teacher collected well-known proverbs and gave the kids in her class the first half each and had them come up with the rest. The results:

• Better to be safe than . . . . . punch a 5th grader.
• Strike while the . . . . . bug is close.
• It's always darkest before . . . . . Daylight Savings Time.
• Never underestimate the power of . . . . . termites.
• You can lead a horse to water but . . . . .how?
• Don't bite the hand that . . . . looks dirty.
• No news is . . . . . impossible.
• A miss is as good as a . . . . .Mr.
• You can't teach an old dog . . . . . math.
• If you lie down with dogs you'll . . . . stink in the morning.
• Love all, trust . . . . me.
• The pen is mightier than the . . . . . pigs.
• An idle mind is . . . . . the best way to relax.
• Where there's smoke there's . . . . . pollution.
• Happy the bride who . . . . . gets all the presents.
• A penny saved is . . . . . not much.
• Two's company, three's . . . . the Musketeers.
• Don't put off till tomorrow what . . . . . you put on to go to bed.
• Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and . . . . . you have to blow your nose.
• None are so blind as . . . . . Helen Keller.
• Children should be seen and not . . . . . spanked or grounded.
• If at first you don't succeed . . . . . get new batteries.
• You get out of something what you . . . . . see pictured on the box.
• When the blind lead the blind . . . . . get out of the way.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

There are moments when everything goes well; don't be frightened, it won't last.

There are moments when everything goes well; don't be frightened, it won't last. Jules Renard 


It’s all good: Relaxing in God’s loving intentions

For the past couple of years, my mantra has been, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28.

Every time I’m in an uncomfortable or annoying or tough situation, I try to let this verse play over and over in my head and parse through it.

• I know I love God, even if imperfectly.

• I know he has called me; this has been affirmed countless times.

• I know he has a purpose for me, even if I’m not always clear on what that is.

So, whatever is happening to or around me, my all-knowing, all-loving, always perfect God intends it for my ultimate good. This is true even when I can’t see it.

What I’ve been experiencing as I let this one truth soak into my soul is less and less stress and anxiety.

Long ago I came to the awareness that nothing touches my life that doesn’t first pass through my heavenly Father’s hands, and that he will never let anything touch me that I can’t handle.

So, whatever touches me is all good. Eventually.

Knowing this, and experiencing it more and more, allows me to relax. I can walk calmly through whatever is thrown onto my life path and he will make sure it doesn’t destroy me.

And if it does? As Paul writes a little later in Romans, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

It’s all good, either way.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mis-Pegged: Don’t call it incompetence

Voids demand to be filled. It’s common, especially in small organizations, for people to step up and fill a void, even if they aren’t necessarily the right or best person for the job. They see a need that’s not being addressed; they take the risk and the initiative to do the best they can with what they have to offer.

At the time this happens, others in the organization see and understand what’s happening. The expectations are adjusted to meet the skill level of the person taking on the task. What they are doing is appreciated and valued.

Time passes. They struggle valiantly, faithfully, thanklessly. Managers come and go. Executives come and go. The “corporate memory” fades. New leaders come into the organization and look at this one-time-hero, shake their heads, and mutter, “Incompetent! Dead wood! Gotta go!”

Jack Welch believes that it’s important for companies to hire the best people. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins agrees, emphasizing how important it is to get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off.

But Welch also states, “Each one of us is good at something, and I just believe we are happiest and the most fulfilled when we’re doing that.”

And Jim Collins asserts, “Instead of firing honest and able people who are not performing well, it is important to try to move them once or even two or three times to other positions where they might blossom.” He clarifies that you need the right people in the right positions to become a great company. That doesn't mean pushing them out the door!

A round peg in a square hole doesn’t make the peg incompetent. The incompetence lies with the hand holding the mallet trying to “motivate” the peg to fit and perform.

You can have the best-of-the-best, universe class, six sigma-tized, roundest-of-roundest pegs, but if you try to slam them into square hole -- or any other non-round shaped hole -- the fault is not in the peg's.

The next time you hear yourself mentally passing judgment on someone you view as incompetent, take the time to get the full story. Gather the facts, uncover he history, seek to learn what they love and are really good at.

So much great and valuable talent has been shamefully tossed aside only because the peg was one perfect shape and the hole was the wrong fit. That’s the result of arrogant and lazy leadership which is true incompetence.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Contemplating Grace in the Dentist’s Chair

Have you ever been caught off guard with the realization that you are actually hard pressed to define a word that is totally familiar to you? You kind of know the concept evoked by the word, but nailing down the specifics of its meanings is suddenly elusive?

While you may think you’re having what many call a brain fart, you’re actually on the cusp of insight and epiphany!

The word that caught me up short recently is grace. Given that this was my mother’s name and that I grew up going to church where grace was a common topic of song and sermon, you’d think I’d know precisely what it means.

I thought I did. But then an angel tapped me on the brain and I started thinking about what it means. The Holy Spirit does move in mysterious, and sometimes annoying, ways.

Grace is something nearly everyone wants, whether we understand fully what it is or not. The gist of the most common meaning is grasped easily by anyone who has been on the receiving end of grace.

Grace is an elegant concept tied to pardon, mercy, forgiveness. It is unmerited favor; receiving something we don’t deserve instead of what we do deserve. If marriages were more grace-filled there would be far less divorce, which is a very ungracious and selfish choice.

When grace comes to us from God, it is entirely unmotivated by anything we do or say or are. All we can do is actively accept it or actively or passively reject it. This is the side of grace that ties in most closely to forgiveness.

But grace also apparently empowers, comforts, and relieves distress. And this is what tripped me up recently as I was lost in thought while being drilled at the dentist. For me, a visit to the dentist is a very peaceful and reflective time; until I see the bill and what I have to pay!

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-12, the Apostle Paul writes about a Satanic-sourced affliction that has gripped him in a terrible, tangible, and nagging way. It is something chronic and persistent and painful; he calls it his “thorn in the flesh.”

There is no way of knowing exactly what this “thorn” was. If Paul meant “flesh” as in his actual physical body, it could have been a chronic illness. Some believe it was a recurring and painful eye affliction. We don’t know. In fact, if Paul meant “flesh” in a spiritual sense, this opens the possibilities even wider. It could have been a particular temptation that he struggled with on a regular basis. The thorn was sent to him, as Paul states, to keep him humble; so maybe his struggle was with pride. We don’t know.

We do know that the thorn was not removed despite Paul’s pleadings. God’s answer to his prayer was a simple statement: “My grace is sufficient.”

Well, actually the full response as recorded by Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

As I lay reclined in the dentist’s chair with my mouth numb and the drill softly singing, all I could think over and over was, “What the heck does ‘my grace is sufficient’ really mean?”

“I should know this!” I thought. But I drew a blank.

Then today I was reading in Mark and came to where Jesus says that we need to become like children (10:14-15). A child is utterly dependent upon their parent’s grace, in every sense of the word.

That helps clear things up some. But not completely. I’m still pondering and trying to get an even clearer understanding, as well as a better experience, of God’s grace. Are you?

What does grace mean to you? Have you experienced God's grace? How about grace from anyone? Do you regularly extend grace to others? What does grace-doing look like? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18, NIV).

What are you afraid of?

Being a certified introvert, there are a few things I'm not too keen on, such as public speaking of any kind. Even sharing my writing is done with a degree of fear and trepidation, which is ironic since a writer writes to be read. But, I fear, God has a sense of humor in the way He doles out giftings, talents, and callings.

Am I afraid of speaking in public because I fear the audience may punish me if I don't do well? Or do I punish myself by obsessing on the possibility of failure and embarrassment? So far, I've not been beaten up by any group I've spoken to. But, in the process of preparation, and usually up to about half-way into my talks, I've tortured myself mercilessly, imagining all manner of horrors, from appearing with an unzipped fly to presenting a talk that made no sense to anyone but myself. Amazingly, none of these imagined fears has ever happened.

But what does it mean that "prefect love" eliminates fear?

Everyone is afraid of something. The dark. Spiders. Sharks. Heights. The list of potential fears is nearly infinite. Most are irrational. For example, a person who is afraid of sharks but never goes near or in the ocean, and lives in Wyoming will most likely never encounter a shark. So what motivates the fear?

Being free of fear is a good thing. And that takes us back to the "perfect love" part.

Some fear is based in legitimate guilt over real sins. Peter sinned by lying and denying Christ three times. But just look at how Christ addressed Peter's guilt. He asks Peter three times if he loves Him. And each time after Peter responds positively, Christ gives him a task; to take care of His sheep, His church (see John 21).

Fear freezes. Love frees.

Christ knew Peter loved him, but he wanted Peter to hear himself say it so Peter would be stirred to an even more perfect love, erasing his own self-doubts and guilt. At the same time, Christ confirmed His love and trust of Peter by commissioning him for incredibly important work.

No matter the source of fear, love is the answer.

God is love (1 John 4:8). His fear-banishing love was perfectly exhibited through Christ's death on the cross. He loved us first, which stirs love in us (1 John 4:19). His Spirit in us makes his love tangible and equips us for competence (2 Timothy 1:7). Nothing can separate us, His children, from His love (Romans 8). And we can trust absolutely in His unfailing love (Psalm 13:5).

So, when we get a little trembly in the dark, or sweaty behind a podium, or trepidatious about a current life challenge, how do we respond? In fear? "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37, NIV).

And He loves us perfectly.


Don't undertake vast projects with half-vast ideas.

Don't undertake vast projects with half-vast ideas 


Friday, June 19, 2009

Five essentials for effective project management

Just about any job at some point will involve managing a project. Below are five essentials that, in my experience, I’ve found critical for the success of any project, big or small.

1. Single point of contact (SPOC) – Whether this is the project manager (PM), or someone appointed by the PM, there must be one person at the hub of all project activity, keeping track of everything, managing review and approval cycles, and so forth. This person will be tasked with touching base with all team members on a regular basis and updating progress checklists. Every team member should be required to check in with the SPOC at least weekly. And no one, not even a CEO or other executive, should go around the PM. Everything – every decision and communication pertaining to the project and the team – must flow through the PM.

2. Clearly defined roles – Every person on the team needs to be clear on what they are tasked to do and what they are responsible for (as well as what they are NOT responsible for). Any ambiguity in roles and responsibilities will inevitably lead to duplication of effort, wasted time, dropped balls, breakdown of team morale, and a host of other problems. Be clear at the beginning and assign ever member specific tasks and roles.

3. Prolific communication – The PM is the lead on communication and must over-communicate to the team regarding all aspects of the project in a regular and timely manner. Everyone on the team has a need to know about all the key essentials of the project, including progress, problems, status, bumps, changes, etc. And every team member has a responsibility to keep the PM fully informed of their progress. When an issue arises, it must be communicated to the PM immediately.

4. Team stability – Once the project team is set, unless there is truly a compelling reason to do so, it should, for the most part, remain intact. Replacing half or more of the team at any point will result in chaos and costly problems. Bringing new people onto the team, or having key people drop out (both of which can happen) must be managed carefully and the reasons for the changes communicated clearly to the entire team. Every change to the ream structure creates drag on the momentum.

5. Holistic viewpoint – While an effective way to methodically work through projects is to chunk the tasks into smaller components, the team and the PM must always maintain a holistic view of the project; they must be able to see how each part impacts every other part. Losing site of the whole will lead to a fragmented and ultimately unsuccessful project.

Okay, there are lots of other good tips for successful projects that I could list. These are my fab five. It goes without saying that you’ll need to manage your milestones carefully, hold people accountable, and so on. But, generally, if these five areas are covered, most projects will have a great chance for success.

Thoughts? What tips can you offer?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lurching to obscurity: The value of holding steady

I just finished reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. The book came out in 2001, but didn’t interest me at the time. In a conversation with a pastor friend, he referenced the book, and the context of that reference tipped me into choosing to finally read it. I’m glad I did.

Among many other insights, one that truly resonated with me is how failed companies (or endeavors) are plagued with a lack of “steady as she goes.” Collins states, “After years of lurching back and forth, [the not great or failed companies] failed to build sustained momentum…” This constantly changing direction is labeled “the doom loop.” The examples of this were all too familiar, such as situations where new leaders are put into place, and in order to put their imprimatur on the business, they toss out everything started by their predecessor and set off in new directions.

Can’t you just see the entire organization hitting the wall! Ouch.

Constantly shifting direction, changing priorities, starting and stopping and restarting not only damages, de-motivates, and demoralizes the people involved, but it also wastes money and time. It hurts the companies, organizations, or projects on many levels. But too often, these costs are never counted.
While there are times when making a radical shift is the right choice, it should never be done on a whim. There must be compelling reasons to make the change. If not, then hold steady.

I think there’s a spiritual application here as well. The year before Collins’ book came out, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson was released. The title says it all. As Christians, “we don’t want to be tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” While we do need to regularly assess ourselves and make a clean break with anything sinful that lingers in our lives, for the most part, we must hold steady to the Rock.

Just for fun, here are some keywords from Good to Great that help paint the picture of successful endeavors: interlocking pieces, integrated, patterns, simple, coherent, methodical, momentum, deep understanding, consistent, disciplined action, sustaining, cumulative, iterative, diligent, quiet, deliberate, process.

Oh, and what was the context of the comment by my pastor friend that intrigued me? It was related to a key personality quality shared by leaders of great companies. But more on that later.

How important is it to hold steady in business or in life? What do you think the character trait is that I hinted at in the last paragraph? If you've read either of the books, share your thoughts on them in the comments section.