Category Archives: Leading

I fell down

I fell down this week. Not figuratively. Literally, I fell down on all fours, skinned my knee and bruised my hands. In the middle of an intersection in Armory Square no less. Midday, cars at all sides of the intersection, pedestrians watching kind of fall. I’m walking along and in a moment, with no warning, I’m trying to prevent a face plant to the asphalt. I may have been a bit distracted by the conversation with my daughter that had turned from where to get a coffee to ‘hey, I’m going with a friend who’s getting a tattoo this weekend’. So I may have been preoccupied in my thinking, but who needs to think to walk across the street? Apparently I do.

Falling down can take many forms.  It can be the literal face plant to the asphalt.  But more often it is the failure to value someone, a moral compromise, a quick judgment of another and then an even quicker sharing of that judgement with others or a host of other examples. Falling down hurts.  And it can hurt others.  I wounded a friend with a quick judgement and it was painful for her and our relationship suffered as well.  But the thing that hurt the most was my pride.  It was painful to admit that I had fallen down and hard to ask for forgiveness.  The longer I waited to admit what we both knew, the deeper the pain inflicted our friendship.  Pride, when wounded, can take on a life of its own growing stronger and more resistant to humility with each passing day.  It is only when I finally admit that I have fallen down, wounded my friend with my words, and ask for forgiveness that healing can begin to take place.

As I lay sprawled on Franklin Street my daughter helped me up and asked if I was hurt.  Only my pride.


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Small Steps

Mark is a wise guy.  And he’s also a guy with a great amount of wisdom.  I joined a team he was leading a few years ago and I have never regretted it. Being on this team has given me a front row seat to watch him lead others, confront in truth with grace and display what great friendships look like up close. When our team has faced difficult decisions he has often said we needed to . . . .

Take small steps forward in the right direction.  -M. Hebert

That small bit of wisdom has proven to be very helpful.  If we can continue to move forward in the right direction, though our progress is small or slow it will still get us where we are trying to go.  Another advantage, small steps give time for everyone involved to move together, feel connected and share in the achievement.

This past week I was able to watch my parents take small steps in the right direction.  I mentioned this visit last week in a previous post. I was hoping they would be willing to receive help so they could continue to live in their own home as they age.  They had been unwilling, until now.  They have agreed to receive help once a week.  Like I said, small steps.  Yes, the hands that were always so quick to give have now begun to receive.

I learned a great deal about myself last week as I prepared to visit, reflected on giving and receiving and my willingness to be a gracious receiver.  Like everyday, I’m just trying to take small steps in the right direction.


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I must have been hungry.  I devoured a book in less than 24 hours.  Not a novel where I got lost in the story living vicariously through someone elses’ life.  No this was something unexpected and unknown but captured my imagination and sent my mind racing none the less.

The Medici Effect:

What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation

by Frans Johansson

Create an environment for new imaginative thinking to solve problems or develop ideas by working with people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, professions and experiences.

Last year I asked my friends and co-workers to join me to solve an old problem, modern-day slavery, in an old way with government funding and collaboration with other governments.  But with creative innovative thinking I’m sure there’s a new way to look at this problem.  The old way is good.  It’s what we have to work with now, but if people from a variety of disciplines, fields, cultures, businesses and academic interests were to intersect around human trafficking – I have hope that new extraordinary ideas would come to mind.

And that’s just one area that could use extraordinary ideas.

A few months ago Mary Nelson brought together over 150 people to address the upsurge in violence in our city.  This problem needs more than just the same old concepts and solutions.  It needs an innovative idea that comes from the intersection of a variety of people coming from unexpected relationships.

After traveling to Haiti this month and seeing people still living among the rubble, destruction and in tent cities over a year after the earthquake it reminds me how much they need new innovative thinking. One gentleman we met in a rural village look us inside his home to show us his sick wife, leaky roof and dilapidated house.  The one english word he repeated over and over as he pointed to various things, “Problem”.  Yes, Haiti has overwhelming complex problems that need new creative ideas.

This book gave me some take away’s for today:

  • Carry a notebook, or ipad, and write all my ideas down, no matter how crazy
  • Exercise my thinking by breaking down usual associations between ideas and concepts
  • Reverse a goal to find a new solution
  • Brainstorm alone before you brainstorm as a group (and shoot for 30 ideas)
  • Find a way to reward failure as well as success

There are creative ideas that have yet to be developed.  Ideas that could change large problems that we face across all spheres of life – government, health care, economics, education, family life and church. My sphere my be small but this book gave me a new perspective on how to set myself up to step into the intersection of creative, innovative thinking.

Is there an area you need a new idea, a problem solved, a creative solution?  Try the Medici Effect.

Free pdf copy


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Reading the Margins

When I read a book I always have a pen or pencil in hand.  I underline and write in the margins leaving my thoughts and questions along the way.  This helps me scan back over a book and remember all those important points that I’ve most likely already forgotten.

Yesterday I dug through the shelves to find a book I wanted to loan to a friend.  As I often do, I scanned the notes I’d left in the margins before sending it on its way and I came across this –

I’ve always appreciated this definition of failure: “to succeed at something that doesn’t really matter.”  If you exert all your might to climb a tall ladder but it’s leaning against the wrong wall, you have failed.  – Dr. Wess Stafford, Too Small To Ignore

Over the last 2 days I had watched some emails circulating between a group of people where a mistake had been made.  There was dodging, a little finger-pointing, deflecting and justifying but little admission of ownership or willingness to say “my fault”.  And I thought about all the emotional effort and energy being exerted into proving that the fault or communication break down lie elsewhere.  Each person was aiming at success, in that the failure was not mine but belonged to someone else.

I was merely an observer this time, but how often do I put my ladder up against a wall that really doesn’t matter and climb with all my strength and energy to prove I’m right?  Or more accurately, to prove I’m not wrong.  Or to blame.  Or at fault.

This morning an email came through that changed the tone, one person was willing to say – ‘my bad’.  I own it.  It took a willingness to swallow pride, admit failure and be humbled.  That’s not failure at all.  In fact, it’s probably the first step towards success in this situation.

Looking to see which walls I’ve got my ladder leaning on today.

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The Rear View Mirror

My outside temperature gauge was hovering between 30 and 32 with a light drizzle falling as I was cruising through the hills of Pennsylvania on Rt.380.  The wipers began to make a scrapping noise and I noticed a little ice build up on the windshield but kept moving along without too much notice.  As I approached a car creeping along the highway their hazard lights flashing I quickly changed lanes and zipped around to pass.   I looked in the rear view mirror and watched the dozen cars behind me do the same. Except for one big difference, they all began to slide, slip and careen off the roadway on the thin layer of ice that had formed.  Without that glance in the rear view mirror I would not have adjusted my speed and no doubt wound up in the same ditch.  Lesson learned from the rear view mirror.

When things are going according to plan I seldom look back, review or evaluate.  If things are going along status quo, ho-hum,  it’s even hard for me to remember those days. I don’t look back when things are going well, because, well, things are going well.  Full steam ahead.  I just keep moving forward.  It’s the times that are  difficult, unexpected, painful and even scary that I remember the clearest.  I’ve learned my best leadership and parenting lessons from those experiences.  And it’s then that if I pause long enough to take a look in the rear view mirror, there’s a lesson to be learned.

I’m in a bit of a difficult patch right now, things are not cruising along as planned and I’m not enjoying it one bit, in fact I’ve been whining.  My daughter reminded me of something I wrote her a few months ago on her birthday.

“My advice for [you – and me too] for the next [forever – not 24 years] is enjoy the moment, everyone of them, right where you are, one moment at a time. Even the ones that seem like you’d like to forget them. Those are the ones that you learn from and someday will turn out to be the ones that you lead from, give you wisdom to share and eventually laugh at as you remember them” – you (that would be me)

She reminded me that this is one of those times that, down the road, will be where I lead/parent from, where I gain needed wisdom and eventually might even laugh about.  (I’m not so sure I like it when my kids quote me back to me)

Are your cruising along no need to look back or are you hitting a difficult patch too?  Those are the times where I usually learn the most.

Keeping an eye on the rear view mirror.

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How much do you know?

A while back several members of our KidQuest team were meeting to plan the year’s summer program.  We needed to navigate the move to a new space, evaluate the programs effectiveness, think through a multi site program and a multiple leadership teams.  At the end of the meeting my friend and team-mate said,

“This has really been helpful.  We didn’t know how much we didn’t know.”  J. DuVal

How profound.  I scribbled down her words and posted them in my office.  It’s a great reminder for me.

The struggles we were having on our team were due to assuming that things would not change even though many new factors had been presented for the next year.  It would take a team willing to look at the entire program from a new perspective.  And maybe even let go of comfort and our personal favorites to make way for something better.  I often assume I know all I need to know.  Being willing to listen and learn, no matter how well you know the situation or how many times you’ve done it before is hard.  Being teachable and willing to say, I don’t know,  but I’m willing to listen, learn and be open to new ideas.  Somedays I’m better at that than others.  That’s why this quote is on my wall, to remind me to keep learning.

I don’t know how much I don’t know.

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