Even as I post this, I know some will find it controversial and others may even reckon it borderline blasphemy. For some time now, financial experts, particularly Christian financial teachers, have utterly denounced all categories of debt. In The National Institute of Christian Leadership, I teach a lengthy session on debt, debt management, debt reduction and the use of debt as an instrument of strategic leverage. It may be the lecture in the entire NICL which generates the most questions and comments.
In the interest of space, I will not attempt to give the entire lecture in this brief post. Instead, I offer just a few provocative thoughts. The summary of it is this: While some maintain that all debt is always bad, I say bad debt and debt at a bad time is bad. There is bad debt to be sure. America is awash in credit card debt. That is bad debt. The federal government is drowning in debt. That is bad. Consumer debt, debt with nothing to show for it, is bad debt. Debt with no real hope of repayment is really bad debt. Debt that is secured with everything you own or ever will own and which cannot take your or your organization forward to a desired new reality is really, really bad debt.
I believe that many "totally, absolutely, completely, debt-averse" teachers are reacting, and well they might, to the debt-burdened masses who have indentured their lives and futures by immature impatience. I see, as they do, young couples who are bound and determined to have a house like their parents, full of new furniture and two expensive cars in the garage and to have it all right this minute. Unwilling to wait for those things, they borrow themselves into a life of financial bondage to horrific credit card interest rates and thereby set a course for ruin. They have burdened themselves with bad debt at a bad time in order to purchase a better present to which they feel entitled, and thereby purchased a bad future.
If that is what "debt opposition" is all about, I'm fully on board. If, on the other hand, the narrative is closer to "all debt is always bad, no matter what," I'm not so eager to sign on.
A "Blasphemous Proposition"
The acquisition of reasonable debt can be a legitimate strategy to move your organization or business to a new future.
The New England Patriots have sufficiently demonstrated the internal culture of their organization to the extent that pointing it out hardly seems necessary. Twice now in four years they have been penalized for cheating. The head coach, Bill Belichick, was caught filming opposing coaches in order to steal their plays. Now their star quarterback evidently conspired with low level staffers to deflate the game balls he would use in order to make them more easily catchable.
I cannot comprehend why. The Pats did not even need to cheat. They are perennial dominators in the NFL. I suppose the fear of losing can drive even winners to cheat when there is no need. Having said that I want to comment on two things. The culture of the team and the attitude of its fans.
Never, perhaps, in the history of pay-per-view have so many paid so much to see so little as in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. The two world-class boxers danced around the ring jabbing as tentatively as college boys in a job interview. Millions worldwide kept asking the same questions for much of the night. When are they going to really fight and what is going on? When it was over, those millions were asking another question entirely. Why did I shell out all that money for THAT?
It may well be that these two aging stars, and both have had truly remarkable careers, have done serious damage to boxing and especially pay-per-view boxing. Many are vowing never to shell out for a fight ever agin. One writer even went so far as to demand that Mayweather and Pacquiao collaborate with PPV to present a return match for free to all as a way to make up for their embarrassing "fight." That will not happen, of course, but it reveals the level of disappointment.
HERE IS THE QUESTION FOR THE LEADER'S NOTEBOOK:
What went wrong and what is the application to leadership?
One hundred years ago, in 1915, Turkish Muslim civilians as well as Turkish troops, swept down on the Armenian Christian minority's population in a horrific massacre. One and a half million Armenian Christians were murdered in a national blood bath that can only be described by one word - genocide. World leaders did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Turkish political leaders did nothing. Well, that is not exactly correct. They did one thing: deny it.
When Hitler and his murderers met in the 1930's to consider "the Jewish problem" and the monstrosity of their "final solution" was being considered, even some of those Nazi psychopaths were concerned that such a blatantly genocidal plan would pull other nations into a war against them. Hitler swatted away that concern pointing to the international impotence in response to the 1915 Armenian genocide.
Even today, while admitting that well, yes, many murders were committed, the Turkish government refuses to own up to what that attempted mass extermination obviously was, genocide. Turkey's disgusting moral equivocation includes accusing the Armenians of inflating the numbers, as if a half million ethnic murders might be less of a genocide, less horrible, less something than a million and a half.
They then add insult to injury by dismissing the slaughter of innocent Armenians, entire villages, entire regions, as "another regrettable result of the terrible times around WWI." Perhaps the most ludicrously dismissive statement made by Turkish officials includes a reference to "the suffering on all sides." That is a pathetic moral argument. Times were violent. Many people died. A war was raging. Therefore our officially tolerated if not governmentally sponsored national genocide was not really genocide but a sign of the times.
The most despicable of the Turkish responses, however, is not outright denial, but what I call "definitional denial." Hiding behind some nuanced, hair-splitting analysis of the UN definition of genocide, the Turks steadfastly refuse to face what really happened in 1915. A recent article in The Daily Sabah (a Turkish newspaper indirectly controlled by the Turkish government), makes three points, each of which is more disgusting than the last. Here is the gist of that article.
This from Middleton, Idaho:
From inside a house already in flames, the firefighters heard cries of "Fire!" and "Help!"
Obviously there were desperate people trapped inside. The brave firefighters fought their way through only to discover not humans but two parrots. There were no people in the house. KBOI TV in Boise reports that the two birds were rescued in time, given oxygen by the firefighters and are doing well. I have so many questions! One is right there. How did they get the oxygen masks on the birds? I'd like to see that.
The report does not include any background information on who taught the birds to cry, “Fire!” and, “Help!” A second question, please. Were the birds owners prescient? Did they have some premonition about a fire in their future or were they preparing the birds just in case?
"You never know. Someday there just might be a fire while we are out of the house and the birds will be ready."
Another provocative option is that the birds were not taught to scream for help. Did they just know what to say? That's a stretch. But then this entire story is a bit of a stretch.
It's been a long, long time since anyone saw anything like Jordan Spieth. At the ripe, old age of 21, he blasted his way right through The Masters and an army of much older, much more experienced, and much, much more famous golfers. He seized the lead on day one and never looked back. The greatest golfers in the world could barely keep his tail lights in view. No one ever ever passed him even momentarily. In fact, no one ever caught up with him, not even for a single round. Spieth became the first player in nearly half a century to lead all four rounds. Only Tiger Woods won The Masters at a younger age (by only a few months) and not since WWII has any kept his opponents at such a distance for the entire tournament.
Whew! That's a mouthful and it actually doesn't even begin to tell the whole story of his record-setting tournament. He set more records than I wish to record here but among them:
- Best 36-Hole Score (130)
- Best 54-Hole Score (200)
- Most Number of Birdies (28)
- Best Opening Round Ever By A Champion (64)
What about leadership? Here are some thoughts on how to translate this exciting "newcomers" story into leadership principles.
In Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean." What a horrific quagmire of miscommunication, bad leadership and manipulative propaganda that philosophy would produce. Witness Washington, D.C. Definitions determine outcomes. They miss the very point of language who lightly dismiss definitions as merely the starchy and sterile result of a boring trip down Webster's Lane.
Take, for example, the word QUALITY. The mere misdefinition of that one word, QUALITY, has caused business breakdowns, staff and employee bitterness, marketing misdirections, management frustrations and ruined relationships. The reason is that most people, if asked what quality means, would define it in terms of some objective standard of excellence, some inherent, measurable characteristic. In fact, that is about how Webster defines it, and he was wrong. At least for leadership he was wrong. Folks assume that there exists some measurement of quality against which a chair, for example, can be analyzed. That would mean that rated along those standards, all chairs, whatever their purpose or intended market, are therefore, either a quality chair or not a quality chair.
Did Jesus mean it literally? Perhaps He referred only to the great resurrection, in which, by the way, the Pharisees fully believed. Regardless, the religious leaders could take no chances on His followers stealing the dead body and faking a resurrection. Guards were posted and the tomb was sealed (Matthew 27:62-66). Both proved useless.
Those same guards were bribed (with “large money,” Matthew says) to perjure themselves by claiming that just such a conspiracy had indeed happened, that the dead body had been stolen by zealots and a fraud was about to be perpetrated (Matthew 28:11-15).
Liberal theologians have relentlessly continued the attack for two thousand years. Some have claimed that the resurrection was not physical but communal. In other words, they would have us believe that Jesus’ followers wanted so badly for Him to be alive that in the space between them they just made it so. These “theologians,” so called, claim that Jesus’ resurrection was not bodily but cultural and emotional, a shared hope so desperately held among them that it became “real” in their hearts, but not in His body. In 1967, one writer, Hugh Schonfield, even went so far as to endorse the testimony of the bribed guards in a book called The Passover Plot. According to Schonfield, the vinegar-soaked sponge lifted to Jesus on the cross was actually filled with a drug powerful enough to simulate death. He further claimed that Joseph of Arimathea rescued Jesus before He died, later resuscitating Him for “postresurrection” appearances.
Why all the desperate effort to discredit the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Because His resurrection is all our hope, the ground of all true faith in Christ. He died and rose again. He did not nearly die, He did not rise from the dead merely in the minds of His followers or in the hearts and affections of His friends. His resurrection was not an idea or a wish. It is a fact. His scars still visible, He rose physically.
Life is the history that precedes a death. Death is the history that comes before a resurrection. The resurrected life is born out of death, even as that same life was once born from the womb, and before that from the loins of two others. It is amazing that the resurrection scrapes at the rationalistic nerves of unbelievers. Amazing, because it is so in line with rest of life’s transitions.
A new life is created as one new body from two others. That new body then resides in fluid, a fish-like human, nine months in the waters of its primal baptism. If that baby were to breathe as it will one day breathe, it would die. The moment that human escapes its watery history, it dies to that historical state and can never go back to being able to live for more than a few moments under water. For nine months that new life, “buried” in water, develops into its birth form in liquid security, insulated against what lies ahead.
At birth, that ends. Out into the blazing light and frigid cold of a stainless steel delivery room, a smack on the butt and a hearty scream, and the atmosphere is sucked into unused little lungs. From the warm comfort of a water womb into a wider, harsher world, that tiny life must die to one place before it can burst kicking and squalling into another.
All of life is a chain of transition. From a seed comes new life. From the womb comes the child. From the child, the adolescent, and from there, to adulthood with any luck at all. The fruitful, productive adult grows elderly, a fading remnant of itself. The doorway of death leads to another realm and the form fit for that environment. Transition leads to transition, form giving way to form in the flow of life that leads to life.
"Black Lives Matter." That sign has become an enduring logo of the Ferguson debacle. Regardless of what one thinks about the mess there, that sign is true. It is limited to be sure, but true as far as it goes. The fact is lives matter, ALL lives matter. Once one becomes truly convinced of that one great truth, decisions begin to make themselves.
If lives matter, and they do, a massive ethical superstructure rests on that foundation. What one believes about murder, the unborn, the weak and defenseless, the elderly and the handicapped is the vertical and visible ethical high rise, but the foundation upon which it all rests is the inherent value of life. LIVES MATTER. Period.
Any qualification on that foundational truth and the entire edifice trembles ominously. The Nazis said Germanic lives matter. What they meant was that no one else's did. They slaughtered Jews by the millions because in their world view, Jewish lives did not matter. Likewise they wasted millions of
You determine the pace at which the people in your organization move. You cannot drive people faster than you can go yourself. I have been around a lot of big-time leaders. They emanate a sense of huge personal energy. For all I know, they go home and collapse at night, but when they are around other people, they express vitality. That vitality gives life to the people who follow them.
Of course, it is true enough that some people naturally have more energy than others. But you can cultivate a sense of energy that energizes the people who follow you. When I played basketball a hundred years ago, I found that in the fourth quarter, when I began feeling tired, I felt less tired the more I cranked up my output. It was counterintuitive, but if I ran more slowly, I felt more tired. When you are tired, run faster. It energizes you, and it energizes people around you.
In reference to a news story from California I posted a column on The Leader’s Notebook (The Slaughter in Arroyo Valley - 01/21/15) which was somewhat controversial. Indeed, I knew it would be. I hope you will read it again or for the first time as the case may be, before you read on, but here is the thrust of it. I am concerned that the current American obsession with self-esteem is creating an atmosphere in which our next generation of leaders is too weak to compete, not because they do not know how to win, but because they cannot deal with losing.
Why should they know how to deal with losing? We have not allowed them to experience it. Hoping that a noncompetitive environment would make "everyone a winner," we are at risk of creating weaklings who cannot graciously bear the pain of losing. The problem is that in real life, everyone loses occasionally. Sometimes folks lose badly, embarrassingly and the sting is genuine. Losing will not kill anyone however, and if dealt with properly, losing horribly can be highly motivational. If everybody gets a trophy, if everybody wins, what is the incentive to improve? It's a form of "socialistic sports."
The brief version is that a high school girls basketball team in California won their game by the incredible score of 161-2. The winning coach was suspended which I oppose if there are no circumstances beyond a lopsided score. As I said in my original piece, I do not know all the details but I do know that asking a competitive team to do less than their best just so the other team won't "feel bad" is contrary to what I believe about coaching, which can be summarized as follows:
One tends to think of the Christian life in terms of softness, of words such as love and grace and peace. Those words are real to be sure. Yet there are are other words in the walk of Christ - tough, rugged words - words that are hard to hear, hard to say and harder still to live. This part of the vocabulary of The Faith is replete with angular words, sharp words with none of the corners rounded off or sanded down.
The cross is just such a word. Pain, horrific and humiliating pain, and all the rest of the human nightmare of abandonment and betrayal are in that one word. I passed a jewelry store window in which were displayed some of the most gorgeous, bejeweled crosses I've ever seen. In the midst of them was this sign:
I have one rod and reel among my small collection that is special to me. Today I love it, but I didn’t when I first saw it. I was fishing and thought a small limb had snagged my hook. I finally pulled the “limb” free of the muck on the bottom of the lake and reeled in the nastiest rod and reel I had ever seen. I wondered if some frustrated fisherman had pitched it overboard. Whether by accident or by passionate intent, the thing had been lost to the deep. Upon dredging it up I claimed the ancient right of salvage.
For the background on this post you may want to view the following.
This scene at The University of California at Davis was disturbing on several levels. The bullying and intimidation tactics in a debate scenario are troubling enough. Is there no civil discourse left on the left? The student association at UC Davis was debating whether to support the anti-Israel movement known as DBS, or Divest, Boycott and Sanction. The pro-Palestinian college students in the video did not want a rational debate followed by a vote. They wanted to taunt, jeer, mock and intimidate the Jewish students who spoke in opposition.
The cries of “Allahu Akbar” as the Jewish students fled the room are proof that this was about Muslim activism blatantly informed by anti-Semitism. This was not some well-considered and balanced topic being thoughtfully debated. Nothing was voted on after serious-minded consideration. Make no mistake. This was not about social justice. It was Muslim and pro-Palestinian fascism in action. “Allahu Akbar” is the Muslim prayer call; not a social justice statement. This was a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel statement hurled in the face of Jewish students with taunting, jeering mockery.
--What a stupid call!
--What was he thinking?
--Was he brain dead?
Just a few of the grace-filled and affirmative tweets that followed Pete Carroll's final offensive play call in the Super Bowl. Armchair quarterbacks or, to coin a phrase, "couch coaches" from Seattle to Key West knocked aside their beer and pretzels to scream at their TVs like mad men. The near unanimous opinion is that it was a terrible call. They may well have been right. I tend to think they were. It may very well have been a bonehead play call.
However, consider this. If that final pass had been a touchdown and not an interception, imagine what we would all be saying right now.
--The genius surprise play of the decade.
--Perhaps the boldest gamble in Super Bowl history by the coach of the year!
All of which brings to mind an anonymous quote. "Victory has a thousand fathers. Defeat is an orphan."
I will not discuss the merits or demerits of Carroll's fateful and much maligned decision to call for a pass play. I leave that to sports casters and sports bars. This column is not about football but about leadership. If you're the leader/CEO/quarterback/coach/pastor, remember three things about high-pressure decision making.
In the mid-1950's, the inimitable Willie Nelson wrote a song called “The Party's Over.” He used it mainly as the closing song for a band he was with at the time. He did not record the song himself until 1966, at which time it sold, not like a blockbuster, but fairly well, peaking at number 24 on the country music chart. Who actually made the song world famous, however, was not a singer but a retired quarterback turned sports announcer.
Don Meredith, who had quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys, became the third partner of the founding Monday Night Football triumvirate. The other two on that celebrated broadcast team were Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford. When the outcome of a Monday Night contest would become apparent, perhaps even a runaway, Meredith would begin to sing “The Party's Over.” It was an overnight sensation and it was always funny.
Here are some of the lyrics.
Turn out the lights.
The party's over.
They say that all good things must end.
Call it a night.
The party's over.
It's an easy song to sing from the broadcast booth at someone else's game. When you're down on the field, bloodied, playing your guts out and apparently headed toward defeat, it's not fun to sing and it's not funny.
I have read a zillion articles on visionary entrepreneurism, on when and how to launch a start-up. Such books are inspirational and motivational and nothing I say hereafter should detract from their benefit. I myself wrote a book called Launch Out Into The Deep and another called ReLaunch.
Less, much less in fact, has been written about when to turn out the lights. Everybody loves a party and starting a party is especially fun. The end of a party is not always so nice. By the end of the night, cleaning up, closing down, getting the hangers-on to go home, and turning off the lights is not very exciting.
From his perch in the broadcast booth, Don Meredith always seemed to discern the exact moment when, for all intents and purposes it was over, when the odds of a come-back were simply too overwhelming. What about in leadership? How do we know when to call it a night? Knowing when to go to a new leadership opportunity is actually much easier to know than when to leave one.
Here are some thoughts on heading for the exit.
This may very well be the most controversial post ever on The Leaders' Notebook. I need my head examined for even commenting on this little, out-of-the-way story, especially when I know what I say will not sit well with some readers. My wife says, and of course she is right, that as far as needing my head examined goes, this post was superfluous proof. As they say… here goes, plunging right in up to my eyebrows where angels fear to tread.
The girls basketball team at Arroyo Valley High School recently defeated the Bloomington girls by a score of 161-2. Shocking? You betcha. I'm quite sure that such a loss falls squarely in the embarrassing category. I cannot begin to imagine how embarrassing. I had a small taste of it in high school. As a freshman quarterback I once steered my team to
Here are three leadership truths in which I fundamentally believe.
I. Who (what) you fight reveals your courage.
II. How you fight reveals your character.
III. For whom (what) you stand reveals your commitment.
If those three statements are true, and I submit to you they are absolutely true, choosing your battles well, fighting "right," and standing up for your friends become keys to leading well in a struggle. Therefore, in the face of a looming fight, leaders must always ask themselves three questions.
I am haunted by the smoky notes of the late Billie Holiday. Hardly any voice in the jazz world reaches me as hers does. Of all her songs perhaps my favorite is All of Me. Other artists have covered the tune, including such disparate singers as Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney and even The Muppets, but no one can touch Billie Holiday. Here are a few lines of this famous jazz classic.
All of me.
Why not take all of me?
Can't you see
I'm no good without you?
You took the part that once was my heart,
So why not take all of me?
Paraphrasing only a bit, those simple lyrics ask one of the crucial questions of leadership: Why not all of you?