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?
The seas of human life, so lashed as they are by storms of crisis and controversy, are where real leaders do their duty. Happily-ever-aftering only happens in the movies. Real life, and therefore real leadership, is actually one storm after another punctuated by brief and very welcome periods of calm. Once a leader finds the maturity and experience to face that honestly, the stormy seasons become immensely less stressful.
Until that threshold is passed, every storm feels like the "big one," the once in a lifetime, storm of the century that just has to be lived over and "normality" will return. Such naive leaders spend way too much energy trying to figure out why this storm has come upon them. They agonize uselessly over imponderables. Why this storm at this time? Why me? Did I sail the wrong sea? Are the very elements conspiring against me? In other words, is this storm part of some
Causes, particularly causes that are "hot" at the moment, draw passionate supporters, as they should. What supporters of such causes, especially the most passionate among them, often encounter and fail to take as seriously as they aught, is the whole "poster child" problem. As I said in last week's Notebook, it is a flawed strategy to wrap a good cause around an unworthy story.
By plastering the wrong face on the posters, supporters damage their own cause. If the story, whatever the story is, turns out to be different from what was thought at first, the cause can get branded with the negative image. Some years ago, a famous rock star announced he had become a Christian, and many Christians went wild with excitement. Many enthusiastically, and without hesitation trumpeted his "conversion" and used the story in countless sermons. I advised
So much has been said about the dreadful state of affairs in Ferguson, MO that it’s a temptation to ignore the whole thing. One always hates to simply add to the ground noise. Furthermore, if I just let others write what they want and stay out of it, I stay clear of the controversy. I certainly don't need the kind of controversy which writing about Ferguson can generate, especially the accusations which I know are almost certain to come. On the other hand, I do feel that there are some things that I'm not hearing said, things which I believe need to be said by somebody. So… acknowledging the aforementioned risks, I am somewhat reluctantly wading in.
I hope I can somehow manage to deal with the leadership issues involved, and steer around the jagged rocks of racial conflict. That sounds a bit naive even to me even as I write it. Passions are enflamed now from coast to coast and hearing reasonable thought on Ferguson from any direction seems impossible. Here's the limited question I want to deal with. Are there any leadership lessons to be learned from this mess which could prove useful in other less riot-happy environs? I believe there are and here are three.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to read the following Thanksgiving week edition of The Leader's Notebook. I do not offer this to you because I have written a masterpiece. In fact, I did not write it, save for this brief introduction. Indeed, it may be that you have, at some time in the past, already read this particular offering. If so, I urge you to read it again. Slowly. Thoughtfully. Let the profound spiritual truth of these three paragraphs bathe your spirit. Look carefully at the clean, economical language and consider how much thought and prayer went into its creation. A great leader, perhaps America's greatest leader and perhaps one of world history's greatest men, wrote it. It is worth reading aloud to your family around feast table.
Regard its humility, genuine gratitude and deep faith. The particular leader who wrote this knew God, believed all nations owe Him gratitude and enjoined his nation's people to be faithful in that duty. God grant us such leaders again. The author of this proclamation was President George Washington. He issued the following on Oct. 3, 1789. Happy Thanksgiving. God save the Republic.
The power of servant leadership lies not in position but in motive. The CEO of a massive corporation, holding great responsibility, may “wash his employees’ feet” by seeking their benefit in business. There is no conflict between a well-managed business making a profit for its stockholders and one making a good life for its employees. There is no room for exploitation in Jesus’ model of servant leadership.
The servant leader is still in authority even as Jesus was when He washed the disciples’ feet. No one in the room doubted
I waited a week to comment on the mid-term elections because I wanted the emotional dust to settle a bit. The election was a tidal wave which swept in a Republican Senate, an increase in the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, stunning Republican gubernatorial victories in some surprising states and huge Republican gains in many state houses. Republican. Republican. Republican. Why? Of course, some of it, perhaps much of it was political. Perhaps the Republicans ran better candidates who ran better campaigns than their Democrat opponents. Perhaps the Republican ground game was more effective than the Democrats. In other words, maybe the Republicans just got out the vote and the Democrats failed to. Many in America did not vote. Maybe those non-voters were Democrats.
Let me be clear. I am a Republican and I was pleased beyond words with all those results. Having said that, however, I hasten to add this post is not about the politics in the election but the leadership behind the story. In other words, whether one cheers the results of the election or grieves over them, the question remains, are there clear and presiding leadership lessons in the election which transcends partisanship?
Last week I spoke at a fundraiser in Arizona, at which I met a physician from South Texas. He shared with me one of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard. It seems that a young man passed away in a small town near where the doctor lived. The entire town, indeed many in that region state, honored him as a hero. A hero? He had not held a paying job in thirty years. He was not a sports star or a performer or even a religious leader. He was never elected to office, never made a speech that the doctor knew of and certainly never wrote a book. He was in fact a quadriplegic who lived the bulk of his years bedridden. He could speak and move the tips of his fingers on one hand. That's all. Why then a hero? Why the admiration and honor?