Wednesday, May 27, 2020

When to hang in there...

I have read several good books over the years that talk about talent. What I love about the journey of becoming better... talent is important, but working hard actually means more. There is a series on Netflix right now about the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ last season championship run. Throughout that series, it continues to flash back to the beginning of the dynasty. And even before that, the early years of Michael Jordan.

Growing up, Michael Jordan was never really the best basketball player on the court. In fact, he wasn’t even the best basketball player in his family. But, playing with his older brothers, he never gave up. He always worked harder and honed his craft and became more skillful. Accumulating hours and hours of practice for years and years, he became the greatest player ever, and that is why most everyone, at least those of us over the age of 40, remember as kids wanting to “be like Mike.”


I’ve been coaching for several years now, and I always let my student-athletes know that like Angela Duckworth says in her famous book Grit, “As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.” Wow! What a great lesson in just a few words. Those who have seen the most success on my teams over the years have been those who did have talent, but had what it took to stick it out, hang in, and put in work when others would not. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way...

“Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” ~Proverbs 22:29

The question is, are you willing to put in the work when you don’t feel like working anymore, when you are tired, or frustrated? Many people give up too easily. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, whether large or small. If you continue to work hard to get better, you will. My prayer is that you decide what is important in life, focus in that direction, and become great. The world needs more people like that.

Praying for you,

MO

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Getting all emotional…

I had a pretty bad temper growing up. But it was really only when I played sports. I am naturally inclined to be very competitive, and so youth athletic programs were always a source of frustration for me. Brad Pitt played famed baseball player-turned-GM in the movie Moneyball, and made the following statement, “I hate to lose! I hate to lose more than I like to win… and there is a difference.” I guess that would have to sum up the way that I felt about any kind of competition growing up. So much for having fun, huh?

The problem with this is that I always became very emotional. As soon as something did not go my way, my negative emotions and horrible attitude would start to affect both my play, and eventually the outcome of any particular competition. It was almost to the point where it would have been better off not to play at all. In fact, for my 16th birthday, one of my teammates bought me a big spongy lightweight Nerf ball that I could throw next time I got upset, instead of throwing and destroying his Walkman again after I got kicked out of one of my more recent games. Yes, it was a funny gift and gesture, but that small incident actually caused me to rethink a lot of what I did, and how I should proceed for the future.


I remember following that birthday party talking to Kevin a little bit more than I had up to that point. He had known me for a couple of years now, and was well aware of my lack of discipline on the field. For the most part he was encouraging, knowing that I had a deep-rooted problem that needed to be fixed only by my willingness to do so. I remember one of the verses that he shared with me though…

"Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end."
~ Proverbs 29:11

This above author uses words in the old language here that have to do with the calming of a storm, which of course makes me think of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. I wanted to have that kind of control over my emotions. Also, I realized that right around that time in my life, I was also trying to be a good Christian, since I had just recently given my life over to Christ. And, looking back, it began a long and arduous process to change my person to the very core. I knew that if I did not begin to control my temper, I would not be the witness that God called me to be.

I started working on my emotions and temper, and have been doing so for the past 25 years or so. And although I am not exactly where I want to be, I am much better off than I was. My question is this: regarding your own attitude, do people view you as someone who can control their emotions? We cannot add value to people when we cannot even control ourselves. My prayer is that you find out what causes you to lose your cool, and get a little bit better at calming the emotional storms of your life.

Praying for you,

MO

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Attitude matters...

I was never the biggest or fastest athlete. In fact, I was always one of the guys on the other side of the spectrum. Which means, I had to work twice as hard just to be as good as the rest of some of the competitors. I remember my swim coach telling me one time, “By the time you enter the water and surface for your first stroke, you are already losing the race.” Ouch! But hey, a good coach will help an athlete live in a world of realism rather than to be stuck in the fantasy world of idealism. It was a great lesson for me to have learned, and early. I decided that I would work harder.


I have been coaching young people for several years now. And I have some of the same conversations with my student athletes. Some of them are not the most talented, or the biggest or fastest even. But what each of them has is the opportunity to give her very best. One of my favorite quotes from John Wooden is, “It is not the will to win that matters, but the will to prepare to win that matters most.” Holy cow!

There is a lot of stuff in life to complain about, and most people do. But what I have made a point to do in my coaching is to help my student-athletes enter each training day with the best attitude possible. With so much else going on in life for each of them, it is a small miracle just to get them to focus on the practice sets of the day. I’m not saying that they always have to act fake and pretend that they are loving life, but consciously making an effort to enter each day with the proper attitude can make or break them for both for today, and eventually over the course of a season, or even multiple seasons.

Right now my church is going over a multiple week series on the following verses:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” ~Philippians 4:8-9

There is so much to unpack in just these couple of verses that if anybody chose just one of the words above that Apostle Paul is talking about, it would seriously be a game changer in that person’s life. So I guess my question is, do you think about any of the above qualities? And if so, what would this mean for your life, and the way you choose to live? My prayer is that you think about qualities and traits that would make you better, and strive for one or two of them.

Praying for you,

MO

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Intuition Crash-course

I remember the first time that Kevin put me in charge of the entire junior high school summer camp. For a couple of years at that point I had been shadowing him, but this was the year where he really wanted me to take the reins. Of course he was at camp that week, but it was a lot different knowing that I was the camp director, now responsible for over 500 students and leaders.

In the years prior when I was learning from Kevin, he gave me a lot of good advice, and all of the information that would set me up for success for my current situation. Unfortunately for everybody, I didn’t really pay attention the way that I should have been during that time. I mean, how hard could it be, right?

Well, that week was pretty tumultuous, and we dealt with so many situations that I had never seen before. Except for, I had seen them all before. The only difference was that in years prior I was not the one who had to make the decisions, but just had to watch Kevin do it flawlessly. He made it all look so easy.

The culmination of that camp was when I had to sit down with the site director to square up on the final bill. By this time Saturday morning all of the other churches were long since gone, probably halfway home, and I was still sitting in this office, slouched in a beat up old chair that Kevin had probably sat in so many times before. I thought that everything was good to go, until the site director reminded me that his staff, while making the final sweep of the camp early that very hour, found one of the bathrooms where tons of shingles had been ripped off of the roof, unbeknownst to anyone, including me. How could this have happened… and how were their kids on the roof of any building without any of us staff members knowing? Well, I did not have time to think about any of that. I was stuck with figuring out how to pay for the repair of that roof… a pretty penny.

And of course, I did not factor that into the cost of the camp so many months before, which I should have. It was a serious blow to my ego, and speaking with Kevin later that summer, when everything was over, he gently reminded me that he and I had had the conversation about making sure that I was ready to deal with those kinds of incidentals. I was not, And learned the hard way that I was nowhere near where I needed to be regarding my Camp Director intuitiveness. I was so engulfed in what I was doing in the run-up to camp that I was not listening to the wise counsel that Kevin was trying to throw my way for months, and really years at that point.


That reminded me of a story in Exodus when Moses was leading God’s people out of Egypt. At one point there was so much coming his way, and so many people that wanted to talk to him, that he got overwhelmed. He was stuck in the middle of a management nightmare and had nowhere to go; and even worse, he did not rely on the people that probably could have been helping him up to that point. Until, somebody older and wiser than him came and gave them some advice.

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” ~Exodus 18:13-14

Moses was pretty new at leadership and he had no idea what was going on. Anybody could have told him that he was breaking his back trying to get all of the stuff done on his own. And I’m sure a lot of people did know, and probably told him; he most likely just did not listen. Until his father-in-law let him know how much time he was wasting.

Jethro was the voice of reason, the person with intuition due to his life experience. It was good for Moses to have him as wise counsel, otherwise Moses probably would have been frustrated for a lot longer. So I guess my question is this: where in life do you have the most intuition? My hope is that just like Moses, you have people in your life to help you see what you do well and where you need a little bit of guidance. All of us are good at something, and are probably pretty intuitive in that area. And although Moses was leading the people pretty well, he had a blind spot that needed to be pointed out. I pray that you are open to the same in your life.


Praying for you,

MO

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Finding productivity in potential...

One of the greatest marks of leadership is the ability to focus on others before yourself. When I teach seminars, or even are just doing a one-on-one session with a leader I give this quick anecdote: if you and I were at a baseball game I would probably naturally not be thinking about what you needed. Meaning, if I was hungry and was going to go grab something to eat I might ask you if you wanted me to grab you a dog and a Coke. But it is always following the desires that I have for myself first.


Leadership is taking yourself out of the equation for needing anything and focusing on what your people need. It’s being able to think about something as small as whether or not they are hungry. On a deeper level though, it is being able to help them for the sake of helping them. When I get called into a company to help executives make their employees more productive I always turn the question around on the leadership. I asked them what they are doing to invest into their people to develop their potential. And as you might imagine, they look back at me like I just hit them over the head with a 2 x 4.

Great leaders develop others so that those people will be more productive personally. Only then do they ask those people to come alongside them and use those skills to make the company better. And although a lot of people would see that as being counterproductive, when you focus on the people first, the company mission will automatically have a better chance at being accomplished. Why, because people are more apt to want to work for somebody who is looking out for them. And that is the respect factor.

My question is: are you more worried about what your people can do for you, or have you made the shift to be “others focused” and help your people for the simple fact that it is you as a leader that owes them, and not the other way around? My prayer is that you look at each of the people you lead and find out what they are passionate about, and how you might make their lives better. And I can promise you this, their respect for you will go up and they will be more productive. Which of course, remember, is only a byproduct of really caring for your people and wanting them to be better for themselves first.

Praying for you,

MO

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Sweeping the floors...

Everybody remembers John Wooden for being the great basketball coach that he was. He won so many championships and changed so many lives over his career that a lot of people forget to think about the beginning of his journey. Coach Wooden only had one losing season over his time as a coach, and that was his first season. From then on, he always finished the season with more wins than losses. There were many reasons for that, but one of the important key elements was his ability to gain respect.

Coach Wooden never thought of himself as anything great. In fact, in the many books that have been written about him and that he has written, he always said that he saw himself as a teacher of young people first, and that coaching was just the avenue he used to gain that platform. 


One of my favorite stories about his time at UCLA was before they had the big and illustrious Pauley Pavilion. Before that, they shared the gymnasium with the gymnastics team. And, because basketball practice followed directly after gymnastics practice, there was chalk all over the floor. Before his players would get to the gymnasium, Coach Wooden always swept the floor himself, which I have always seen as one of his great acts of selfless service. Of course, Coach Wooden wouldn’t see it that way at all, but more the expected duty of one who was called to serve his players.

Deborah was that kind of leader in the Bible. There is a verse that says:

“Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.”
~Judges 5:7

Although you might think this is a pompous statement when you first read it, it is anything but that. Deborah knew that nobody was going to stand up for the people of Israel, and so she had to take on that burden. And, because she would, from that time on, stand firm on her convictions, she gained the respect of all of the people of Israel. She would do the little things like giving them resources and guidance to prosper. She was the leader that the people needed to arise, for without her they would never experience success. In fact, because she was a prophetess and judge that got results, when she asked the people of Israel to fight, they were more apt to follow her. She had gained their respect by serving her people.

My question for you today is this: Are you willing to serve? Are you willing to stand up like Deborah did when nobody else would, to do what nobody else would have the courage to do? And furthermore, are you willing to sweep the floors as Coach Wooden did? There was never any task too small... and that is the mark of a great leader. My prayer for you is that you find a way to serve others today. When you do that, your little acts will multiply and you will begin to gain the respect of those around you. Only when you have the respect of others will you be able to influence them on a deeper level.

Praying for you,

MO

Friday, May 8, 2020

Learning through failure...

Building trust on a team of any kind is pretty difficult. For starters, we all come from different walks of life and have had different upbringings. We are unique individuals that must come together if we want to achieve greatness. I remember playing a water polo game when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a pretty young guy on the varsity team and so I was just doing my best to stay above water, both figuratively and literally.

There was one game that had some big implications in terms of the way our season was going to turn out. For much of the game we played well together, and caught a sort of rhythm. But then towards the end of the third quarter, things started to unravel. Minutes into the fourth quarter we realized that we were down a couple of goals and started to panic, but then miraculously fought our way back to tie the game.

With less than a minute left it was our ball and all we needed to do was get it down the pool and wait for a last second shot. That would give us either a win, or at the very least send the game into overtime. With seven seconds left we got the ball to our ace scorer, who was supposed to hold the ball and take a shot with two seconds left. He had plenty of room to do so. But for some reason, she decided to take the shot early. And, the worst part is that it went right to the goalie’s chest. You can probably guess what happened next.

The goalie reared back and heaved the ball in the air. As we all turned our heads we could immediately tell that our goalie was not ready for the shot, but instead had been moving steadily out of the goal. He halted his tracks, immediately started back-stroking just in time to get to the goal line to watch the ball cross the goal line. It was so quiet in the stadium that all you could hear was the pop of the ball against the blue tarp, which followed by an eruption of elation and celebration from the other team. It was devastating.

As we slowly left the pool and met in the locker room, you can imagine the frustration that all of us had. We are already starting to point fingers and dish out the blame. It was this guy’s fault for one reason or somebody else’s fault for another. Why did the play move up the court so fast? Why were the passes so sloppy? Why was this guy out of position? We were literally screaming at each other. Our goalie, dejected, just sat on the bench with his head in his hands, still dripping with water.

And then something happened. Our ace scorer, the guy who took the last shot said something in a low voice, but for some reason we all heard it. “I should have held the ball longer. It’s my fault. Guys, I’m sorry… it was me who lost the game, none of you.” Silence. Our bickering now stopped for us to focus on the only person taking responsibility; he was the leader. And at that moment, he solidified his place on the team as exactly that. Never did he point a finger or blame somebody else. He took responsibility at that moment. 


There was a guy in the Bible who dealt with making bad decisions and not taking responsibility for his actions. When Samson was born there was an angel of the Lord that was present and helped his family to the process (Judges 13:13). As he grew up he had a crazy amount of supernatural strength that was given to him by God. He was given everything that he needed to lead God’s people effectively (13:24-25).

Yes, Samson was favored by God, but throughout his life made a series of unfortunate mistakes that he refused to correct. He got mixed up with the wrong people, was in relationship with a woman who would soon, on multiple occasions, betray him (14:3), and killed people to cover his own mistakes (14:19). All the while, he did not learn from his failures. He ended up dying a pretty violent death, after he had lost his eyes in one of the run-ins with the Philistines (16:29). He always seemed to put himself in some pretty bad situations, and as I continue to read a story over the years, I wonder how different it would have been if he learned through those failures.

Every player, including me, on our team was like Samson with our dumb excuses… except for the one guy who decided to be different, and take responsibility. Coach John wooden once said, “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.” So I guess my question is: Are you willing to have the courage to learn through your failures? It is not a question of if, but when, you will fail. The important part is that you learn through those failures and that you make better decisions because of that. When you take responsibility for your failures, people will look to you to help them through their failures as well. My prayer is that you look back to some of the failures in your life and remember how you responded; and, that you apply those lessons to your life right now.

Praying for you,

MO