8 Characteristics of Effective Team Players

  1. Calling

Called people have a profound purpose about their lives that flow from a divine perspective. They are not trying to promote themselves, but instead, they support a higher cause. Called people discover something bigger than themselves, a mission, a challenge, a goal, or a movement, that draws them into an arena. Their calling flows around their passion (heart), skills (hands), and expertise (mind).

2. Character

Character is a high standard of living based on a personal code of morality that doesn’t succumb to the whim of the moment or the dictates of the majority. Character is to personal integrity what health is to the body. Character is not reputation—what others think of us, nor is it success—what we have accomplished. Character embodies the total of our being and our actions. It originates with who we are, but it expresses itself in the way we live and behave. No matter how gifted, trained, or seemingly mature a person is, the actual use of those attributes will be determined by character.

3. Commitment

Committed people foster the drive, motivation, and work ethic to get the job done. Commitment spells the difference between mediocrity and magnificence.

4. Compatible

Compatible people are a job, relational, skill, and passion fit. Vince Lombardi once told this team, the Green Bay Packers, “In terms of skill and ability, every one of you is easily replaceable; there are plenty of players around with athletic talent to equal yours.” He went on to explain that the quality that distinguished Green Bay for the other teams was their “chemistry.” The power of chemistry that developed between members and the coach transcended, in Lombardi’s view, individual talent and prior professional experience. He saw it as enabling him to get significant effort from his players.

5. Coachable

Coachable people are aware of their limitations and inadequacies and eager to learn and to improve. John Wooden, the former basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

6. Competent

Competent people are talented, gifted, and perform at a high level. They know their job and do their jobs well. They bring their “A” game every day.

7. Contributors

They function well as a team player. They are self-aware both of themselves and of others. They thrive in a healthy team environment, wanting the best in themselves and others. Peter Drucker said, “All work is for a team. No individual has the temperament and the skills to do every job. The purpose of a team is to make strengths productive and weaknesses irrelevant.” Contributors work together and help their teammates perform better to accomplish the common goal.

8. Completers

Effective leaders know that teams complete us. When a team comes to a task or a project or an obstacle, the collective whole maximizes strengths and minimizes weaknesses. Bill McCartney, former football coach, said, “We have not come together to compete with one another—but to complete one another.”

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9 Lessons on Why Teamwork Is Needed

We were not built to function well alone. We work best in teams.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”—Helen Keller

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”—The Harvard Business School

Watch a YouTube time lapsed video of the Amish raising a barn.

Some lessons on teamwork:

  1. A compelling direction is needed.

Everyone needs a compelling direction that energizes, orientates, and engages its members. Goal, purpose, cause, passion.

Everything begins with a vision. Ideas become reality, but first there must be the idea. Begin with the end in mind.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”—Henry Ford 

“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.”—James Cash Penney

2. Planning is required.

“Make time for planning: Wars are won in the general’s tent.”—Steven R. Covey

Planning is the process of creating your organizational future before it happens. 

Planning is creating your actions in advance so that life will respond to you. It is writing history in advance.  

Proper planning prevents poor performance.

3. Focus on systems instead of goals.

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”—James Clear, Atomic Habits

“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.”—Stephen Covey

“The score takes care of itself.”—Bill Walsh, Super Bowl winning coach

4. Make good use of people’s time.

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”—Paul J. Meyer

5. More is accomplished together than alone.

TEAM: Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

6. Fun is necessary for fruitful work.

“If work isn’t fun, you’re not playing on the right team.”—Frank Sonnenberg

7. Rest and socialization must be taken regularly.

“Take a rest; a field that has rested give a bountiful crop.”–Ovid

8. A high level of trust is demonstrated.

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni

9. Common people can attain uncommon results.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”—Andrew Carnegie

The 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team were a group of common men who produced uncommon results by defeating the Russian team and the Finnish team to win the gold medal.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

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Followership

Curious. Did you take a college course on how to be a good follower? Ever been to a seminar on how to follow well? What about reading a book on followership? If I’d asked if you had read a book or attended a workshop on Leadership, more than likely, you have.

Leadership without followers, well, is nothing but empty and fruitless. Leadership requires followers who will execute the mission, strategy, and plans of the organization. And followers need leaders who will provide the mission, strategy, and plans for the organization.

A Ted Talk entitled “The First Follower” pictures a lone guy dancing at a festival soon another guy joins the first guy in the crazy dance. Soon others join until there is a crowd all dancing together. It provides an example of a movement that began with a leader but would not have happened without the first follower and the subsequent others who join in. The video states: “Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of Leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.” The video concludes with this lesson: “Leadership is over-glorified. Yes, it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened: It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There is no movement without the first follower. We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”

Leaders need followers, and followers need leaders. Working together, they can accomplish many worthwhile projects and plans. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along with way about followers and leaders.

  1. Leaders need to be easy to follow.

Leaders need the big three: Character, Competence, and a Cause. They need to have the message, integrity and focus that others are willing to follow. When they do, people follow. I read of a woman who said to her pastor, “Pastor, I would follow you on an assault on hell with water pistols.” That woman found a leader easy to follow. Army Colonel Tom Cordingly explained it this way: “When I served at Fort Knox, the executive officer I worked under would plan the strategy and then turn to me and say, ‘Make it so, Tom.’ I was his right-hand man, the ‘make-it-so’ guy. I found more satisfaction in the right-hand-man role than in leading. I’ve come to the conclusion: Give me a good man to work for, a man I love and respect, and I’ll be happy.” It begins with the kind of leader that others want to follow. Interestingly, most great leaders are not charismatic. They simply have the qualities that make it easy for others to want to follow.

2. Leaders need followers.

Warren Bennis observed that leaders are only ever as effective as their ability to engage followers. Without followership, Leadership is nothing. The key to success in Leadership lies in the collective “we,” not the individual “I.”

In other words, Leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group. Leaders are more effective when their behaviors indicate that they are “one of us,” because they share our values, concerns, and experiences, and are “doing it for us,” by looking to advance the interests of the group rather than own personal interests.

3. Good followers have character, too.

Our culture places limited value on following. We celebrate the great leaders but dismiss the many loyal followers. But, to succeed, leaders must teach their followers not only how to lead, but more importantly, how to be a good follower. That requires integrity.

What makes for good followers?

They complement the leader. Followers don’t compete with the leader but complete the leader. It’s like a marriage; the husband and wife experience mutual submission; they are not in competition with one another but rather complement one another. Leadership is participatory: leaders and followers exist in a mutually beneficial relationship where each adds to the effectiveness of the other. Good followers complement their leaders by using their gifts (leaders while usually exceptionally gifted, don’t have all the necessary gifts to accomplish the task), speaking affirmation (Leadership is lonely and discouraging at times; therefore, verbal confirmation is needed), displaying loyalty (leaders need followers they can count on through thick and thin), extending support (leaders who have no one following are only taking a long walk.) Without the help of followers, leaders are doomed to failure.

Good followers stand in the gap. Often leaders have the vision but lack the management and execution tools to see the idea become a reality. Leaders have needs, weaknesses, shortcomings, imperfections, that are often glaring. So, leaders need loyal and dedicated followers to fill the gaps in their efforts.

Good followers take the initiative. Being a follower doesn’t mean that you just stand around and do nothing until the leader tells you what to do. Leaders provide the overall plan, the vision, but followers execute. Good followers know what to do without being told. Good followers don’t just do something; they do the right things. A great story about this need for the initiative is “A Message to Garcia,” written by Elbert Hubbard. Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia in the mountains of Cuba. Rowan didn’t ask, “Where is he?” or “How do I find him?” He just found Garcia and delivered the letter.

4. Good followers make great leaders.

A study of 218 male Australian Royal Marines was conducted. The Marines differentiated themselves as natural leaders (with the skills and abilities to lead) or followers (who were more concerned with getting things done than getting their way). The researchers tracked the recruits’ self-identification as leaders and followers across the course of a physically arduous 32-week infantry training that prepared them for warfare in a range of extreme environments. The study culminated in the recruits and commanders who oversaw their training casting votes for the Commando Medal award to the recruit who showed most leadership ability. Who got the votes?  Marines who set themselves up as leaders or those who cast themselves as followers? The researchers discovered that those recruits who considered themselves natural leaders were not able to convince their peers that this was the case. Instead, it was the recruits who saw themselves (and were seen by commanders) as followers who ultimately emerged as leaders. It seems that those who want to lead are well served by first endeavoring to follow.

Being a good follower teaches one how to value someone else’s opinion, consider others’ inputs, and develop emotional intelligence. They care about their followers and will demonstrate it. They understand and appreciate the limits of their Leadership and how their followers do make or break them. They know that no matter how many subordinates they have, they are still human and share the same vulnerabilities, shortcomings, and struggles as other humans. They view the people they lead as their equals. They value the contributions of each individual and their importance to achieving the end goals. They don’t punish employees who question and challenge them—because they know that having people who hold them accountable is an essential part of becoming a better leader.

5. The mission takes precedence.

Donald Phillips’insightful book, Lincoln on Leadership, examines the character, behavior, attributes, and attitudes that made Abraham Lincoln our most honored and revered president. When Lincoln took office in 1861, he found that the United States was unprepared for war. The union had an insufficient, poorly trained, and poorly equipped army of only 16,000 men under the command of a seventy-five-year-old general, Winfield Scott. As the war waged on, Lincoln went through general after general for three years before he finally found a responsible, risk-taker man, and, most importantly, who made things happen—Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln could not have won the war without Grant. Lincoln was the leader, and General Grant was his chief subordinate. Parenthetically, historians consider General Lee to be a better leader than Grant and speculate that the war would have been over in as little as six months if Lee had been with Lincoln. It wasn’t until Grant was added to the mix that Lincoln and the Union Army found victory. In Grant, Lincoln found a strategic, aggressive, creative follower who took the initiative to accomplish the mission.

Donald Phillips comments: “All leaders should realize that they can’t do everything on their own. They simply must have people below them who will do what is necessary to ensure success. Those subordinates who will take risks, act without waiting for direction, and ask for responsibility rather than reject it, should be treated as your most prized possessions. Such individuals are exceedingly rare and worth their weight in gold.”

Businesses, teams, governments, and churches can have leaders who possess exceptional vision and provide direction, just as Lincoln did. Still, they can’t succeed without people like U. S. Grant to carry out the mission.

Leaders need followers to execute the mission.

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Dealing with Your Critics

Supposedly when Robert Fulton was building his steam engine, his wife came to him in his workshop and said, “You’ll never get that thing to work, and even if you do you’ll never be able to get it out.”  Well, miraculously, according to his wife, he got it to work.  The engine sat in his front yard as he worked to fit it on a boat.  His wife came to him and said, “I don’t know why you are spending so much time on that thing; you’ll never get it to the river.”  Well, miraculously, according to his wife, he got the steam engine attached to a boat and got it down to the river.  His wife came down to the river and said, “I don’t know why you are wasting your time; you’ll never get that thing to start.”  Well, miraculously, it did start, and Fulton began moving down the river.  He was happy on two accounts:  one, his invention worked, and, two, he left his wife back on the dock.  He heard a voice calling after him, saying, “You’ll never get that thing stopped.  You never will.”

Criticism is inevitable. It is almost a daily staple for many people, especially leaders. It comes in the form of side comments to direct challenges, from people who walk into your office to anonymous notes sent by people with no courage.

We have become a nation of critics with 24-hour news and sports coverage. It spills over into every aspect of life.

Maybe you face criticism at work, home, or school. The nit-picking boss, coworker, business partner, acquaintance, friend, or family member is second-guessing your decisions and taking pride in pointing out your mistakes. They are like Robert Fulton’s wife, running alongside you, telling you just exactly what you can’t do and why it won’t work.

No matter how hard you work, how great your ideas, or how wonderful your talent, you probably will be the object of criticism.  No one is exempt.  Well, maybe you can evade it.  “Criticism,” Aristotle wrote, “is something you can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” That’s not an option.

How do we deal with the critic? Since we all have them, and since we all are engaged in work that exposes ourselves to the critic, a proper mindset in dealing with criticism should be maintained. Here are ten action steps when dealing with your critics.

  1. Ask yourself if the criticism is true or false.

Take an honest look at yourself. If the criticism is valid, do something about it. Sometimes the best course of action is to respond to criticism. If the criticism is invalid, forget it. Sometimes the best course of action is to ignore it completely. A. W. Tozer wrote, “Never fear criticism. If the critic is right, he has helped you. If he is wrong, you can help him. Either way, somebody gets helped.”

2. Own what you can.

Criticism is a bit like sarcasm, there’s always a hint of truth, even when the bulk of the criticism is false. Find that element of truth and own up to it.

3. Learn from your mistakes.

Since there seems always to be an element of truth in most criticism, we need to cull those out and learn from them. Not all criticism is intended to harm you. A lot of criticism is designed to help you. There is a lesson in every criticism, but you must be willing to find it.

4. Resist the immediate reflex of defensiveness.

Listen for something right and may need improvement or changing while avoiding the strong desire to defend yourself. This action is hard. When we are on the receiving end of a critical remark, our fight mechanism usually kicks in, and we what to retaliate. Refuse to do that. When Lori Deschene took a summer acting class, she made the people around her uncomfortable with her defensiveness. The teacher was giving her feedback after a scene in front of the whole class. The teacher couldn’t get through a single sentence without Lori offering some type of argument. After a couple of minutes of verbal sparring, one of Lori’s peers said, “Stop talking. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

5. Wait twenty-four hours before responding.

Whenever you get a critical email, comment, or phone call, you feel hurt, crushed, and sometimes you get angry. You want to defend, deny, or retaliate. Typically, nothing good happens when you’re upset. Any attempt to respond immediately almost always makes it worse. When you feel an emotional reaction to criticism don’t respond for 24 hours. Instead, use that time to measure the value or worth of the criticism. This step requires excellent self-control that prevents you from becoming impatient and defensive. 

6. Reply relationally.

Just because someone emailed you a stinging criticism doesn’t mean you should shoot off one, too. Just because someone called you out in a meeting doesn’t mean you should return the favor. I got this bit of advice from Andy Stanley. He suggested that you take your response to criticism up one level from how they responded with you. Reply in a way that’s more relationally connected than how they initiated things with you. For example: If they emailed you, call them. You’ll not only shock them, but you’ll quickly diffuse the situation. People are bolder in an email than they ever are in a conversation. Nothing good regarding conflict ever happens on email. Or, if they stopped you in the hall and blasted you, take them out for coffee. Call them and tell them you would like to learn from them and address the issue in person. Or, if they got mad at a meeting, go for lunch after. Nine times out of ten, you will take the air out of the conflict balloon. And if they’re healthy, and you own whatever you can, you’ll be surprised at how it resolves the situation.

7. Respond with an appropriate comment.

Granted, it is hard not to be defensive when someone criticizes you. What do you say when you get together with your critic? Here are a few statements that you can learn to help you make the right step in learning from your critics while remaining relaxed. These statements let your critics know you are open to their feedback and want to perform better next time. Here are three suggestions:

  • I understand I haven’t lived up to your expectations on this project. How can I do better next time?
  • I’m trying to improve. Please clarify your concerns so I can do better next time.
  • I’d appreciate actionable points with your next feedback.

Responding this way shows that you are not rolling over to become a doormat. It shows you sincerely want to improve.

8. Absorb criticism with grace.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, addressed personal relationships. He stated that when someone slapped you on the cheek, turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). That is hard to do, especially when you have been hurt and offended.

Gary Vaynerchuk provides an excellent example of how to respond to criticism with grace. When Vaynerchuk published his best-selling book Crush It, he received dozens of 1-star and 2-star reviews on Amazon. Negative reviewers claimed that the book was “absolutely awful” and called it a “piece of crap with no value whatsoever.” His book was a best-seller. Rather than fight back and justify his work, Gary decided to respond to many of the negative reviews with a sincere apology. For example, a reader named Frank left a 1-star review for the book in which he complained, “How did this book ever get published?” Vaynerchuk responded to him by saying, “Frank I am so so sorry I underdelivered for you, I hope to meet u and spend 15 minutes apologizing and answering any questions u may have, I guess I needed more details in there for u, I am so sorry.” Despite using grammar from a high school text message, Vaynerchuk ended up getting Frank’s number and called him to talk things over. After their conversation, Frank wrote a follow-up comment on his book review saying, “If Amazon had a people ranking system, I’d have to give Gary 5 stars. One cannot help being impressed by someone who gets back to you so quickly and handles criticism so graciously.”

If you’re going to respond to your critics, then getting a response like that should be your goal. Rather than retaliating with insults, win them back with sincerity. Most people don’t want to be convinced that your work is wonderful; they just want to know that you care.

9. Focus on the task, not the critics.

Many racing experts consider Mario Andretti to be the most successful and versatile racing driver of all-time. During his career, Andretti won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Formula One World Championship, and the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. He is one of only two drivers in history to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR. During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.” When young drivers are starting to race, this is one of the most critical lessons that they learn. When you’re driving at 200mph, you need to focus on the road in front of you. If you look at the wall, then you’ll end up hitting it.

The same is said for your life, your work, and dealing with critics.

Criticism and negativity from other people are like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused. Criticism and negativity don’t prevent you from reaching the finish line, but they can certainly distract you from it.

However, if you focus on the road in front of you and move forward, you can safely speed past the walls and barriers nearby.

When someone dishes out a negative comment, use the feedback to recommit to your work, and to refocus on the road ahead of you. Some people are determined to take things personally and tear down the work of others. Your life is too short to worry about pleasing those people.

Marcus Aurelius said it this way: “The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. Not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.”

10. Know that time answers a lot of criticism.

Time and success have a way of erasing a lot of criticism.

Colonel George Washington Goethals, the man responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal, had big problems with the climate and geography.  But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he’d never finish the project.

Finally, a colleague asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer those critics?”

“In time,” answered Goethals.

“When?” his partner asked.

“When the canal is finished.”

In the end, they don’t build statues to the critic. Robert Fulton’s wife didn’t get one. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

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Responding to the Panic of the Pandemic

In his book Fearless (written in 2009), Max Lucado painted the picture of our fearful generation. He wrote,

Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear. They’re talking lay-offs at work, slow-downs in the economy, flair-ups in the Middle East, turnovers at headquarters, turndowns in the housing market, upswings in global warming, breakouts of al Qaeda cells. Some demented dictator is collecting nuclear warheads the way others collect fine wines. A strain of Asian flu is boarding flights out of China. The plague of our day, terrorism, begins with the word ‘terror.’ We are fearful of being sued, of finishing last, of going broke. We fear the mole on our back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks closer to the grave. We sophisticate investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and legislate stronger military. And yet, today, we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any generation in history.

According to one study that Lucado presented in his book, ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s.

We all are acquainted with fear. No one is exempt. It visits the young and old, the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, and the strong and weak.

“Fear,” according to Paul Moede, “is not a private domain of the weak. It strikes at the best of us. It does not restrict itself to the individual, but sometimes it can be transmitted to others. It is most dangerous, in its ability to slap handcuffs and shackles on us and bound us up in a prison of frustration and hopelessness.”

Fear is a virus. We know about viruses, don’t we? I’m guessing if people were asked two months ago to list their predominate fears, they would have said spiders, public speaking, heights, flying, etc. But, if asked today, the list might be vastly different: contracting the Coronavirus, losing my job, making my mortgage payment, finding toilet paper, etc.

Fear is very much a part of life. It’s a God-given emotion. To be afraid is normal.

In its most common form, fear is an internal warning mechanism that signals danger nearby, and we had better do something about it. It sounds an alarm inside of us to take action and remove ourselves from whatever is threatening us. It readies our bodies to flee, hide, or fight. The intensity of our fear is in direct proportion to the immediacy of the danger.

In the ancient Greek language, the word for fear meant flight. It’s the picture of pheasants being flushed from their nesting areas and taking flight because they have been frightened by the approaching danger of a hunter. It’s the soldier in battle fleeing the enemy when being shot. “Did you hear those bullets?” asked one soldier to another. “Twice,” he said, “once when they went past me, and once when I passed them.”

While being afraid is healthy, yet if fear is out of control, it can paralyze. It brings on “cold feet,” makes one a “chicken,” and eats away at one’s “guts.” Fear causes one to miss a sure two-foot putt, a free throw in the closing seconds of a game, a budding opportunity for financial gain, a friendship that could last a lifetime. Fear motivates one to make more money—”just in case;” to always have the resume out—”you never know;” and to look over one’s shoulder—”you can’t trust anyone.” 

Someone described fear as “a small trickle of doubt that flows through the mind until it wears a channel into which all of your thoughts are drained.” Little fears, almost unperceived fears, can build up day-by-day until we find ourselves paralyzed and unable to function.

In broad arenas, fear manifests itself in three ways: something in the past that haunts us, something in the present that upsets us, or something in the future that threatens us. Or, it can be a combination of all three.

Looking at those three domains, what can we do to be confident in the face of our fears?

  1. Considering past mistakes, admit them.

How many of our fears concern themselves with errors and mistakes we have made in the past and the corresponding guilt and fear of discovery? Will someone discover my lack of integrity at work? Will my secret sin be found out? Will my error in judgment cost me the account? Will my affair be discovered? Will my dishonesty catch up with me?

I’ve been there many times. I’ve skirted the line. I’ve taken more than I should. I’ve looked when I shouldn’t have. I’ve added more than I should have.

When our fears concern themselves with past mistakes, what must we do? The proper response is to confess them or admit them. To confess means to admit or concede. It involves stripping away layers of disguise to expose what is really at the center of who we are. Confession is the discipline of making an honest appraisal of ourselves.

In my line of work, we often say that confession is good for the soul. It is. It’s therapeutic. At recovery meetings, one begins by saying, “Hello, my name is Rick. I’m an alcoholic.” I was reading this past week about a man trapped in pornography. He tried to stop on his own. A leader of a ministry that specializes in sexual purity told him: “One hundred percent disclosure in brokenness, humility, continued transparency, and confession to the people you care about is the only way out.” Confession is cathartic. It’s a bold move, but it wipes the slate clean. Confession provides a new beginning, a fresh start. It’s not only good for you personally; it’s right for you professionally.

When New York’s Citicorp tower was completed in 1977, it was the seventh tallest building in the world. Many structural engineers hailed the tower for its technical elegance and singular grace. The structural engineer was William J. LeMessurier. One year after the building opened, LeMessurier came to a frightening realization. The Citicorp tower was flawed. Without his approval, joints that should have been welded were bolted. Under severe winds that happen once every sixteen years to New York, the building would buckle.

LeMessurier weighed his options. If he blew the whistle on himself, he faced lawsuits, probable bankruptcy, and professional disgrace. He gave fleeting thoughts to suicide but dismissed that as the coward’s way out. He could keep silent and hope for the best. But lives were at stake.

He did what he had to do. He came clean. He confessed the mistake. Plans were drawn up to correct the problem. Work began. And three months later, the building was strong enough to withstand a storm of the severity that hits New York once every seven hundred years.

The repairs cost millions of dollars. Nevertheless, LeMessurier’s career and reputation were not destroyed but enhanced. One engineer commended LeMessurier for being a man who dared to say, “I got a problem; I made the problem; let’s fix the problem.”

  1. Considering present pressures, display courage.

How many of our fears concern themselves with the immediate need for protection and comfort? In other words, some of our fears have to do with our present. Will I be adequate in making the presentation? Will I pass the exam? Will she accept my proposal? Will I make the putt? Will they hire me after the job interview? Will I make the pass or hit the note or be able to do the routine? These are the fears of the present, fears of adequacy.

I have to be honest with you. I get fearful every time I stand to give a talk. My palms become sweaty; my blood pressure rises, my stomach develops knots—the fear of speaking in public. I want to do well. I want to be effective. I want people to respond to my message. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t.

What do I do? I display courage.

It’s been said that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to walk on despite it. Mark Twain wrote, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” Plato stated that courage knows what to fear. Just because one is courageous does not imply that they are operating without fear.

Karle Wilson Baker penned:

Courage is armor

A blind man wears;

The calloused scar

Of outlived despairs

Courage is fear

That has said its prayers.

Courage confronts fear head-on. Basil King, in The Conquest of Fear, wrote, “Be bold—and mighty forces will come to your aid.” James Coleman stated, “The brave person is not the one who experiences no fear, but the one who acts courageously despite fear.”

We see courage displayed every day considering the Coronavirus. Doctors, nurses, medical personnel are going to clinics and hospitals to treat patients. We see it when First Responders arrive on the scene of a disaster. We see it when military personnel goes to fight battles to protect our freedom. We see it in moms and dads providing for and protecting their families.

Courage is the muscle of character that flexes to give individuals, families, and nations their strength to continue amid overwhelming odds.

General George Patton said, “The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That is the time to listen to every fear you can imagine. When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead.”

  1. Considering future threats, walk on.

Does not many of our fears have to do with the uncertainty of things we cannot see or do not know? Aren’t many of our fears hidden in the darkness, both real and imagined? If you’ve ever walked into a room in total darkness, there will be hesitation, caution, and apprehension because you are fearful about making a wrong turn or walking into something. The same would not be true when the lights were on. It is the same way in life, there are troubling, dark times in which fear is increased because we don’t know which way to turn or which way to go. The tomorrows of life are often shrouded in fear. Will I get a job when I graduate? Will I have a job next week? Will I ever get married? Will I contract the virus? Will I be able to send my children to college? Will I be ready to retire? Will the test come back negative?

With looming threats, what must we do? We walk toward our fears. We walk on despite our fears.

In recounting his life long struggle to gain victory over his old enemy rheumatic heart disease, H. C. Brown stated that a friend shared this helpful philosophy for attacking fears: “The way to defeat your fear is to walk toward it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson was right. “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

In the last few weeks, as I’ve been making my rounds as a workplace chaplain, the main topic of conversation has been on the virus. Onsite visits that should take two hours have been taking three to four hours. People need and want to talk. They want their fears relieved. They want to be comforted and reminded that this too shall pass.

I’ve told them that this crisis had taught me that much is outside of my control. But the only thing I can control is my response to these events. I can respond in fear, or I can answer in faith. I choose to respond in faith. Faith is the antithesis of fear. Fear and faith cannot cohabitate.  If we want to dispel fear, we must display faith. It takes faith to admit our failures, to show courage, and to walk on despite our fear.

I hope and pray that you too will walk in faith.

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Thriving in a Crisis: 7 Seeds of Opportunity

John D. Rockefeller was barely two years into his first job when the Panic of 1857 struck. Rockefeller could have become depressed and paralyzed by the unfortunate circumstances of a declining economy. But instead of lamenting the timing of the economic upheaval, he chose to perceive events differently than his peers. He looked at them as an opportunity to learn. He often said, “I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.” Within 20 years of that first crisis, Rockefeller alone controlled 90 percent of the oil market. He found an opportunity in a crisis.

The coronavirus crisis has plunged us all into a global health catastrophe and an economic downturn. It has dramatically redefined what a normal life means. It would be helpful for us to look for the opportunity in this disaster. At such times, it’s useful to realize that in both Chinese and Japanese, the word crisis is written with two symbols signifying “danger” and “opportunity.” Every crisis, while deeply unsettling, contains the seeds of opportunity. 

Here are seven seeds of opportunity to plant as you face your crisis.

  1. Reflect on who you are.

Several years ago, three dedicated Christian businessmen in my church lost their jobs. After several weeks of job searching, they came to me individually to talk. Interestingly, each wanted to know what I thought about him leaving the business sector and enrolling in seminary to pursue a ministerial vocation. As they spoke, my questions were: “Why are you considering such an alternative? Why are you thinking of this option currently in your life? What caused you to consider such a career change?” One common thread ran through each man’s story. Each prefaced his remarks by saying, “You know, I’ve been doing a lot of serious thinking lately.”

These were fine Christian laymen. Eventually, they found jobs, and none enrolled in seminary. But by their admission, it took the loss of a job to jar them out of complacency to ask reflective questions.

Crises provide us with an opportunity to reflect on who we are and where we are going. They offer the pause to consider other options and avenues.

2. Reconsider what you have accepted.

Lowell “Bud” Paxson was running an AM radio station in Clearwater, Florida. In 1977, one of his advertisers found himself in a financial crunch and could not afford to pay for airtime. Instead, he offered Bud what seemed a desperate deal. He would pay for the airtime in the currency he had: Rival can openers.

What can a radio station do with a box of red can openers? Bud might have simply sent them back and put his collections department on the advertiser. He could have given them away as gifts to his other corporate customers. But instead, he instructed one of his hosts to sell the can openers on the air.

To everyone’s surprise, this desperate move proved a brilliant one. The can openers sold faster than anyone expected and gave Bud a radical new business model. Instead of selling
advertising to customers who sold products, maybe Bud could just sell the products himself!

A few years later, Bud got the financial backing to launch a cable channel to pursue this business model fully. The channel, named the “Home Shopping Network” (today HSN), would simply sell products on the air 24 hours per day.

The outcome of this story is well known. HSN quickly took off. It was soon carried by cable companies around the country and then expanded into other languages and countries. It spurned an entirely new media category.

Crises allow us to break comfortable patterns of behavior. Had Bud simply been paid in cash, he would have no reason to try selling can openers on air. He would have probably continued doing what he was doing, selling advertising. We feel no urge to change what seems to be working, so when our options are acceptable, we repeat what we’ve done before.

In this dilemma lies the gift of crisis. It provides the opportunity to reconsider what we have accepted.

3. Rise to the top.

A crisis has a way of letting the cream rise to the top. During a disaster, those with the right skill sets and talent—even if they are not the identified leaders or top performers—have a way of rising to meet the challenge, to showcase their skills, to bloom where they are planted, to get the best from others.

Pro football player Kurt Warner was cut from the Green Bay Packers in 1994 and took the only job he could, bagging groceries for $5.50/hour at a local store in Iowa. He then spent the next three seasons as an undrafted football player in the Arena Football and NFL Europe leagues. In 1999, the St. Louis Rams returned from finishing last with a 4-1 record to starting their season in crisis. Their starting quarterback, Trent Green, tore his ACL during a pre-season game. It looked as if the team were on the verge of another disastrous season. Newly signed, second-string quarterback Kurt Warner answered the call that season, throwing for 4,353 yards, 41 touchdown passes, and winning 13 games. Then he won the Super Bowl by attempting 45 passes without an interception and throwing two touchdowns for a record 414 yards. Kurt Warner went from supermarket bagboy to Super Bowl MVP, and the Rams, a mediocre team at best, coalesced around their unexpected leader to rise to the challenge and beat the odds to transform into world champions.

Crises provide the opportunity for under the radar people to shine, to show their worth, and to excel when others thought they couldn’t.

4. Reconnect with people. 

Too often, when faced with a crisis, the human tendency is to isolate ourselves from others, going into hiding. It’s during these times; we most need to connect with others for help, support, encouragement, and strength. Especially, people who provide a mentoring, coaching, and directional role. These people see our blind spots. They love us enough not to let us make stupid mistakes. 

I once faced a personal crisis, stemming from a person who was verbally attacking me with lies and innuendoes. This tension was creating stress at home and frustration in every area of my life. I was mad. I had lunch with my close friend Wilbur and splattered my anger all over him and how I wanted to unload on my enemy. Being the genuine, mature friend that he was, he let me erupt. Tactfully, Wilbur pointed out to me how destructive such an attack would be. He loved me enough to prevent me from making a stupid mistake.

A crisis provides an opportunity to seek out those people who will encourage us and inspire us to be the best we can be.

5. Receive a blessing.

All too often, I cannot correctly interpret what is going on in life at the moment. It is difficult to make sense of all the pain and trials that come my way. Sometimes I cannot tell if what’s happening to me is a blessing or a curse, especially if I am in the midst of a crisis.

When I was playing high school basketball, I collided with a teammate going for a loose ball. He came out of the collision, barely scathed. I, on the other hand, had busted my lip, and my two front teeth were dislodged with one hanging on by the nerve. Rushed to a dentist, he stitched up my mouth and put my teeth back where they belonged.

What appeared to be a horrible accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Before that night, a noticeable gap was visible between my two front teeth. When the dentist repositioned my teeth, he was able to align them, so there was no gap. I walked away from his office with a bruised face, stitches in my lip, and a new smile.

As a boy, Thomas Edison received a blow on his ear that impaired his hearing. But later, he believed his deafness was a blessing, saving from distractions. Now, he could concentrate, resulting in some of the great inventions.

Victor Hugo, a literary genius of France, was exiled from his country by Napoleon. But out of that period of exile arose some of his most creative works. When he later returned home in triumph, he asked, “Why was I not exiled earlier?”

Helen Keller became blind and deaf, faced obstacle after obstacle in her life. However, on more than one occasion, she confided, “I thank God for my obstacles, for through them, I have found myself, my work and my God.”

George Frederick Handel was at a low point in his life. His money was gone, and his creditors hounded him, threatening him with imprisonment. His right side became paralyzed, and his health deteriorated. For a brief time, he wanted to give up. Amid the darkness, he picked himself up and began to do the only thing he knew to do—write music. And out of that despair, he wrote the oratorio known as Messiah, which many consider the most significant piece of church music in history.

Crises often reveal blessings. When the current of the crisis moves the sand, we often discover a treasure.

6. React with perseverance.

On a consumer flight from Portland, Maine, to Boston, the pilot heard an unusual noise near the rear of the aircraft. Henry Dempsey turned the controls over to his co-pilot and went back to check it out. As he reached the tail section, the plane hit an air pocket, and Dempsey was tossed against the rear door. He quickly discovered the source of the mysterious noise. The back door had not been appropriately latched before takeoff, and it fell open. Dempsey was instantly sucked out of the jet.

The co-pilot, seeing the red light on the control panel that indicated an open door, radioed the nearest airport requesting permission to make an emergency landing. He reported that Dempsey had fallen out of the plane and requested that a helicopter be dispatched to search the area of the ocean.

After the plane had landed, the ground crew found Henry Dempsey holding onto the outdoor ladder of the aircraft. Somehow, he had caught the ladder and managed to hold on for 10 minutes as the plane flew 200mph at an altitude of 4,000 feet. What is more, as the plane made its approach and landed, Dempsey had kept his head from hitting the runway, a mere 12 inches away. According to news reports, it took several airport personnel more than a few minutes to pry the pilot’s fingers from the ladder.

That is a picture of perseverance—the ability to hang on when it would have been more natural to let go.

A crisis provides us with an opportunity to keep going when it would be easier to give up. So, don’t quit. Never give up. Keep going. Hold on. Like Henry Dempsey, do not let go.

7. Respond in faith.

Crises, by their very nature, are frightening and threatening. There is a tendency to retreat to the past—what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is known.  

When the Israelites left Egypt in a mad dash, the Red Sea stopped them. They faced a crisis of monumental proportions. What would they do? They panicked, fearing the unknown. They wanted to retreat–to go back to Egypt. God says to Moses, their leader, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward” (Ex. 14:15 NASB). They chose to move forward in faith.

Some forty years later, the Israelites confronted another body of water—the Jordan River, not as big as the Red Sea and with no one pursuing them from the rear.  But, they, nevertheless, were apprehensive. To Joshua, leading the children of Israel into the unchartered area of the Promised Land, God said, “Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own” (Jos. 1:11 NIV). 

Crises are a prime opportunity to display faith. To move past the dangers to meet the possibilities of a new day, to move ahead in life, to grow, always requires faith. As we respond in faith, the unknown becomes known, the darkness becomes light, the night becomes day. Faith is like walking toward an automatic sliding door which only opens as we move toward it. 

Facing a crisis feels like life’s rug jerked from under us. But remember, God is under the rug. He will catch you, support you, encourage you, and soften the blow of the fall. You can count on him for that. He can be trusted.

Let me close with an Oswald Chamber’s quote: “It is no use to pray for the old days; stand square where you are and make the present better than any past has been. Base all on your relationship to God and go forward, and presently you will find that what is emerging is infinitely better than the past ever was.”

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The One Cure for Loneliness

Is it possible to have a million friends on Facebook and countless followers on Instagram but no real friends? Is it possible to go to work surrounded by dozens of people and have no genuine support? It’s not only possible; it’s real every day. And, it’s become a dangerous crisis in America.

Researchers contend that social isolation and loneliness may represent a more significant public health hazard than obesity. Some researchers argue that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other studies reveal that loneliness is involved in everything from depression, alcoholism, strokes, decreased immune system, and early death. John Corry, in the New York Times, wrote, “Loneliness seems to have become the great American disease.”

The settlers of the North American western frontier learned this reality the hard way. When the challenge to “Go west, young man” came, many left the security and safety of home to stake their claims on the frontier. The settlers built their houses in the middle of their homestead (miles from the nearest family). The settlers, from their new homes, wanted to survey all of their property and say with pride, “As far as I can see, that is mine.” But in time, isolation proved to be a far cry from ideal. When photographers returned from those lonely houses, they showed pictures of wild-eyed women, stooped, gaunt, prematurely older men, and haunted-looking children. Isolation proved difficult.

Why? We are a relational people. We were made and designed to be in relationship with others. A lack of relationships produces isolation. As difficult as people can be, we need each other. Have you ever said, “I love my job; it’s the people I can’t stand”? Or, “If it weren’t for the people, this would be the greatest workplace in the world.” Or, maybe you’ve said, “What I wish I could do is go to a remote spot, build me a cabin, and live alone. Then, I would be happy. I would find peace.” Before you do that, let me remind you that the worst and cruelest punishment is solitary confinement. Loneliness is a threat to your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Many people suffer from loneliness because they have lost their sense of community. Numerous sociologists have observed that most Americans don’t experience meaningful involvement with a community of people.

Consider once again the settlers on the western frontier. As time went on, the early settlers benefited enormously by building their homes nearer each other. They erected their homes on the corner of their property rather than in the center. Four families, living on the edge of their farms near neighbors, could survive much more comfortably if they loosened their grip on independence. When they came together—being a community—meant hope, security, and survival.

When I moved 600 miles to attend seminary, I did not know a soul. The city was extensive. The people seemed distant and unfriendly. I left behind all my support systems. I was miserable. I was lonely and depressed. A professor told me, “We can make a heaven or hell where we are, but it’s up to us.” God seemed to impress on me that my past support systems—school friends, church friends, family relationships—did not happen overnight. They took years to develop. New ones would not occur immediately, either. The key was involvement and commitment to those relationships. I decided to make a heaven out of my new location. I joined the church I had been attending. I got involved in a small group. I volunteered to serve. I joined a tennis club to stay in shape and to meet new people. Then, along with two other friends at the seminary, we had lunch one day a week at a different restaurant. In time, the feelings of loneliness dissipated. I was enjoying life. The city that I thought was cold and unfriendly became my home for seven years.

Human survival depends on connectedness, with feelings of loneliness serving as a biological signal to socialize. Meaningful, high-quality relationships have the most significant protective health effect on humans. You and I need community. We are doomed without it.

Instead of counting your friends on Facebook, make some real connections, and build a community. It’s the means of survival.

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What to do when you are lonely

Every week people go to work surrounded by people. Unbeknownst to many, they are dealing with loneliness. They might cover it over with busyness, jokes, activity, and work, but hiding beneath the surface is the monster of loneliness.

Loneliness is the most desolate word in the world. It’s no one’s friend but everyone’s acquaintance. Loneliness eats at one’s inside, bringing a vacuum of emptiness. It causes a gnawing hunger of wanting to belong, to be understood, and to be loved.

Max Lucado defined loneliness as “not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

Americans are lonely. Health insurer Cigna’s 2018 US Loneliness Index found that 46% of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always, and 47% report feeling left out sometimes or always. A little less, 43 % report feeling isolated from others, and the same number report feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning. 

Putting those statistics into perspective, look at the person next to you: Statistically, one of you is lonely. Now, if almost 50% of the US population suffered from the flu, we would call that a pandemic. Loneliness in America is a pandemic with the health consequences of the flu.

Researchers contend that social isolation and loneliness may represent a more significant public health hazard than obesity. Some researchers argue that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other studies reveal that loneliness is involved in everything from depression, alcoholism, strokes, decreased immune system, and early death.

If you are feeling the pangs of loneliness, let me offer you a few suggestions to deal with loneliness. In my work as a workplace chaplain, I’ve found the following actions invaluable in helping people deal with loneliness.

Socially—Invest in a few high priority relationships. You don’t need a lot of close connections to overcome loneliness, but you do need a few contacts. I call these folks your “2 am friends.” People you can call in the middle of the night, and they will come to your aid. Focus on quality over quantity. Make it several, so you are not always leaning on the same person.

Physically—Practice continuous self-care. Loneliness causes you to withdraw from others and to ignore your physical self. When lonely, the tendency is not to eat healthily, exercise correctly, or sleep adequately. Refuse to do this. Find a buddy or a partner, someone that will hold you accountable to stay physically healthy.

Mentally—Engage your mind. Stimulate your mind. Find outlets from reading to studying to discussion groups that will keep you mentally alert.

Vocationally—Utilize your time. When lonely, resist the temptation to do nothing. Loneliness tends to paralyze you if you sit around and do nothing. Do you realize that many great works have been accomplished in the lonely moments of life because that person utilized their time? Paul Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in a prison cell. Beethoven and Mozart wrote many of their great musical pieces while fighting off periods of intense loneliness. Abraham Lincoln experienced loneliness as President, but led America through a bleak period in its history, emerging as one of the great presidents of all time.

Emotionally—Minimize the hurt. Loneliness is painful. It’s often brought on by rejection from people closest to you. People who once accepted you, but now have rejected you. Sometimes loneliness rears its ugly head because of circumstances, often beyond your control, others that blindside you, others that you know are coming—like death—but there’s so little you can do to prepare for it. What do you do then? Refuse to dwell on the hurt. Don’t allow loneliness to make you bitter or allow resentment to build up in your life.

Relationally—Focus on other people’s needs. When lonely, it’s easy to focus on your needs. Instead of looking at yourself, look to others. Look for ways to help, to serve, to give to others. Volunteer in a worthy cause. Serve in a homeless shelter. Visit people in nursing homes. 

Personally—Learn to enjoy your own company. Boredom adds weight to loneliness. I define boredom as the inability to have fun with yourself. It’s not true that you can only be happy if you’re with others. There’s a lot of worth to enjoying your own company. Experiment with ways of having a good time alone. Walk in a park, create something, exercise, take a day trip, treat yourself to your favorite meal, visit a museum. Find a hobby.

Spiritually—Keep your soul intact. Scripture reading and devotional literature are a great source of strength and comfort when dealing with loneliness. When reading the Bible, take special note of the Psalms. David, the author of many of the Psalms, had bouts of loneliness. His meditations can help you.

The monster of loneliness does not have to win. Take the proactive steps today to destroy the beast and get on with your life. If your company has a workplace chaplain, seek him or her out to talk about this matter. Visit with your pastor or see a counselor. Take action today.

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8 Ways to Practice Servant Leadership

Robert Greenleaf, in the early 70s, coined the term servant leader. He wrote, “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

Max De Pree, the long-time CEO of Herman Miller, echoed a similar thought in his book Leadership Is an Art, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

In a world that values authority, position, and power, servant leadership turns those values on its head. It’s a radical and revolutionary concept. But, it’s an invaluable asset in leading and managing others.

I came to understand this concept early in life. My Daddy owned a shoe store. His core business was to meet the needs of others through selling shoes. And, he did a pretty good job of it. I remember many a day arriving at the store with him and having to weave our way through thirty or forty women waiting to get in to purchase shoes.

When I was in graduate school and needing work, it only made sense for me to work in a shoe store. Whereas my Daddy’s store sold shoes off the rack, my new place of employment was the high-end shoe store where the salesperson measured, retrieved, and fitted the customer with the right shoes.

I learned some invaluable lessons from my shoe clerking days about servant leadership.

  • Act in humility.

As a shoe clerk, I knelt before the customer, took off their shoes, measured their feet, retrieved shoes, and placed them on their feet. It was an act of humility.

It’s worth remembering the root of the word humility is humus, meaning dirt or soil. Humility is not thinking lowly of ourselves but thinking accurately of ourselves. It doesn’t mean we are dirt; it means we get down on the dirt.

The servant-leader humbles themselves in spite of their positional role. Some leaders often think their position gives them a vaulted authority and higher right. Often this action produces negative consequences because the leader has assumed the responsibility that is not given. They have usurped their boundaries because of a title. Instead, the position a true servant leader is not first but last, not demanding authority but humbling themselves before others. The servant-leader knows titles, degrees, and jobs are meaningless without an attitude of grace and actions that assist others. The servant leader doesn’t wear a title to show who’s in charge, doesn’t think he’s or she’s better than everyone else.

  • Lead with others in mind.

As a shoe clerk, the customer came first. I was to fit them with the shoes they wanted or needed, regardless of my likes or tastes.

The servant leader’s motivation is love for others. Love always puts the needs of others ahead of your own. The leader displays this love through time spent in knowing and responding to the needs of others. Sacrifices of time, money, and prestige are made because of their passion for the people in their care. This love distinguishes genuine leaders.

  • Listen to people.

As a shoe clerk, I listened to what the customer wanted. Dress or casual or play shoes? Then, I retrieved the right size and color. Once the shoe was on the feet, I felt the foot to see if the shoes fit correctly. I instructed the customer to walk in the new shoes, as I observed the fit. 

Servant leaders listen receptively and nonjudgmentally. They listen because they genuinely want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve. They listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed. One of the critical traits of a servant leader is listening not only to the words but to the heart.

  • Affirm others.

Once the shoes were on the feet of the customer, I affirmed their selection, providing the appropriate compliments and encouragement.

A hallmark of servant leadership is affirmation. Instead of trying to catch someone doing something wrong, servant leaders look for what people are doing right and tell them. They appreciate them. Most people long to be recognized. And, words of encouragement, coming from a leader, can produce powerful and productive goodwill.

  • Treat everyone with respect.

I, the shoe clerk, treated every customer with respect and dignity, regardless of age, appearance, or aptitude.

No matter age, status, popularity, or seniority, the servant leader responds to all with the same level of admiration and decorum. They make time for others. They allow for interruptions. They value people. They treat all with dignity.

  • Mentor others in their development.

When the shoe store hired new employees, it became my responsibility to train and to equip the new hire in the art of attending to the customers’ needs in the shoe purchasing process.

The servant-leader teaches, trains, and coaches others. They show others how to lead through serving. They provide opportunities for personal growth. Leaders use all situations to teach, train, and mentor people to maturity.

  • Cultivate a culture of trust.

I learned quickly in my shoe selling days that I would benefit greatly from returning customers and their referrals. Therefore, through my expertise, kindness, respect, and grace, I sought to build a culture of trust. In time, my customers returned to purchase more shoes and recommended my services to friends and family.

Trust is a needed trait in businesses. Establishing a trusting atmosphere enables the company to move forward. Part of this comes as leaders are faithful to the task and responsibilities assigned to them.

  • Care for others.

As a shoe clerk, I wanted to meet the needs of the customer and for them to have a positive buying experience. I cared for them.

We’ve all heard the famous quote, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Being knowledgeable does not make a good leader; being caring does. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek said, “Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” Servant leaders display kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders genuinely care for the people they serve. And, when the leader takes care of his people, they will take care of the customers.

Successful leaders maintain a servant’s heart and thus encourage their people to do the same. Imagine what your business’s culture would look like if you and all of your team become servant leaders. What impact would this have on your customers’ experiences? Only good can come from you showing your people what it means to serve first. I challenge you to explore ways to foster servant leadership in your leadership style and among your team as well.

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Service Leads to Blessing

For Jesus, service was not a peripheral issue, not just a neon sign splashing half-truth in a window of self-indulgence. When it came to service, he meant business. Near the end of his ministry, James and John asked to sit in positions of power and authority.  Jesus responded to all twelve disciples: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-44 ESV). The pagans measured greatness by how much power and authority a person has.  But it shall not be so among you.  If you want to great in the Kingdom of God, you must be the servant of all.

Jesus’ radical statement was revolutionary because it turned the world’s completely upside down. The world measures greatness in terms of size, power, and authority. God measured it in terms of service. 

As though his statement about radical serving was not enough, Jesus modeled servanthood. The night before his Crucifixion, he gathered with his disciples for the Passover Meal. During the meal, as the twelve disciples lounged on cushions around the low table, Jesus stood up, took off his cloak, and tied up his long gown with a towel. He poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel. When he finished, he put his cloak back on and sat down at his place. He told them that he had set an example that they should do as he had done for them.

The disciples clearly would have seen what he meant. He had acted out for them a fundamental truth of Christianity. The job of washing feet was filthy. People didn’t bathe very often. They wore no shoes or only sandals. People’s feet were dirty and smelly, and it was a demeaning job to have to wash them. The task became the responsibility of the lowliest servant in the household.

Jesus voluntarily took the lowly position, the position of lowest status and prestige. He put aside his due rank and privilege and became the lowly one.

The late Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators, visited Taiwan on one of his overseas trips.  During the visit, he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians.  The roads and trails were wet, and their shoes became very muddy.  Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman.  Without hesitation, the man replied, “He cleaned my shoes.”

How surprised this humble national pastor must have been to arise the next morning and to realize that the Christian leader from America had risen before him and cleaned the mud from his shoes.  Such a spirit of servanthood marked Dawson Trotman throughout his Christian life. 

Service, in the vocabulary of the world, is often synonymous with duty, a necessary chore. And to many in our hypersensitive society, the label servant is offensive. To them, it would mean belonging to a lower class of people. They would think it demeaned their status in life, marked them as “common people.” And, consequently, avoided at all costs.

Don’t avoid service; embrace it. Service is an act of worship. We often refer to a worship service. And in business, we speak of customer service. This fact is no accident.

Serving people is not dissimilar than what happens in a worship service. People get down on their knees. Jesus said right after he washed the disciples’ feet, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17 ESV). Interestingly, the Hebrew word for blessing is the same as the word for knee: berech. Because going down on your knee is a way of serving. It should not be considered a menial or degrading gesture. Instead, it is one to take joy in because we know we are serving another of God’s children. The result is a blessing or favor from God.

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