4 Thoughts On Finding a Mentor

I have had many mentors who have invested deeply in my life. I am who I am partly because of the intentionality of others pouring into my life. They have made me a better leader, better husband, father, friend, and person.

One of my more recent mentors was a godly businessman who agreed to meet with me periodically. He didn’t even think he had anything to offer me, but as I observed his life and ways I knew he did. He was twenty plus years older than me, had been extremely successful, and his leadership skills were off the charts. So, of course, I could learn from him. And, I did.

One of the more frequent questions I receive is how do I find this kind of mentor?

Well, I think they are all around, but if you want to find a mentor, you’ll have to be intentional.

Here are a few things to consider:

Observe people – Who are people already in your life? You go to church with them? You see them in business or social circles? They are in a civic club you attend? They work out at your gym? Most likely you have potential mentors around you if you are consciously looking for them.

A word to my pastor friends. I do not believe every mentor in your life has to be another pastor. We may be thinking too highly of our profession if we can’t learn leadership (or life) principles from those in secular positions. Obviously, we should choose mentors who have high character and integrity, but we can learn from those who are not in ministry. Some of the godliest people I know are in the business world – and I’m glad they are – and I can learn from them.

Find someone with qualities you aspire to have. Think of an area where you feel you need to grow and look for people who seem to have excelled in those areas. In my experience, they will often share with you times of difficulty in getting to where they are today. You’ll learn from their challenges.

I once recruited a mentor simply because he was one of the most humble people I had ever met. It was a quality I admired and wanted to emulate in my life. I knew I could become proud if I’m not careful and I had observed him to be both successful and humble. And, that’s what I told him in our initial lunch meeting together. I wanted to hang out with him because I had observed him to be both. Simple. Honest. And, it proved to be effective. This man and I no longer live in the same city and yet he continues to check on me periodically and every time he encourages me.

Ask them to meet with you. I usually find a hesitation in people in making the first ask, but equally true has been how receptive people seem to be willing to meet with me when I do. This obviously needs to be reasonable. I probably shouldn’t expect Bill Hybels to mentor me, but there are plenty of pastors (and those who are not pastors) who have much for me to learn if I will make the ask.

If it seems to go well on the “first date”, ask them to meet with you periodically. It doesn’t have to be often. It could be every quarter or every six months. You’ll learn valuable life lessons from them each time you meet.

Know – in a general sense – what you want to learn from this person, but then each time you get together come with questions for the person. You do the work to prepare for meetings unless the person takes this initiative. Most mentors will not feel they know how to mentor you. And, that’s okay, you can take the pressure off of them simply by having good questions, which glean from their experience in whatever area you are trying to grow.

It’s okay to move on when it’s time. This doesn’t have to be a lifetime arrangement. It could be. I have a few mentors who have been in my life for 25 years or more. I don’t speak to them often, but they remain available to me and still periodically invest in my life. I also have had some mentors who were there for a season of my life. When I began to enter the world of adult parenting I had a mentor who walked through how things would be different for Cheryl and me and how I would relate to our sons. I have even been mentored through a change I was leading and my mentor and I only met one time.

I think we over-complicate the subject when we put too many parameters around what a mentoring relationship looks like. It can be a fairly simple process. There’s something you want to learn, find people who seem to have already learned it, meet with them and soak in their experiences, and then repeat often.

If you are serious about being mentored you’ll look for opportunities to allow people to speak into your life. You’ll have many mentors. And, your life will be richer.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

Questions To Help Discern If You Are Ready to be a Leader

I had a young man ask me recently, “Do you think I’m ready to be a leader?”

I said:

Great question. Glad you’re asking. But, honestly, I don’t know that I’m the one to answer your question. Actually, it might help if I ask you some questions.

Here are a few questions – to discern if you’re ready to be a leader?

Are you ready to stand alone at times?

Are you ready to push through fear?

Are you ready to do the right thing even when it’s the unpopular thing?

Are you ready to be misunderstood sometimes – actually, many times?

Are you ready to sacrifice for your team?

Are you ready to see things others may not yet be able to see?

Are you ready to enter the unknown – and are you ready to enter first?

Are you ready to keep confidences?

Are you ready to be looked at for a decision even when you have no idea what to do?

Are you ready to delegate?

Are you ready to lead change – even when it’s uncomfortable?

Are you ready to be overwhelmed at times?

Are you ready to be talked about when you leave the room – in good and bad ways?

Are you ready – and willing – to allow others to receive recognition?

Are you ready for people to befriend you simply for your position?

Are you ready to see all sides of an issue?

Are you ready to sometimes feel like the weight of a vision is on your shoulders?

Are you ready to face conflict?

Are you ready to always have your integrity closely observed by others?

Are you ready to receive criticism?

Are you ready to defend your team?

Are you ready to be a leader?

As Preparation Increases – Stress Decreases

I’ve noticed this principle so many times in my own leadership and in working with other leaders. The more prepared I am to face a situation the less stress I have in the situation.

Take a Sunday sermon, for example. On the weeks I’m able to spend my whole Wednesday and Thursday preparing I’m far less stress when I enter my weekend about the message I’ll be delivering. And, because of that, I discipline myself as much as possible to set these days aside for study.

Of course, that’s not possible every week. There are natural interruptions in life which I can’t and shouldn’t avoid. It’s understanding the principle which is important. Because when I realize the principle I am more likely to work towards seeing it become a reality.

I schedule most of my meetings on Monday and Tuesday. I delegate as much as I can on Wednesday and Thursday. And, perhaps most important, I place on my calendar when I will be studying.

And, this is just one example. It’s also why I use checklists to plan my week and my days. It’s why I am not afraid to say no or wait to non-emergency situations. It’s why I teach the Jethro and Acts 6 principles of leadership to our church. (Look them up for reference if you need a refresher.)

I’m intentional with my schedule and my life mostly because I’ve learned – the hard way – about this important principle.

Preparation decreases stress.

And, makes me a better leader.

Where do you need to increase your preparation so you can decrease your stress?

One Very Sobering Leadership Principle

There is a sobering leadership principle every leader needs to know. Often we learn it the hard way, so I think it might be helpful if I prepare you for it – in case you don’t know.

The fact is:

Who you are in your private life impacts who you are in your professional life.

The the two parts of your life are inseparable.

How many pastors, leaders, or public officials have seen their whole professional world come crashing down around them, because of something which was hidden in their private life? Chances are you know a few names.

You can try to manage two identities – pretending in public everything is okay in private. And, it might work for a time. It never works long-term.

Who you really are will ultimately be discovered. Your personal junk will impact your public world.

Eventually.

“For there is nothing hidden which will not be disclosed” – Jesus (Mark 4:22)

The only real, sustainable solution to this principle is to protect your public life by continually working to protect and improve your private life.

Here’s a sobering question (for you and me) to accompany a sobering leadership principle.

What in your private life has the potential to derail your public life? And, what are you going to do about it?

Monday’s Preparation Brings Friday’s Success

In one of my consulting opportunities I was asked to help someone think strategically. We were looking at this person’s ministry, trying to design a system, which would allow for continual growth and improvement. The ministry had grown rapidly and the leader barely felt she could keep up with her current demands.

She recognized the need to delegate, grow new leaders, and spread out responsibility and ownership, but she couldn’t seem to get past the current demands of details to develop a plan to do so.

Have you ever been there?

While attempting to create a system with her, I think we may have gotten to the root of her problem (and one I’ve had many times personally). She looked at me with complete sincerity and said, “I just don’t have time to prepare…”

Have you ever had that thought?

Do you see the problem with her statement? If you don’t we have a bigger problem on our hands.

Unfortunately, it’s a common misperception of all parts of life. We don’t feel we have time to do the required preparation to do the job right, so we continue in the mediocre success, while drowning in details. The reality, however, is that preparation time is often the most important part of the work.

As corny as it may sound – an inch of preparation is worth a mile of success.

It’s Monday.Take a few minutes to prepare.

It will make the rest of the week much easier and more effective. I start each week with some clear objectives. I want to know what I need to accomplish for the week. These are usually broad and I list them in the form of a checklist. (Sermon, write quarterly newsletter, prepare for staff meeting, prepare for finance meeting, etc.) Once I have this list I break them down by day. Some items, such as my sermon, may require time from multiple days. And, then I start each day with its own checklist.

It’s not complicated, but it is strategic. I find the more deliberate I am to pre-plan my day and week the more productive I feel at the end of the week.

You have time to prepare. I would say you don’t have time to waste not doing so.

5 Vacation Goals for a Leader

I will never forget a sobering question I received a couple years ago. I was on my last day of vacation at the beach and had just finished my last vacation run – vacation runs are the best.

A friend texted me. He’s a great leader and we’ve talked often about leadership issues – and the stress of leadership. When he learned I was heading home from vacation, he asked me a powerful question. I’m not even sure he knew how powerful, but knowing him, he was probably asking with intentionality.

He asked, “Excited to be going back or dreading it?”

My friend wanted to know – and encourage me to think – if my vacation had been successful. He knows the purpose of vacation.

Do you?

What is the purpose of vacation? Another way I might ask this question: What are the goals you have for vacation?

Here are my thoughts.

5 goals of vacation for the leader:

Rest

God has actually given us a Biblical command to rest – to Sabbath. It’s as if He knows something about what we need. (Duh!) You may not “rest” like everyone else, but everyone should rest. This particular friend who texted me was also returning from vacation. He does something that I think shows he understands his need for rest. He leaves his work cell phone with his administrative assistant when he goes on vacation. How cool is that? I know because I texted him while he was gone and she texted me back. Intentional. Love it. Rest should be a huge goal of taking a vacation. We all need it.

Reconnect

Vacation should allow us time to restore relationships to maximum health. With God. With family. With ourself. The busyness of life can strain relationships. Vacation gives you the opportunity to pause and get back to optimum health with the most important relationships in our life. On vacation, I talk to God more. I spend deeper quality time with Cheryl. We date more intensely – ask each other more questions. In years past, I got to spend more time with my boys on vacation. (I’m an empty nester now.) But, vacation helps me reconnect to those I love the most.

Play

We all need to play – regardless of our age. Before knee surgery I ran more on vacation. That was my form of play. Now I’m into biking. I look for places to rent bikes when I’m out of town. You may not be a runner or a biker, but you have things you enjoy doing that aren’t work. (A friend of mine got a Lego set for Father’s Day. Cool!) Playing enhances my mental energies, my creativity, and my enjoyment of life. Making time to play – with whatever you enjoy doing – is a great goal for vacations.

Dream

What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to doing in the future? One of Cheryl and my greatest enjoyments on vacation is dreaming about where we see ourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, into retirement. We also dream where we could see our boys and their families. We dream about careers, personal interests, places we’d love to travel. Dreaming stretches our mind and heart towards each other and energizes us about our future together. A great vacation goal is to take time to dream.

Rejuvenate

Vacation should help you reengage with your work when you return. That’s the understanding my friend had about vacation. And, it is a huge goal. This will be hard to say to some, and some may disagree, but if you leave vacation dreading going back to work, it may be you don’t know how to do vacation or you’re in the wrong job. It’s work. I get that. We all have Mondays we dread. The day back doesn’t have to be the most fun day at work ever, but a goal of vacation is to help us recover so we can gather more energies to do the work we were designed to do.

Does that describe your vacation?

What goals do you have for vacation?

4 Ways to Process The Emotions of Betrayal as a Leader

I was reading a Bible passage the other day and, as I read, I had the weirdest emotional response to the text. I realize Scripture is supposed to impact us this way – if we allow it to – but, suddenly I was feeling a stirring in my stomach. I became slightly nervous. It was a brief encounter, but I quickly realized I was being reminded of a few very painful experiences in my own leadership and life.

I was recalling the emotions of betrayal.

To understand the passage, it helps to be able to count to twelve. (Or at least eleven.)

Here’s the passage:

And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.Acts 1:13

Do you see what jumped out at me?

Count them. There are eleven names. Eleven. Not twelve.

One name is missing. One person was no longer in the group. And, I remembered why.

For three years there were twelve. They had been Jesus’ disciples. His closest companions. His trusted friends. Jesus had invested time, energy and life into them. Now there were eleven. One was missing.

The betrayer.

If you don’t know the story, another named Judas betrayed Jesus. For a hefty sum of money he handed Jesus to the authorities where He was arrested, beaten and crucified. Of course, it was used for a divine purpose, but the fact is one of the disciples betrayed the others and Jesus.

I don’t think I ever considered this before, but what were the emotions of betrayal for the remaining disciples? Did they miss their friend? In spite of his betrayal, he was a close companion on a mission. A team member. There must have been some attachment. Were there moments of bitterness, anger, or rage? Were they sad? Was there one in particular who got hurt most? He was closest to the betrayer, perhaps, (I don’t know. But, I do know people and team dynamics so it prompts me to ask the questions.)

As I reflected on their experience, I couldn’t help remembering some of my own times of betrayal. There have been a few significant, very painful times in leadership (and life) where I was severely disappointed by people I trusted most.

But, that was my experience reading the text that morning and this post is really about you.

Have you ever experienced the emotions of betrayal?

We don’t talk about it much in leadership or ministry, but maybe we should. Those emotions are real. They are heavy. And, they are common.

Have you been hurt by your own betrayer? You trusted him or her. You may have even called them friend. They let you down. Disappointed you. Betrayed you.

Anyone who has served in any leadership position has experienced betrayal at some level. It could have been the gossip started by a supposed friend or a pointed and calculated stab in the back. Either way it hurts.

Learning to deal with, process, and mature through betrayal may be one of the more important leadership issues, yet we seldom deal with the issue.

How do you handle betrayal?

Here are a few quick suggestions:

Grieve

Give yourself time to process. Be honest about the pain. Don’t pretend it didn’t matter. It does. You were injured by someone you trusted – maybe someone you love.

Forgive

As much as it hurts, refusing to forgive or holding a grudge will hurt you more than the betrayer. (And, if you are a believer you have no option. It’s a command of God.) Embrace and extend grace. Let it go! If there are realistic consequences you can let those occur, but in your heart let it go. Forgiveness is a choice not dependent on the other person’s response. It is the most freeing decision you can make. It may take time to do this, but the longer you delay the more you are still held captive by the betrayal.

Analyze

It is good at a time of betrayal to consider what went wrong. Was it an error in judgement? Do you need stricter guidelines for yourself or those you lead? Would it have happened regardless? You can’t script morality and shouldn’t attempt to, but you should use this as a chance for a healthy review of the parameters in which the betrayal occurred.

Continue

You can’t allow a betrayal to distract you from the vision you have been called to complete. But, equally important, don’t allow this time to build up walls where you never trust again or unnecessary structure which burdens the rest of the team. There will always be betrayers as long as there are people. Jesus had them. They show up unexpectedly at times. And, if you read on in Acts, they replaced the twelfth person again. They moved forward in spite of betrayal. Eventually you will have to take a risk on people again. It’s the only way to lead in a healthy way.

Betrayers will come. The way we deal with them often determines the future quality of our leadership.

7 Things Forgiveness IS NOT

I have posted and reposted this for over a decade now. (If you see this list elsewhere, I must offer the reminder this is not the first time I’ve put these in print. I simply bring it forward because it remains such an important topic in leadership and life. 

The fact is, we get confused about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Maybe we don’t really know sometimes.

I would contend forgiveness is not an option for the believer. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. For most of us (all of us if we will admit it), there’s a whole lot of forgiveness which has been extended to us.

Understanding forgiveness doesn’t make it easier to forgive, but it does make it more meaningful – perhaps even tolerable. I believe understanding the process could make us more likely to offer the forgiveness we are commanded to give.

In the next post I will share elements which are true of forgiveness.

In two posts, I want to share what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

Here are 7 things forgiveness IS NOT:

Forgetting

When you forgive someone your memory isn’t suddenly wiped clean of the offense. I know God can do this – and I’m thankful He can. Honestly, thought, it almost seems forgetting the offense would be the easy way. If we could simply not remember what was done wrong to us by choosing to forgive, who wouldn’t? My suspicion is God wants forgiveness to be more intentional than this.

Regaining automatic trust

You don’t immediately begin to trust the person who injured you when you forgive them. And, if you think about it, that wouldn’t even be logical. Trust is earned, and the person who wronged us must earn trust again.

Removal of consequences

Even though you forgive someone, they may still have consequences to face because of their actions.

Ignoring the offense

You don’t have to pretend nothing happened when you forgive. The reality is an offense was made. Acting like it never occurred only builds resentment and anger.

Instant emotional healing

Emotions heal with time. Some pain runs deep and takes longer to heal. Emotions are not something you can simply choose to control.

Restoring the same relationship

The relationship may be closer than before, but it might not be. One thing is fairly certain – most likely the relationship will never be exactly the same.

A leverage of power

This is huge – and you’ll need to read the next post to fully grasp this one. Granting forgiveness does not give a person power over the person being forgiven. That would violate the entire principle and purpose of forgiveness.

Look for the companion post 7 Things that Forgiveness Is.

Just a note before you get there: This post may have seemed easy, even freeing, but the next one may be more difficult.

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Personal Success

Advice to young leaders

I get asked frequently by young leader what I would you attribute most to my success in business, ministry or life.

Great question. I love people who think. It takes intentionality to achieve much of the success we do in life.

My first thought when I am asked, however, is usually “What success?”.

When I look back at my life, in many ways, I see a life scarred with personal failures and setbacks. But, over the years I have learned God has blessed me greatly – much in spite and much because of my personal failures.

Let me be clear about something, one of my missions in life is to help younger leaders succeed, so this is my sole motivation for answering this question. I am still very much a work in progress, but as I reflect on where I am midway in my life and career (and approaching a little beyond midway), I can clearly point to some things which have helped me succeed personally.

Here are 7 things which have brought me personal success:

God’s grace

I can’t deny it. It’s really all grace. I do not deserve the favor I have found. His grace has been amazing in my life. And, the more I have pursued Him, allowed Him to have His will in my life, and credited all to His glory the more grace He seems to extend. He’s a generous God.

Other people

I have had so many people invest in me. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve been intentional with networking and wisdom-seeking – always having mentors in my life whom I recruited, but I’ve had great people in my corner to help me along the way. Nothing of value is done without the help of others. And, if your goal is to be a leader – there is no leadership without people.

A little luck

Honestly, I don’t believe much in luck. It IS all grace. I think God is always at work around us, and He certainly has been in my life, but sometimes we find ourselves in “the right place at the right time”. Learning how to capitalize on those times has been key for me. Seize the day and seize the moments. Every moment and every connection you make is an opportunity – and sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Purpose

I have usually known what I ultimately want to accomplish. I believe you hit more targets when you have them in site. Sometimes this has been a few months down the road or a few years down the road, but I’ve most always tried to keep some direction in front of me – as much as God will allow me to see at the time. And, you may even get it wrong, but you’ll learn from this too and find a better purpose.

Intentionality

Probably if there were one word to describe how I want to live my life it would be this one. Since I was in high school, I have intentionally pursued opportunities to accomplish where I felt God was leading me. But, I’ve been intentional in every area of my life, not just in my vocation. I think it is critical to living a balanced life (as much as we can achieve balance) and for attaining personal success.

Tenacity

I have weathered a few storms – actually, many storms. My list of failures, setbacks and disappointments is long – some I caused and some which were beyond my control. Every time, again, by God’s grace, I have gotten back up, refocused, learned valuable life principles and moved forward. The longer you dwell on the past and missed opportunities the longer you delay future success.

Commitment to help others

I believe this is huge. I genuinely love helping other people succeed. It’s been a pulling force in my life to do much of what I do. The purpose of this blog, for example, is for this reason. (I seldom look at my analytics. It doesn’t matter except in the sense I’m trying to be purposeful and intentional.) And, here’s the thing – my personal investment in others has always returned to me tenfold.

So, there’s my attempt at an answer to how I have attained any success I have.

What has gotten you where you are today?

5 Reasons Your Dream Life Never Came True

Many of us start out with better dreams than we are currently living.

The fact is I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet people frequently who are always chasing after something – trying to realize their dream – yet they never seem to catch what they are chasing.

Many times – and we are all prone to doing this occasionally – we make excuses better than we make progress.

I think there may be simple reasons some people never realize their dreams.

Here are 5 of the real reasons many dreams never come true:

People quit trying.

They gave up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream – a worthy, God-given dream – realized on the first attempt or without a lot of effort. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance. Dreams are realized with prayer, persistence and perseverance. The best dreams are usually achieved just past the point where average effort stops.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough.

I think sometimes we expect dreams “just to happen”, because we had the dream. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Being lucky isn’t usually a required skill in achieving dreams. You might occasionally be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare. If you have a dream it will be difficult to achieve. Should I say it again? It will be difficult. There will likely be lots of long days, sleepless nights and sweat equity. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves.

Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do. If you want your dream to come true you will have to go for it even when others aren’t as supportive as you would like them to be.

I should not here – this doesn’t mean we discount the voices of others completely. For example, I don’t believe God calls a married couple to competing dreams. He may lay a dream on one heart before he does the other – and one person may be more adventurous than the other – but, in the end God will bring the two together on the same dream if it is His will for the couple. Sometimes we need others to help us discern what God is calling us to do and what he is not.

People have unrealistic dreams.

This may be where other people help us discern our dreams. Some dreams simply aren’t realistic. If the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life – that’s probably not going to become a reality. Winning the lottery as a retirement plan – statistically speaking – may not be a realistic dream. Expecting your family to always be “drama free” – well, best wishes on that dream. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest and most achievable dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized.

This is a biggie. What if you are already “living the dream”? Right now you may not have all you want, but considering the fallen world around us many of us have pretty good lives comparatively. Sometimes contentment is our problem more than not achieving the next great dream. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us. In fact, I believe God may often wait to give us what’s next until we learn how to be satisfied (in Him) where He currently has allowed us to be.

I am a proponent of dreaming! I think it can be healthy for us personally and even for couples. I am more of a dreamer than my wife, but dreaming together has been a part of keeping our marriage strong over the years. We’ve loved dreaming ahead, watching, waiting, and working for what is next. Here’s to better dreaming in your world!