Four Fresh Winds

Photo by Eva Ekebald via Flickr (Creative Commons)

There’s nothing quite as invigorating as a deep breath of fresh air. 

As a kid I was highly allergic to cats. When I visited someone’s home who had cats my eyes would itch immediately. Then the wheezing would begin. The final step was a very labored, forced filling of my lungs, which always resulted in a trip to the emergency room for some time on the oxygen mask and a few shots.

In most cases I could relieve all of the symptoms of my allergic reaction just by stepping outside. As the fresh air filled my lungs and washed over my eyes I was renewed. The wheezing faded. The itching subsided. Slowly I felt normal again.

Photo by Laura O'Halloran via Flickr (Creative Commons)

While I’m no longer allergic to cats I still experience the same renewal when I am in the presence of people who provide me fresh air. When life has me wheezing and my eyes watering from irritation– even 15 minutes with a person who breathes fresh air into my life is life changing– alleviating the symptoms of whatever allergy life delivers.

I’ve found that there are four types of people who breathe fresh air into others…

  1. The Cold Crisp Reality – When someone splashes water into my face with the reality I need to hear, I’m thankful. I’ve been in leadership long enough to appreciate when people take off the nice filter and tell me what’s really on their mind. Too often, I’m in the position of trainer and not learner. Trust me, the cold crisp reality is far more refreshing than a fistful of niceties.
  2. The Salty Truth – I have some people in my life who love to speak truth with a little salt in the air. Well beyond shock jock quality, their borderline cynicism moves me into deeper and deeper understanding. Here’s the thing about salt. Without salt a lot of life would lack flavor.
  3. The Dry Facts – This is different than a cold crisp reality because it is usually an examination of the data. While not exciting, much of life has data points which I both learn from and find refreshing.
  4. The Calm New Morning Mist – The experience of stepping out of your home into the freshness of a morning is instantly spiritual as my sleep renewed body conjoins with the dew filled renewal of dawn. Likewise, when calm refreshing still-quiet voices speak words of kindness into me my soul is renewed.
Question: When you’ve gone a long time without fresh air– what are your signs of an allergic reaction?  
Photo credits: (Creative Commons) Morning Dew – Eva Ekebald; Talk to the Paw! – Laura O’Halloran
illustrations management

Playing Up

In sports, playing up is a core skill to improving your game. 

I remember as a student at Moody Bible Institute, watching scrub players play pick-up basketball with visiting NBA players. The scrub played better basketball because of the NBA players. They made shots they didn’t normally make. They played better defense. They saw the court better. When playing with 2 NBA players on their team they looked like a Division 1 ball player.

A few years ago I volunteered at a PGA Tour event. I kept score for the Pro-Am and watched a single PGA Tour player make the rest of his foursome better. (One guy went -8, 64!) They drained putts from 30 feet. They made smart decisions when their ball ended up in trouble. And they all were surprised by their scores. The PGA Tour player pulled the guy who shot 64 and told him to try to qualify for the Tour.

Even as a high school coach I always wanted my freshmen and JV players to play up against the varsity any time I could. And we intentionally pitted our league champion golf team against the best teams in the state knowing they would likely get beat. Why? Because even if they lost it would make them better players.

When you play with better competition your own game will always elevate.

Rise and shine

Here’s the deal. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living– you need to play up to improve your game. 

I learned the power of this a long time ago and it’s paid of for me over and over again.

Want to be a better writer? Play up.

Want to be a better designer? Play up.

Want to be a better speaker? Play up.

Want to be a better husband? Er, don’t play up there. Love your wife.

golf illustrations

Grip change

As a high school golf coach sometimes you have to help your students make major changes to their golf game in order for them to improve. 

Young, gifted, long-hitting golfers typically have a lot natural talent but have habitual bad technique. Maybe they are so flexible and have such amazing hand-eye coordination from baseball that they don’t have to take the club back at a consistent angle or keep their plant foot steady because they can instinctively make those corrections without even thinking about it at 115 miles per hour. By hitting thousands of balls on the range they have learned bad ways to hit the ball far. And their game is built on bad technique.

Those bad habits have lead to them to hit the ball a million miles in every direction. But that distance matters so much that they are far better than their peers with better technique.

The most common change you have to make is to the grip. Most typically young (right-handed) golfers have a strong right hand. (The left hand in the correct position, but the right hand is completely under the club, nearly useless on the backswing.) This allows most of their power to come from a strong left hand and the right hand whipping the club forward at the last second to generate maximum power and spin.

As a result, they make the golf team on power, raw talent, and likely a decent touch around the green. And a very good freshmen will make the JV squad or even the varsity squad on this raw talent because they can muscle their way around the golf course.

But as a coach you know that the strong right hand won’t take them consistently near par– a score which will secure them at the top level of the varsity. For 9 holes they might make it to the low 40s or the occasional 39. But to get down closer to par they are going to have to hit it straight more often and with a strong grip that will be impossible.

So, in the middle of an active season their freshmen or sophomore year, you need to start working on their grip for their junior and senior year.

It’s frustrating for the golfer because the change means they are less competitive. Their scores go from the low 40s to the high 40s or even into the 50s. (Scores they likely haven’t seen since 6th grade) They lose distance as they start swinging the club on a better plain, at a better angle, and the swing feels much less violent. The ball ends up places on the course they’ve never been before.

Frustration sets in.

And they start losing matches. Maybe falling from top of the JV squad down to the the freshmen team. Players they know they are more talented than start beating them.

It’s a test of their self-discipline.

Bobby Jones on GolfA grip or a swing change can take months of practice to master before it starts to pay off. It can take a lot longer if the golfer lets old habits sneak in to remain competitive. In front of the coach or on the range they will hold the club properly. But when they need to tee off on a par 5 they will switch the grip to try to power it down the fairway… and wild things begin to happen because they don’t feel natural in that swing anymore either.

It might seem like a little thing but if you make a dramatic grip change you have to concentrate just to hit the ball squarely. I’ve even seen players completely whiff when you first introduce the change. What used to be instinctive and feel completely natural now feels completely foreign.

As the coach you have to constantly encourage them during this change. “It will pay off. Don’t let old habits sneak in. It will feel more natural if you keep practicing it. You’ll be a better player if you stick to it.

What you learn as a coach is that the difference between being good enough to make the team and good enough to make the all-conference team isn’t just talent. It’s the ability to practice correctly, stick to making hard changes, and to be coachable through those changes in order to realize your potential.

Life is the same way

A lot of my success has come because of bad habits. But, just like a young golfer, I’ve had to learn that those bad habits have plateaus for my success. I can be successful to-a-point with the talents I have. The hard reality is that most of my long-term success hasn’t just come from bad habits or talent– it’s come from working hard to get past bad habits, and intentionally taking some steps back in order to learn the skills and techniques to go 3 steps ahead.

The same is true for you. The habits and skills you have today will only lead you to the success you know. In order to succeed further you’ll need to correct bad habits, rely less on talent and more on proven techniques. Most importantly you’ll need to remain coachable.

Just like in golf, success is a mental game. You’ll need to push through the frustration of taking a step backwards in order to take 3 steps forward.

Christian Living illustrations

Hold the reigns tightly

Photo by MyEyeSees via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ll never forget the first time I rode a horse. 

Growing up in the city meant that horses just weren’t part of my life. I remember seeing horses as a kid at parades. At the county fair in the horse barns. Or occasionally at big football game when the police brought in horses for crowd control.

And I wasn’t one of those city slickers who dreamed of the open range wrangling up some cows.

I was 19 years old the first time I rode a horse. And I rode a horse because I had to for a college class.

It was an intimidating experience. This animal was 10 times bigger than me. It was taller than me. And it was infinitely stronger than me. Somehow I was supposed to sit on it and “control” it with a tiny piece of leather and some kicks?

Yeah, right.

The horse I rode could have cared less that I existed. It was an old camp trail horse who had seen a million riders over a million years and barely even acknowledged my existence. It was one of those horses that you could tell used to be big, strong, and attractive in its youth but now its best description would be, “tired.

Before I put my foot in the stirrups I tried to get to know him and pat him on the head. He just took a leak and looked away.

I wish I could describe the experience as enjoyable. It wasn’t. It was uncomfortable and bumpy and I felt completely stupid on the horse. It didn’t seem to matter what I “told” the horse to do as it just walked the trail. When it got behind it trotted up ahead to catch up with its friends. Whenever it wanted to– it stopped to eat grass. And when it was done with me it used trees and branches to try to knock me off its back.

To make matter worse everyone else seemed to be having a great time. All I felt like was kicked in the gonads 200 times. I tried to make the best of it but it just wasn’t fun and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Standing in the barn after the trail ride I asked the person who ran the trail rides why I hated it so much. She just kind of laughed. “Probably because you fought the horse the whole time. And probably because you were scared. It would have been fun if you’d just held on tight and relaxed.

That’s a lot like my relationship with God

When it’s unpleasant, when I’m scared, when I’m intimidated, and when I’m trying to be in control… walking with God is like getting kicked in the gonads 200 times.

Often times God just wants us to hold onto the reigns real tight and relax.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
   neither are your ways my ways,” 
            declares the LORD. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
   so are my ways higher than your ways 
   and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
As the rain and the snow 
   come down from heaven, 
and do not return to it 
   without watering the earth 
and making it bud and flourish, 
   so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: 
   It will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what I desire 
   and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 

Isaiah 55:8-11


You change your passion for glory

So many times, it happens too fast 

You change your passion for glory 
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past 
You must fight just to keep them alive 

Eye of the Tiger – by Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik, 1982

The other day I was jogging when this song came on. I’ve probably heard this song 500 times and the second verse never stuck out to me.

Not only does verse two of Eye of the Tiger foreshadow the plot of Rocky movies 2, 3, 4, and 5– in many ways it captures the dichotomy many in leadership feel.

We are driven by passion. And in the course of becoming proficient and gaining expertise towards that passion we receive a certain level of recognition… what Sullivan/Peterik label “glory.” Conversely, once you achieve “glory” the role changes unexpectedly. You stop pursuing the goal and start defending your place. It’s one thing to be the punk kid pursuing the dream. It’s another role altogether to be the defending champion.

Getting there and staying there are two different fights. Passion and glory are a two-way street. Both have their perks, but you can’t exchange one for the other.

Here’s what I know: The pursuit of a goal and the moment of achieving the goal are actually way more fun than having to defend your position. Like Rocky Balboa, if you stop pursuing your next goal the two-way street get out-of-whack and you end up old and cranky towards your wife.


Be Intent

The last seven weeks I’ve had laser focus on one thing: Be ready for September 1st. 

Buy office equipment. Set-up a home office. Lease part-time office space. Create financial systems. Set-up a business infrastructure. Write business plans. Write marketing plans. Lay the groundwork to build a customer base. Write proposals. Sign contracts. Get consulting. And a whole lot more stuff like that.

This has been my life. And I’m exhausted. Last night was another day when I started at 7:00 am and went until 1:00 am with only a few breaks in the middle. It will be like this until Labor Day weekend when I finally get to disconnect and reward myself.

Here’s an observation I’ve made during this season: When you’re starting something from scratch you have laser-like focus and unlimited energy because you can grasp the big picture all at once. What’s next is what is right now.

The flipside is: Existing organizations have a unique ability to lose focus at the exact wrong time.

What’s next takes priority over what’s right now and visa versa. A big project is coming up and right before it happens a key decision-maker goes on vacation. Your biggest sales opportunity of the year? You missed it because you scheduled an internal meeting instead. On and on. Mental errors cost you in an existing business because you can’t see the whole organization anymore.

It’s like observing an island from a plane before you land, when you’re at 30,000 feet you can see the whole thing. But when you land you can only see what’s in front of you. 

In life, just like in business, the difference between success and failure in life is razor thin. Watch any sporting championship and you’ll see it. A single mental mistake at the wrong can cost you a championship, or a deal, or whatever your measurable is for success. That same mental mistake a thousand times during the season never hurt you before. But in the wrong moment? You’re dreams are wiped away.

When those moments come. Be intent. 

Christian Living illustrations

Leave the Ignoble Behind

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Pretty up-to-the-minute for something written in 1859, right?

Each generation believes it has created it’s own extremes. In fact, it’s an age-old trap that has just been carried forward. The sin of our forefathers still destroys us.

The litmus tests of extremists are in full effect today and are just as unproductive as ever. Their bi-product is never progress, only pain.

  • You’re either an evangelical conservative or a mainline liberal, chose a side.
  • You’re pro-LGBT or your anti-LGBT, which is it?
  • You’re either pro-union or anti-union, take your pick.
  • You’re a tea party love or a hater.

As if the middle ground were the enemy. As if being reasonable and understanding all sides of issues were not possible. As if compromise and working things out were akin to selling your soul to the other side.

In truth, Jesus asks us to reject the ignoble extremes to live in the noble tense middle.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
John 13:34


What if there is no box?

Photo by Marcus S. via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I think outside the box.

I’m told that a lot. And I guess it’s true. I mean, if people tell me it’s true at some point it is true.

Adam McLane is a man who thinks outside of the box.

When I hear that I think outside of the box I’m always thinking…

  • What if we’re working on the wrong box?
  • What if I’m in the wrong box?
  • What if our box is too small, too big, or too made of cardboard?
  • Why does the box have to be shaped like a box? I mean, is there a person who decided that boxes have to be cube-like? Can’t we build a box around who we are and not start with a box-shaped box?
  • How did we get in this box in the first place and why are we all just here wanting to get out of it in this meeting? Why don’t we just open the box and leave?
  • When did all of this crap get in the box? I think someone is using the box as a recycle bin.
  • Will lunch be served in the box? Because I’m getting hungry.

What if there is no box?

What if the box is just a metaphor for feeling trapped by our problems?

Literally, there is no box. It’s a metaphor. The box isn’t real. You don’t need to think outside of it because the box doesn’t really exist.

The box is your problem.

Having your company, brand, ministry, organization “in the box” is the end of creativity, joy, and freedom. When faced with your next dilemna you don’t just need to think outside of the box. You need to get outside of the box. Why?

Because the box is suffocating you.

  • It’s stealing the creativity you had as a 6 year old with a box of chalk, an empty sidewalk, and an endless summer.
  • It’s stealing the joy you had when you first started at this company.
  • It’s stealing the freedom you experienced as a kid who was just getting started, the one who wanted to conquer the world, and change things.

Haven’t you seen Toy Story 3? The whole point of the movie is don’t get put in the box.

Church Leadership illustrations

Leaders Take You Where You Would Otherwise Not Go Alone

This is the story of Corporal Sidney Manning of Butler County, Alabama

July 28th, 1918 – Near Breuvannes, France

When his platoon commander and platoon sergeant had both become casualties soon after the beginning of an assault on strongly fortified heights overlooking the Ourcq River, Cpl. Manning took command of his platoon, which was near the center of the attacking line. Though himself severely wounded he led forward the 35 men remaining in the platoon and finally succeeded in gaining a foothold on the enemy’s position, during which time he had received more wounds and all but 7 of his men had fallen. Directing the consolidation of the position, he held off a large body of the enemy only 50 yards away by fire from his automatic rifle. He declined to take cover until his line had been entirely consolidated with the line of the platoon on the front when he dragged himself to shelter, suffering from 9 wounds in all parts of the body.


You aren’t a leader because of your rank, Corporal Manning had none.

You aren’t a leader because you went to school, he only went to basic training. You aren’t a leader because you write a book on leadership. Or because an organization calls you its leader. Or because your daddy was a leader. Or because you aspire to be a leader.

You are a leader when you take people where they would otherwise not go alone.

When the plan falls apart. When the bad news comes. When fear takes hold. When the enemy is advancing. When there is no where to go but the scary, dangerous place. When what needs to get done is dangerous.

Only then will you find out who the leader is. He or she looks you in the eye and says, “I will take you where we need to go.

That’s a leader.

Accept no imitation.


When the Panic Button Goes Off

Photo by Mikel Manitius via Flickr (Creative Commons)

When chaos arrives on the scene panic changes everything.

Every person has a freak out mode. Rumors spin out of control. People are jumping ship. Like Jonah, there’s a moment when the sailors cast lots to figure out who angered God. Fingers are pointed. Cuss words are muttered under their breathe. Biting words aren’t far behind. Everyone is doing whatever they can to fix the situation. Yet at the same time, in the back of their minds, they don’t know if they are making things better or making things worse.

Photo by Ira Machefsky via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Some situations turn the best of us into hyenas with a bad case of fleas.

It’s one thing to steer a ship on open seas on a calm day. That’s easy and anyone can do that. But it takes a captain to calmy guide the ship into harbor on a windy day with high waves. When the crew freaks out the captain takes over.

That’s when you discover who the leader is.

One day the panic button will go off.

Chaos will appear.

And then you’ll know.