Leading is Leasing

Have you ever taken pride in caring for something? Maybe you tended a garden. Perhaps you adopted a pet. It could be you are trying to raise a reasonably well-adapted child who ends up as a functioning member of society. No matter what you cared for, my guess is it got a little piece of your heart and soul.

During this summer, I spent a lot of time in a section of forest that my brother in law and I are leasing from a farmer. It’s not massive but 33 acres of trees, shrubs and unkempt paths can keep a person very busy.

As soon as the snow melted this past winter, I walked through the timber, setting out a plan for the year ahead. With the help of other people, I cleared an area where clover could be planted to feed animals. I also used my trusty saw to create paths through the woods. When the aforementioned clover grew, I mowed it down so it would become thick and lush. Basically, I did my best to make the woods a little slice of heaven on earth. It was a ton of hard work but it paid off!

This past week, I visited the woods to do a couple of final finishing touches before bow season. Contentment and confidence filled my heart as I reflected on everything that had been done over the course of several months. But when I exited the woods, I was surprised to see the landowner waiting by the side of the road.

The look on his face told me something wasn’t right. He explained to me that he had gone through some difficult financial times and was selling the land. As I listened to him, my heart went out to him. I was also hit by another reality… all that effort I put into creating a little sanctuary was going to be enjoyed by someone else. I felt a tangible sense of loss. It was like I was 10 years old and someone took my Optimums Prime Transformer directly out of my hands and decided to give it to another kid.

Have you ever lost something that you cared for? Maybe that garden you planted was invaded by pests, the pet you adopted ran away or that child (you spent 18 years raising) graduated and left the house.

Losing something we care for can be disorienting. I spent the next 3 or 4 days feeling sad.

As I leaned into that sadness, I had a realization…. Leading is leasing.

We never really own whatever we are given to lead. The challenge is ultimately to keep our hearts engaged and caring, knowing that we aren’t building our own kingdom. Our hope is to leave a legacy for others to enjoy.

What are you leading right now? Take time to savor it. Give it everything you have. At the same time, hold it with an open hand, knowing that the best leaders don’t focus on “owning” leadership. They live with the reality that what they care for was never truly “theirs” to begin with.

Ready Player One

I guess the modern phenomenon of “binge watching” shows and movies has more of an effect on my media consumption habits than I would like to admit. Often, my movie going experience has more in common with stuffing myself at a buffet than savoring every bite of a gourmet meal.

This past weekend, I left my house with my twelve-year old son thinking I was going to the Golden Corral. What I received was a creative five-course meal prepared by one of the best “chefs” of our generation.

The previews for “Ready Player One” didn’t inspire me to pull out my phone and order tickets from Fandango. After all, who needs another dystopian story, highlighting the dark places our current dependence on technology might take us. Little did I know, what I would actually get is a glimpse inside the soul of one of the greatest creative geniuses of our time.

Steven Spielberg is a master at taking an audience along on an emotional journey. Think about the way “Jaws” highlights our fear of the unknown or how “ET”, defined a generation by tapping into a longing for connectedness.

My theory is “Ready Player One” flips the script. Rather than Steven Spielberg getting you to experience YOUR emotions, he gives the audience permission to participate in HIS journey through aging and transitions (I realize this could be shaped by my own current journey…see my last blog post). As we are allowed access to his inner world, we come to the realization that even the most gifted people must turn their creation over for others to steward.

In the movie, the creator of a virtual reality universe dies. Everything he has built during his entire life will be turned over to someone else. In order to decide who gets the authority to rule his creation, he plants an “Easter Egg” in the game. Whoever finds it will be awarded the ½ trillion dollars that his company is worth and the right to do with the universe as they see fit.

We follow the battle between a giant corporation (that wants to rule his creation as a means to make money) and a renegade bunch of individuals (who grow to realize they need each other).

In the middle of a ton of great 80’s music, as well as references to many of his own movies, we gain an understanding of what it must be like to be a creative genius like Steven Spielberg.

I experienced three revelations through this story.

My first observation is there is an inherent loneliness in transitions. No matter the field, leaders often experience isolation and rejection. This reality can feel even more heightened as you let go and move into a different season.

The second principle is transitions bring us face to face with regret. None of us skate through life doing everything perfectly. A sign of maturity is freely admitting what we wished we had done differently.

Finally, taking the time to hand off leadership well can bring peace. By realizing our significance isn’t found in a role, we have the opportunity to return to the simplest version of ourselves. We can rest in the fact that we are loved because of who we are, not because of what we do.

I wonder if Steven Spielberg would agree with my assessment of his journey. I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

Hanging Up Your Cleats

As a kid, I had the impression that heroes don’t move on.

No one could replace Superman in his cape. Batman didn’t turn over the keys to the Batmobile. Spiderman couldn’t teach a mere mortal to swing effortlessly from one building to another.

I still remember one of the days when that view was shattered. It was May 30th, 1989. I was glued to the television as one of my greatest childhood heroes addressed a hive of buzzing reporters.

A single microphone perched on top of a podium was the only thing between Mike Schmidt and the crowd. The scene was slightly jarring. He was in a suit and tie while his number 20 Philadelphia Phillies jersey was lifelessly draped in front of him.

I loved that jersey! Over the years I watched it trot around the bases after game winning home runs. I saw that jersey jump fearlessly into the dirt and make unthinkable defensive plays. I witnessed it dive head first into bases while the umpire shouted “SAFE!”

Of course, the jersey was simply a symbol. In reality, I was in awe of the man who wore it. Many people consider Mike Schmidt the best 3rd baseman of all time and he played for my team. For me, he wasn’t just “a” hero. He was “MY” hero.

He began his remarks by saying,

”I left Dayton, Ohio, with two bad knees and a dream of becoming a baseball player; I thank God it came it true,” 

Shockingly, tears began to flow from his eyes onto his trademark thick mustache. You can watch the video here.

It was evident his historic baseball career was over. A piece of me wanted to weep too. I was confronted by the reality that my hero was a human being. It was like a fastball straight to my gut.

We all are hit by this truth in the people we love and admire. Whether your hero is an athlete, musician, political figure, chef, spiritual leader or social activist, a time comes when they either “hang up their cleats” or pass away.

The same will happen to you too.

One of the toughest parts of leadership is letting go. Transitioning from one role to another is disorientating. In order to do it well, we must release ourselves from everything we were known and respected for. Only then are we free to live out the next chapter of our lives.

Without a doubt, some people don’t give themselves enough time to develop into the leader they were intended to be. They expect extreme change overnight and fail to hone their gifts to their fullest.

Others stay in positions of leadership beyond what is healthy for them and the organization they oversee. The humility needed to make this change is too much for them to embrace.

Thank you, Mike Schmidt for showing me that a hero can acknowledge past success, grieve the current loss and move on with joy into the future. You are still trotting around the bases in my memories.

 

Ten Leadership Lessons

You might not consider yourself a leader but chances are at some point in your life you will be asked to lead others. No matter if the context is work, school, sports or your family, a valuable question to ask yourself is, “what does it look like to lead well?”

Thankfully, I’ve had many gifted and loving people pour into my life over the years. They have shown me what leadership looks like by their words and actions.

As I reflect on what they have taught me, here are ten important lessons I’ve learned about leadership through the influence of others.

  1. Love the People you lead

 Leadership is not primarily about tasks. It is about people.

Opening up your heart to the people you are responsible to lead can be scary. It takes time and emotional energy. It also hurts more when people move on. On the flip side, there is more joy, connectedness and contentment than if you keep your heart closed off.

  1. Keep your priorities straight

 The pursuit of success can blind us to what is truly important in life. I talk to a lot of guys in their 50’s and 60’s who wish they would have spent more time with their wife and kids instead of running after the next promotion.

I can either look at my marriage and family as a hindrance or my primary place to lead well. When I get the order right, I find myself thriving in both places. When I don’t, well…it’s not where I want to live.

  1. It’s not about you

If you are leading people to yourself and how great you are, you are leading them to the wrong place. People need to be engaged in a mission greater than themselves. That mission is not you.

 Also…don’t take yourself too seriously.

  1. More is caught than taught

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for formal training in leadership. Practical instruction is always important. However, what really sticks with people isn’t what you taught them on an intellectual level, it’s how you treated them and how you interacted with the world around you.

  1. Leaders are Learners

The phrase, “Leaders are readers” is also popular. I’ve always got a couple of books I am working through (usually very slowly!) but learning includes more than books. Listening to podcasts, radio, reading blogs and watching movies can all be excellent ways to learn. Even better…take time to listen to people. You might be surprised at what you discover.

  1. Keep the main thing, the main thing

It is extremely easy to get distracted from my primary focus. There are a lot of “good” things that I can do. I need to constantly remember the vision before me and filter my decisions through that.

  1. If you want to lead, follow

Someone wise once told me, “The best leaders have learned to be the best followers”. That’s a great way to evaluate the leadership potential of others as well as a great statement to reflect on.

Once someone lets “leader” become an identity rather than a role, it almost always creates issues.

  1. Don’t ask people to do things you aren’t willing to do

Pretty straightforward but surprisingly not that common.

That doesn’t mean that leaders should ALWAYS be doing what everyone else is doing. There are certainly times that leadership requires a different focus. Still, true leaders aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and get dirty.

  1. As goes the leader, so goes the movement

Every organization, business, church etc. will take on the personality and values of the leader.

When I was working for Wegmans, I noticed that every store had a different “vibe” even though they each carried the same products and had the same systems in place. I eventually came to realize that this personality was based more on the store manager than anything else.

If you want what you are leading to be healthy, YOU must pursue health in your own life.

  1. Stay Thankful

No one appreciates being around people who are ungrateful. We all know this instinctively. Yet because leading requires thinking about a better future thankfulness can slowly evaporate like a puddle on a hot summer day.

Taking time to write a “thank you” note, an email of gratitude or simply saying “Thank you, so much!” face to face can do a lot to keep thankfulness alive and well in your heart.

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Those are some of my favorites. There are definitely a lot more!

How about you? What do you think of that list? Is there anything you would add/subtract? I’d love to hear what you think!