Monday, August 27, 2012

Succeeding at Failing

Pete Rose I saw a very interesting statistic while watching the Cubs game on Sunday. One of the allures to baseball is how statistics are used to define everything. The advanced statistics that they use to try and quantify the game of baseball are incredibly complex. I still like the basic or "old school" stats like Hits, Runs,RBI and so on. I am sure that things like WAR (wins above replacement) can tell you something interesting and important about the game. But the fact that there is no clear or standardized way to figure the stat makes it less valuable to me. Although it may also have something to do with the fact that I am somewhat of a baseball purist. The Designated Hitter needs to go and at least 6 teams need to be eliminated from the league. (Pick any six out of the perennial attendance laggards Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Miami, Oakland, Pittsburg, Tampa Bay, and Washington.) But I digress.

The interesting stat that I saw was the top ten all-time leaders in making outs. For those that are not real familiar with baseball making an out is when the batter fails to do what they were trying to do. This list showed the ten guys that experienced the most failure–in terms of hitting–as baseball players. Let me share that list with you:

  1. Pete Rose
  2. Hank Aaron
  3. Carl Yastrzemski
  4. Cal Ripken
  5. Eddie Murray
  6. Rickey Henderson
  7. Dave Winfield
  8. Robin Yount
  9. Omar Vizquel
  10. Brooks Robinson
I don't know if there is a single player on that list that I would not have wanted playing for the Cubs in their prime. All but Vizquel and Robinson ended up in the top twenty in other significant career statistics like Hits, Runs Scored, Runs Batted In, Home Runs and Stolen Bases. The career leader for each of those statistics (discounting Barry Bonds' home run record) is on this list. Eight of these guys are all in the Hall of Fame. And each of these guys played Major League Baseball for at least 20 years. So what this list means is that these guys failed a lot in order to also succeed a lot. In fact they were far more successful at failing than they were at succeeding.

How often are we willing to experience a lot of failure in order to succeed? How often do we allow our fear of failure to control our success?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Making Heroes out of Criminals

Tim DeKay (on the left) and Matt Bomer (right)
One of the TV shows that my wife and I watch is called White Collar. Since we don't have cable we watch it via Netflix. We don't watch the normal "cops and robbers" shows like CSI; CSI: Vegas; CSI: Springfield; CSI: Antartica; CSI: Moonbase Alpha; CSI: Outback (it was the dingo); or CSI: Old Guy Pretending To Still Be Cool. We will watch the quirky ones–Psych being a good example–or even the ones that don't pretent to be reality based (CSI: Using Equipment And Techniques That Don't Really Exist Which Makes Real Law Enforcement Jobs Harder) which is where White Collar comes in.

The premise behind White Collar is "the unlikely crime-solving partnership between Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), a charming con man turned consultant for the FBI, and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), the Federal Agent charged with keeping him on the right side of the law." The idea is that Caffrey's extensive background as an art thief, forger and general con man gives Agent Burke the advantage in capturing other criminals. Caffrey is released from prison and put on home arrest. He has to wear a tracking anklet except when he is working a case undercover. Then alternate means of monitoring (wearing a wire or a gps enabled watch) is used. This doesn't prevent Caffrey from getting himself into illegal situations. He has a trusty sidekick–a fellow con man that has not been convicted–named Mozzy that helps Caffrey out on the cases but also helps keep Caffrey involved in illegal activities. For the most part Agent Burke works to keep Caffrey out of trouble and even tries to catch Caffrey when he suspects Caffrey in stealing a large amount of Nazi stolen treasure.

The stolen treasure ends up playing a pivotal role when it turns out to be the ransom demand for Agent Burke's kidnapped wife. The treasure (or at least half of it) is used to draw out the kidnapper (who is an "archenemy" of Caffrey) and everything seemingly works out. The kidnapper takes credit for stealing the treasure in the first place which gets Caffrey off the hook. Burke knows that Caffrey had the treasure (which was technically stolen by Mozzy) and it becomes a point of contention between the two. It all leads up to the Season 3 finale where Caffrey has a hearing to determine whether or not his sentence is commuted. It turns out that Burke–knowing that Caffrey was involved in the stealing of the treasure and other art work–testifies that Caffrey has become a valuable asset to the FBI and good citizen who should have his commuted. Of course this testimony comes just as Caffrey is cutting his tracking anklet and making another escape.

Up to this point I thought the struggle that Caffrey was having between being a reformed criminal and reverting back to his old ways was an interesting insight into what grounds a person. The more Caffrey became rooted through friendships and his work with the FBI the less Caffrey wanted to give that up and live a life on the run. That part I understood. But the turning of Agent Burke from being honest and straight forward to someone that was willing to cover up for Caffrey because the situation was working really bothered me.

What bothered me wasn't the fact that Burke was making a pragmatic choice. We make pragmatic choices every day. When we find something that works we usually stick with it and hold to the truth of the situation. It is where we get the saying, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." What bothered me is that the elevation of someone that we would consider a criminal to the position of hero. But it was more than that. If we look at the heroes of the Bible (particularly those of the Old Testament) they were not always good guys. They lied, cheated, murdered, committed adultery and more. Yet they were still considered heroes. They all had to face the consequences of their sins. What really bothered me about the direction of White Collar is that it was designed for the viewer to root for Caffrey to get away with it. We don't want to see Caffrey arrested and put back in jail. We want to see things somehow work out without the consequences.

Unfortunately the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross tells us that the things we do wrong has consequences. Even when we receive forgiveness for our sins there was still a price that needed to be paid. There might not be an eternal consequence that we have to pay (there may be earthy ones) but someone still had to suffer the consequences. I think that it sets a bad tone when we start rooting for criminals (even fictional ones) to get away with their crimes. While they may escape the consequences for their crimes there is still a victim somewhere that has had their life negatively affected by the crime.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What about the Willow Creek Association?

Over the past couple of days I shared some reflections (Day 1 and Day 2) on the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. Today I wanted to share some of my conflicted thoughts about Willow Creek. I think that it is important to differentiate between the Willow Creek Association and Willow Creek Community Church. I realize that this is like splitting a hair and then claiming that the two halves are different. But bear with me for a moment.

There really is an important difference between the two. One is a church and the other is an association of churches. While they are lead by the same people and one is an offshoot of the other, they have different functions. Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) states that their mission is:
" turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."
Where as the Willow Creek Association (WCA) states their mission is:
"To inspire and equip Christian leaders to lead transformation-minded churches."
There is a fundamental difference between the two. One exists to teach theology and doctrine while the other exists to teach Christian leaders how to lead. I might disagree with some of the theology and decision of WCCC but it is a whole different thing to recognize that there are things that I can learn from both WCCC and the WCA. It is also worth noting that there is a big difference between having former President Bill Clinton being interviewed about leadership during a WCA event (which happened) and having him address the congregation during a WCCC worship service (which did not happen). I wasn't at that interview and I have not seen a video or read a transcript. So I don't think that it would be completely fair for me to judge that particular event. It could be that it was a very bad move on the part of the WCA and Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. Although, in general, I don't have a problem with hearing from non-Christians speaking at Christian leadership development events.

At the risk of sounding heretical let me say that Christ is THE TRUTH and all truth comes from God but that does not mean that the church can claim to be the sole possessor of all truth. In order for that to be so we would have to claim that EVERY bit of discovery and knowledge uncovered outside of the church to be false. This doesn't mean that everything that the world holds to be true is in fact true. What this means is that there are always going to be things that the church can learn from the world. (I realize that saying this might put me at risk of waking up in the middle of the night to loud angry mobs with pitchforks and torches demanding my excommunication.) We can learn from those outside the church however we must carefully sift through and discern what is worth keeping and what needs to be discarded.

In the past I have learned solid leadership principles from non-Christian sources. When we look at examples of good leadership in the world we need to realize that they work because someone is following the truth of God whether or not they realize or acknowledge that he is the source of that truth. These leadership principles are not true because they work. They work because they are based upon the truth that God infused into the foundation of the world. Whether or not a physicist recognizes God as the author of the law of gravity does not change whether or not the law exists and works.

The Apostle Paul also recognized that there are things that we can learn from the world. His imagery of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18 was using the Roman soldier as an example of how we should equip ourselves. Paul is saying that we should not engage in spiritual battles without the proper equipment in the same way that the Roman soldiers would not think of going to war without their equipment. Paul also used the imagery of Olympic athletes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Paul is telling us that we need to have the same self-discipline as those athletes that win. I am sure that there are plenty of things about Roman soldiers and Olympic athletes that Paul wouldn't want us to emulate but that doesn't mean we can't learn from the good aspects.

And that is my approach to Willow Creek and the Global Leadership Summit. There is plenty good to learn and there is plenty bad to leave behind. And one of the side benefits to having non-Christian speakers come and speak at a Christian event is that we rub off on them. This past week we heard from a tearful Carly Fiorina of how she has come back to her faith in Jesus Christ as a result of her involvement with Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. We also heard how Jim Collins, who has been speaking at the Global Leadership Summit since 1997, is starting to very seriously explore Christianity. It sounds like he could make a commitment to becoming a Christian in the near future. I may have issues with Willow Creek on a theological and even an ideological level but I do not think that all that they do is reprobate or irredeemable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Global Leadership Summit - Friday

Today I would like to continue sharing some of my thoughts on what I heard and learned at Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit. Tomorrow I will share some overall thoughts on the Willow Creek Association (which can be somewhat differentiated from the Willow Creek Community Church) and on the Global Leadership Summit.

I was especially looking forward to Friday as it included one of my favorite preachers, John Ortberg. I have always appreciated his teaching ability and style. Although I have noted that my preaching professor would have found fault with his presentation–he reads too much leading to poor eye contact and he finishes his statements weakly by looking down–but other than that he is fine.

The day started with Patrick Lencioni who may have been tied with Craig Groeschel for the title of highest energy speaker. Interestingly Lencioni is an unabashed Christian in the business consulting world. While his work is primarily focused on the business world–most if not all of his positive examples were about Southwest Airlines–he easily adapts his work to the church because he is a Christian first and a business man second. The main focus of Lencioni's talk was about the importance of organizational health. In Lencioni's view there are two main factors for an organization or business. There is Organizational Smarts and Organizational Health.

Organizational Smarts includes things like strategy, marketing, finance and other "business school" stuff. In Lencioni's view it is only half of the business equation and yet receives 98% of the focus because it is easier and more quantifiable. Organizational Health is hard work yet can make the difference between a highly successful organization and one that crashes and burns. A healthy organization is one that has minimal internal politics and confusion; had high moral and productivity; and has a low turnover of key leadership personnel. Ironically while Organizational Smarts receives so much focus it takes good Organizational Health to fully tap into all of an organizations smarts.

The next two speakers–William Ury and Pranitha Timothy–were very interesting but I didn't take too much away in terms of applicable leadership skills. They had great stories to tell but were a bit weak on practical application. I did find Pranitha Timothy's stories of having the courage to lead in very difficult situations to be moving. It is one thing to claim to lead an organization through a difficult time. But it is a whole different thing to lead an organization that rescues slaves from forced labor in India. Every time she goes out on a rescue mission she may not come back. She has faced irate and armed business owners that will stop at almost nothing to keep their slaves. The next time I have to face a difficult situation in leadership I need to remember that I could be facing much worse.

Pastor Mario Vega then spoke about the need for integrity in leadership and the difficulty that we can face when we are trying to navigate through the tough consequences of leaders that lack integrity. There were three points that he made that stuck with me. The first is that when we allow a little moral failure into our lives we are opening the door for further moral failure. Once we start justifying small things it becomes easier to justify big things. The second is that, as leaders, we are not just responsible for our own actions but we are also responsible for the actions of those leaders below us. And the third is that there are defining moments in leadership that reveal our inner character. There is an absolute need for us to model and demand integrity.

The next session started with John Ortberg. What was interesting about Ortberg's talk was that it was not meant to be a talk giving leadership principles. Rather it was one of the greatest apologetics for Christ and the goodness that has resulted in the world due to his teaching and his followers. I cannot wait to read his new book: Who Is This Man.

The session concluded with an interview with Geoffrey Canada. He was so interesting that I ended up fixated on the discussion and didn't take any notes. One of his key leadership principles that he shared was the importance of replacing poor workers as soon as possible. He noted that they can be very hard working and very likable but just may not be a good fit for the position. These are tough but necessary decisions to make.

Bill Hybels closed out the Summit talking about integrity which he has done in almost every Summit that I have been to. Integrity on all fronts may be the most important attribute of a leader especially leaders in the church.

It was a good learning experience and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. We were blessed by the music of Gungor and Kevin Olusola throughout the Summit which just added to the overall experience.


Friday, August 10, 2012

The Global Leadership Summit - Thursday

I have the good fortune of being able to take advantage of an extra pass to this year's Global Leadership Summit that is put on by the Willow Creek Association. I will share some thoughts on the nature of the conference and the Willow Creek Association next week when I have more time to write but today I wanted to share some thoughts about what I heard and learned yesterday. My goal was to post this yesterday but I decided to spend time with my wife rather than blog before we went to bed. I apologize in advance for the quick and shallow nature of what I am writing today. I have a very short time-frame to write this morning.

Bill Hybels is the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association Chairman of the Board. He has been the opening speaker of every Global Leadership Summit that I have been to and this year was no different. His talk was really four different talks all rolled into one where he hit on different topics that were loosely related and centered around leadership. He started out with the Parable of the Sower as found in Luke 8:4-8. He didn't go into a great exegetical explanation of the passage but that wasn't the intent. What he did was pick out that the parable has a 75% failure rate. The sower threw seeds and some landed on the path, some on the rocky soil, some on the weedy soil and some on the good soil. Only the seed that landed on the good soil (1 out of 4 types of soil) actually grew into flourishing crop. The point is that if we want to see more good crop grow in our churches or organizations then we need to sow more seed. He went on to share how we as the leaders need to set the tone for sowing more seed in our organizations. 

The second session started off with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I had heard her in sound bites from the news but I had not heard her speak in length. Now I understand why people keep calling for her to be Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential candidate. She would have my vote no matter what office she ran for. One of her main points was that as a leader you cannot just lead others but rather you need to help others realize their own leadership qualities. We can't just create a nation of followers but we need to build up other leaders.

Jim Collins finished off the second session and it is easy to see why he was one of the most popular teachers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He covered his research into what made leaders ultra successful. The three qualities that they found to be common among all of those leaders is Fanatical Discipline, Empirical Creativity and Productive Paranoia. For me the idea of Fanatical Discipline was the key to the whole talk. Fanatical Discipline is the discipline to have the discipline to keep to a consistency of action regardless of the circumstances. You push through on the tough days and you don't over do it on the easy days. That way you always are moving forward and you have enough reserve for when you hit great difficulty.

The third session had Marc Kielburger and Sheryl WuDunn. They were interesting but spoke more about their social justice work than leadership.

Finally the fourth session featured pastor Craig Groeschel. He spoke very well about the need to reconcile the older generation of leadership with the younger generation. He didn't put the blame for the disconnect on one of the generations but on both. He gave three keys to bridging the gap. The first is that we need to create intentional feedback loops that include a wide range of people. The second is to create specific mentoring moments. And the third is to create opportunities for significant leadership development.

So far the event has been very good and this is all I have time to share right now. I will share more and in depth in upcoming blog posts.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Silver isn't good enough

Despite NBC's best efforts to ruin the experience, my wife and I have been enjoying the London Olympics over the past week. I know that some people have been upset with the tape delay of major events. But that has not bothered me much simply because those stubborn Brits refuse to play the games in the middle of the night to accommodate our prime time. What has bothered me is that NBC covers only certain events on the main network. So for those of us that don't have cable we get to watch a lot of beach volleyball but no team handball, soccer or field hockey. The other thing that really got me going was NBC showing an add for the Today show that gave away the Missy Franklin's win in the 100m backstroke that they were just about to show. Nothing takes away the excitement of watching a sporting event when you already know the outcome.

But I digress.

Sunday we were watching the Women's Vault finals. We had not followed much of the women's gymnastics (which is quite a misnomer when you consider the age of the gymnasts) but knew that the U.S. had a good team. We missed the team winning the team all-around gold medal and Gabby Douglas winning the individual all-around gold medal. We were however looking forward to McKayla Maroney's vault final after seeing the replays of her near perfect vault in the team final. For those that are following the Olympics you know that Maroney almost nailed her first and signature vault in the Finals. There was a little hop in the landing but not enough to drastically hurt her score. As she lined up for her second vault one of the NBC commentators said, "She just needs to put it to her feet." Maroney promptly landed on her bum. The commentators said that she was the closest thing to a sure gold medal both before and after her stumble to which my wife turned to me and said, "There is no such thing as a sure thing."

And in human terms she's right.

My friend Brad did a good job covering how God is a sure thing just last week. But when it comes to us as human beings we are fatally flawed. We are imperfect. That is why the sure thing of McKayla Maroney's gold medal win was not a sure thing.

The Apostle Paul draws on the Olympic Games as an illustration to how we should live our lives in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
There is a serious amount of training that an Olympic athlete must undergo in order to compete at the highest level. Paul knew that and it is interesting that he compared that amount of training to living a life dedicated to following Christ. I've played enough sports over the years to know that it can be easy to confuse (or even fool yourself) the difference between putting in a high level effort and giving it your all when it comes to practice and training. The question is whether or not we are actually putting that type of effort into our walk with God. Am I really dedicating my life to God the way that I should or am I coasting and thinking the effort is good enough? Paul gives us a great list of the attributes of living a Godly life in Galatians 5:22-23:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
Everything on that list is something that can be worked on. Some people might naturally be more adept at some of those things than others. But even those things that come fairly easy to us can be improved. Does anyone love perfectly, have perfect joy or perfect patience? These are things that we should be actively working on developing and we should be doing so with the same dedication and effort that we see in our Olympic athletes. There will be times when we try to exercise gentleness and we fall flat on our bum. But that doesn't mean that we should give up. McKayla Maroney was obviously not pleased with her result. For her winning the silver was not good enough. Hopefully it spurs her on to do even better the next time around. Whenever we fall short we should not simply say, "Well I tried and did my best. That is good enough." We should be resolute to work harder and to do better next time around.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reacting to trouble

"How are you?" may be one of the most common and most disingenuous questions that we ask. Sometimes we ask without really wanting an answer; it has become a replacement phrase for "hello." I have often participated in conversations that go something like this:

"Hey, how are you?"
"Good. You?"
"Oh, you know. Same old, same old."

Or like this:

"Hey, how are you?"

"Hey?" That's really an answer? At least the first conversation pretends to engage the question. Full disclosure: I have not just heard the answer "hey" but have used it myself. I don't recall having someone answer "hey" and being offended by it. In my experience we get (and give) the level of answer that is expected. But of course there are also plenty of times that the question is meant to elicit a deeper response. But how often do we really want to share how we are doing? I guilty of having a canned response no matter how things are going. If things are going good the response is usually, "good." If things are going rough the response might be, "not bad." If things are crashing down around me the response might be, "not too bad."

I think that my response is due to a couple of reasons. The first is our individualistic culture and private nature. There are certain things that we all hold as private. The topics and amount of information may change from person to person but we all have things that we will not share. The second reason is our pride. We generally want people to think well of us and usually don't want people's pity. (On a side note, there can be times when we share our troubles for the sake of pride as well. We can get a sense of pride when we share just how difficult we have it.) Both reasons come down to our desire to control how others see us. In the day of social media we have even more control over how we are perceived by others. (I've written on this before here and here.)

I think that another reason that I respond this way is because of the perception that I am supposed to react this way. It is very easy to read Matthew 8:23-27 and scoff at the disciples reaction:

"And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, 'Save us, Lord; we are perishing.' And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?' Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"

Some of the guys on this boat were fishermen. They made their living by being on the sea and I am sure that this is not the first time that they faced a storm. I am sure that they would know when a storm was just a storm and when to be afraid of sinking. Yet Jesus rebuked them for having little faith and being afraid of the waves. So one of the lessons that we take away from this story is that we should never be afraid of a storm–no matter how bad it seems–when we have Jesus on our side. Buck up. Put on your happy face because no matter how terrible things are going we are "not too bad."

Yet most of us face things in life that look like real crises. They may in face be real crises and near impossible to put on a happy face. There are times when it takes all of our strength just to say that things are "not too bad." So why do we try?

Notice that the storm that the disciples faced was very real. Their fear was also very real. It was so real that they cried out to Jesus to save them. There are times in life that crying out to God is the only thing that we can do. But this doesn't guarantee that the storm will be calmed. Jesus tells us as much in John 16:33:

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

There are times when we are going to face trouble; real trouble. And when we fear the worst we can take heart in the fact that no matter what we face in this world that we have a Savior that has faced just as much as we will ever face. He might not get rid of all of our trouble but in the end–in the life after this one–he will more than get rid of our troubles. We do not need to be afraid of calling out to him for help. It is the first thing that we should do. What we shouldn't do is put on a false front and simply answer "not too bad" when we are asked how things are going.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.