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How to Get Unstuck when You’re Stuck in a Moment that You Can’t Get out of!

???????????????????????????????Sometimes I quote the chorus of the U2 song, “Stuck in a Moment You can’t Get Out of”, to my kids. They know exactly why I say it and what it means. It means if they feel stuck they need to find options. In other words I encourage them to never allow themselves to be stuck, handcuffed or trapped in a situation, place or relationship because they think they have no way out or no place to go.

You see the reality is when we’re “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it” it’s almost always a state of mind, not the truth of our situation. And the more we feel stuck or trapped, the harder it is for us to see there could be alternatives. When we have options we’re not truly stuck, even if it feels that way. And, from my experience, we rarely have zero options.

So here are four things I’ve learned that help me get unstuck:

  1. Keep an open mind, always believe there’s another way, place or option. Don’t ever give up this belief.
  2. Think creatively. What may seem impossible is usually more possible than it looks at first glance.
  3. Seek out other perspectives from people not stuck in your moment. They often see the options more clearly and quickly than we do.
  4. Don’t seek input from those stuck with you. They’ll only reinforce your sense of having no options.

Remember your options will most likely be less than perfect. You’re not trying to find nirvana, just someplace better than your current situation. Think of it as just one step to a better place along a path to the best place.

And here’s how it all works – when you identify your options, you now have a choice. By definition, having a choice means you’re free, and when you’re free you’re no long stuck in a moment you can’t get out of.

Oozing Excellence without Arrogance

IMG_3338As Denise and I walked through a building on the Yard, we saw the words, “Excellence without Arrogance“, predominately displayed. As many of you know our third child, Mitch, entered the United States Naval Academy this summer as a freshman, or as they’re known as – Plebes, and where the campus is referred to as the Yard. When I read this maxim, six weeks into Mitch’s Plebe summer (basic training), I knew immediately it wasn’t just a pithy saying that someone painted on the wall but was a value that my son, as well as the other 1200 Plebes, learned during their training.

How do I know this?

First, the people affiliated with the USNA that Denise and I met, be it Naval and Marine officers, upperclassmen, facility and support staff, all demonstrated this incredible balance of excellence and humility. They were both gracious, friendly and helpful as well as they oozed with professionalism, commitment and excellence.

Secondly, when we were with Mitch that weekend, we saw change in him. He was no longer the same person we dropped off on Induction day. His sister, Christina, describe it best when she said “Mitch seems more confident and less arrogant.” An interesting play on words but an accurate description of this important Navy value, Excellence without Arrogance, becoming a reality in a future officer.

So here’s what we, as leaders, need to grapple with – a value of an organization or individual is not core just because it’s written on a wall, a card or in a website. It can only be core if it is so deeply embedded that it oozes out in such a visible and tangible way that others outside the organization can see, experience and name the value without ever reading the website.

 

 

Rain and doing Your Homework -Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 6

???????????????????????????????The weather report was calling for heavy rain beginning about midnight. It was our 5th day on the AT, and my son, MD, and I were standing outside one of the many hostels along the trail. MD’s plan called for us to keep hiking further up the trail and stay at a rustic camp spot. But because of the weather report we had to decide – stick with the plan and keep hiking, or stay at the hostel?

As I mentioned in my last post, MD had a well thought out plan for our trip. He knew where we would camp each night, how far we’d walk each day, where we’d leave our car and how we would get to the starting point. He was even thoughtful enough to send me a copy of the plan before we left so I’d be fully in the loop.

But unfortunately I didn’t look at his itinerary very closely (actually not at all) nor did I do any research about where we’d be hiking, what places we’d pass, even what the names of our planned campsites. There was no excuse for me not having a clue about this section of the AT, with MD’s written plan and all the details about every section of the AT readily available on-line and in books. So there I was standing in front of the hostel, with no clue, trying to help us make this decision.

Late in the day, after deciding to keep hiking, we found ourselves stumbling around in the light of dusk, trying to find this remote campsite. I was once again little help because I just wasn’t familiar with the details of the trail or the plan.

In other words I didn’t do my homework as good leaders (and followers) must do.

You see, when leaders don’t do their homework they can’t contribute to their team’s decision quality, potentially hindering success. In our case, it all turned out fine because of MD’s good plan. But what I did by not doing my homework was lay all the responsibility for our trip’s success on my son’s shoulders. That wasn’t right or fair. Because I was a part of the trip I owed it to him to have done my homework so when the circumstances called for it I could help us make the best decisions possible.

The lesson learned? Good leaders and followers must do their homework so, the situation calls for it; they’re ready to help their teams make the best decisions possible.

Have a Great Plan so you can Enjoy the Journey -Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 5

???????????????????????????????The AT has a very simple trail marking system. It’s a white line painted on trees or posts along the trail. So hiking the AT requires nothing more than looking up for white markers, looking down so you don’t trip over any rocks, and looking around at the incredible beauty along the way. Not much daily strategizing if you have a good plan as my son, MD, did.

You see MD spent a lot of time planning out the trip. He created a great itinerary for my week with him as well as his three weeks on his own. He did a lot of research, talked to people who had hiked the AT, and reviewed his thinking with others. All this work fed into a great plan.

So while on the trail we spent little time figuring out where we were going each day, or calculating how far we’d walk, etc. The plan was good and unless conditions changed there was no reason to spend any time rehashing it. Instead we just got up, packed our gear and followed those white markers to our next camp site, enjoying the trail and the people we met on the way.

It reminded me of the temptation we have to continually want to rehash and revisit well thought out plans. People like to arm-chair quarterback, to debate and to continually question where a team, department or organization is going and how they’re getting there. Some people also have a high need to change, tweak and continually adjust a plan, in an effort to find perfection.

But when you have a good plan, this additional work brings little value to the process or end results. Too often it keeps people from focusing on the immediate, day-to-day work, the plan requires. And, more importantly, the extra work distracts us from the joy, adventure, and relationships that the journey of making the plan a reality brings.

“What was I thinking not having my pack fitted properly?” Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew better. I knew the two most important pieces of gear I would use on the AT were my shoes and my pack. With everything else I could make some compromises, but not on shoes and packs. They had to be right. If they weren’t right my 7 day experience would be painful and exhausting. And unlike tents or stoves, shoes and packs have to fit correctly. In other words, you have to assure they’re customize to your body and walking style to function well. For instance I bought and broke in a pair Montrail shoes months before the trip. They were high rated trail running and hiking shoes which also fit me well.

On the other hand, I borrowed my pack from a good friend. It’s a quality pack but I never bothered to have it fitted correctly. I only began trying adjusting the straps while standing anxiously at the trail head getting ready to embark on our adventure. Not a very smart move considering my friend is taller and broader shouldered than I am.

So I spent the first four days desperately trying to adjust my pack so it sat properly on my hips and shoulders, all the while each of my shoulders, in turn, became sorer by the hour. Finally, I rigged up the straps with some string I brought (the Boy Scout in me) to hold them in relatively the right position. In the end the pack never quite fit right even after all my MacGyver moves which lead to a very sore body.

What’s the leadership lesson in all this? Well there are two, and you already know what they are. First, make sure you and your team have the right gear to do their job. It needs to be quality gear designed specifically for the work to be done. And second, the gear must meet the needs (style, environment, etc.) of the individual using them. The gear needs to be as personalized as possible. If you follow these two lessons – quality gear, personalized for the person using it – then work will be less painful and you and your team will be less likely to leave the trail early.

 

 

“What was I thinking carrying all this stuff?” Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenerally, the principles and values I learned as a Boy Scout have helped me in my life. But sometimes, unfortunately, I’ve confused the habits I’ve formed as a result of a lifetime of practice with the actual principles and values I’m committed to, as I did in getting ready for the AT.

In particular, the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”, is burned so deeply into my psyche that I now, out of habit, over pack for every trip. For example, when I go to Canada fishing I always pack two (and sometimes three) of everything piece of essential gear just in case I, or someone else on the trip, loses or breaks something. This has worked for me because I don’t have to carry any of this gear on my back.

But that’s not the case with the AT. All the food and gear I brought with me I had to carry. That meant those extra meals, shirts, pants, socks and underwear, the extra flashlight and bottle of stove fuel (and if I would have had room – extra shoes, hat, and a solar charger) were dead weight I carried every one of those 70 miles. I estimated it all added up to an extra ten pounds (or about 25% of my total pack weight).

Now ten pounds may not sound like a lot when one wants to “be prepared”, but in reality it was like carrying a gallon of milk, in addition to the rest of my gear, for 70 miles up and down mountains.

You see, with so many people on the trail, with towns, stores, hostels and roads dotted all along the path, the best way to be prepared is to know where you can get something if and when you need it. It’s why some people hike the AT with only 25 pounds of gear (a little more than half of what I was carrying). So the hard truth was, if I was truly prepared like a good Boy Scout, I would have known this about the AT and would have packed much lighter.

So what’s the lesson in all this? Do not confuse a motto, value or principle with its application. Memorizing a motto (Be Prepared) is easy. Learning a single way to apply it (over packing) is a mindless habit. But leadership requires the wisdom to know when a context is different, because different contexts requires different applications of those timeless mottos and values.

So how do I know this? Because, for seven days, I felt it deeply in my hips, shoulders, knees and back.

 

“Oh, My Swollen Toes”, Leadership Lessons from my week on the Appalachian Trail – Part 2

2014-07-10 19.13.35Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in an era, to think that what was standard “back then” must still be standard today. We think this because we believe really smart people had it all figured out back then (translation – it’s not possible someone today could actually be smarter than we were yesterday, thus it’s impossible anyone today could figure out a better or different way).

My toes, in particular my left big toe, paid the price for such shoddy (and arrogant) thinking.

This is how it happened. A couple of months before our trip my son, MD, and I were reviewing our equipment list. He mentioned having found a good deal on trekking poles, implying I might want to buy some as well. I told him, with serious conviction, “I’ve never hiked with trekking poles before. I’ve always used just a simple walking stick and it has worked pretty well”.

Now honestly, I was also thinking to myself “the only people I’ve ever remember using trekking poles were old people and wimps. And since I’m not old nor a wimp I sure as heck wasn’t going to be using them.” (I was also having doubts about my son’s manhood).

I should have realized the first day I was in deep trouble when I was both one of the oldest hikers and the only one without trekking poles.

You see the developers of the AT must have liked to hike up and down mountains because we walked up and down mountains multiple times a day. We rarely walked on flat ground; it was always up or down. As a result I quickly began to experience toe jam (toe jam is where your toes are constantly being jammed into the front of your shoes when going downhill) resulting in swollen toes and later, as I experienced, losing your toe nails.

By the painful third day it finally dawned on me why everyone was using trekking poles. Trekking poles break your downward steps. They take the pressure off your feet (and knees) helping to avoid toe jam among other injuries. Suddenly I saw all these young hikers, including my son, not as wimps but as smart and pragmatic, and I, in turn, was the aching, old fool.

So what’s the AT leadership lesson in all of this? Never assume that what worked yesterday is still the best option today. Be humble enough to believe that people are as smart today (or smarter) than we were yesterday. As a result it’s highly likely that methods have improved or new technology has been developed today that solves the problems we experienced yesterday (like toe jam). If we can embrace this reality about yesterday and today, our toes will be happier, and we’ll be better leaders.

Reflections – Series 2, Vol. 3

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“What was I thinking?” Leadership Lessons from my week on the Appalachian Trail – Part 1

???????????????????????????????“What was I thinking?” became my mantra during my 7 days of hiking the first 70 miles of the AT with my oldest son, Michael David (he went another 3 weeks racking up many more miles).

  • “What was I thinking carry all this food?”
  • “What was I thinking having three changes of clothing when I’ve only worn one?”
  • “What was I thinking not having trekking poles?” as my toe nails started to fall off because of toe jam.
  • “What was I thinking not have my pack fitted and adjusted properly before I left?” as my shoulder ached.
  • “What was I thinking not taking a closer look at my son’s well thought out itinerary and his packing list?” when I couldn’t remember where we stayed or planned to stay.
  • “What was I thinking not being in better shape before the trip?” when I was so winded climbing up those mountains.

Now the beauty of backpacking is the thinking time as you walk (I was too winded to talk much). It was during these daily hikes that I’d find myself asking the “what was I thinking?” questions. And each time I asked these questions I also reflected how these AT experiences could speak into my life and leadership back home. The reality is I had some “ah ha” moments that have led me to make some significant changes when I got off the trail.

So join me over the next few posts as I share some of these lessons (and the stories behind them) with the hopes you’ll also find some useful nuggets for your leadership journey.

The Difference Marriage Can make in the World!

imageI had the opportunity to share a few words during our son MD and his new wife Carissa’s wedding ceremony. The following is a vision of what I pray their marriage would become.

“Aaron, both Denise and I want to thank you for the investment you’ve made in MD over the last four years, including shepherding he and Carissa through their marriage preparation and officiating their wedding. We’ll be forever grateful.

MD, Carissa, today I don’t intend to share with you any advice about how to have a strong marriage or a healthy family, the reason is anything I would say in these few moments could never carry the weight of the two of you watching and living with us, your parents, over a life time.

Instead what I’d like to do is plant a seed in you of a vision for what your marriage can mean not just for you and your family but what it can mean for God’s Kingdom.

To do this we need to do a little review of redemptive history (you’re NMCS and Calvin grads so I know this is all ingrained in you). As you know there are three significant events in redemptive history – Christ’s first coming, his future second coming and then the horrific events centered on a fruit tree in Genesis 3. Everything changed in the world at this tree – literally history can be divided between life before and life after the tree. Before the tree we have a world aligned with God’s Kingdom, where there was no death, no pain, no tears, but after the tree, because of man’s rebellion against God, the world became shrouded in darkness and filled with all that darkness brings.

Yet the covenants God made with Adam and Eve before the tree are still valid and intact after the tree. One of those covenants as we’ve heard Aaron already speak about, and why we’re here today, is the covenant of marriage. So I’d like to take a moment for us to reflect this question.

Why would God call us to live out the covenant of marriage after the tree, in the midst of brokenness, evil and pain, when it was instituted before the tree in peace and harmony?

Well first, I believe marriage harkens us back to the world before the tree reminding us of what God intended life and marriage to be. And second, marriage gives us a taste of what life will be like when Christ returns again and makes all things new. So marriage gives us hope and a yearning for the restoration of God’s Kingdom. Therefore marriage should be a testimony, a vision of hope, and a light to others of something bigger and better and eternal here in this time of darkness.

But this only works if our marriage reflects these kingdom values, if people can see something different in our marriages and families, they then can get a glimpse of something sacred, something eternal that goes back to a time before the tree and points them to hope of coming of Christ’s Kingdom.

Mom and I, and Carissa I know your parents raised you for this purpose – to bring the light of Christ to every part of the world you’re called to – whether school as we’ve seen you do, and now in your new careers and in the communities you’ll live.

But here’s how, after today, you’ll do this – you’ll do it together, in the context of this sacred covenant of marriage. You have an opportunity to give the people in your lives a glimpse of what was and a taste of what will be in the Kingdom to come.

So here’s the challenge I want to leave with you, the vision I pray you’ll have for your marriage – that through the power of Christ, you’ll live out this sacred covenant of marriage in such a way that others will be drawn not to you but to the only person who can make marriage all that it’s meant to be – Jesus Christ – and by doing so, you’ll bring a little of the Christ’s Kingdom to the world you’re now entering.”

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