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“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.”

When I’m No Longer Here

???????????????????????????????The day will come when I will no longer be the President of SpringHill. It’s one of the few things in life I’m 100% sure of. I may not know the circumstances surrounding that last day – when it’ll be or by whose choice will it come – mine, the board’s or God’s. But not knowing these things doesn’t impact what I do know for sure – one day I will no longer be in this job. So there’s no excuse for not doing my part to make sure SpringHill is ready for that inevitable day.

Up to this point I always believed my responsibility was to inform our board of a handful of viable replacements, either on staff or within the SpringHill community, that were available just in case I got hit by a truck.

But my understanding of this responsibility has changed. Recently I talked with a leader I deeply respect about his perspective on preparing for that certain day. What he told me turned my understanding of my responsibility upside down.

He said his job isn’t to replace himself but to multiply himself.

As I’ve reflected on his words I realized he’s right –  leaders never invest for a one to one return, they invest for a compounding yield, to see their efforts multiply.

Multiplication:

  • impacts the effectiveness of an organization today; replacement only matters in the future
  • aligns with growth, replacement with maintenance
  • is a sign of health; replacement is a sign of sickness and death

So my assignment is now clear – work every day to multiply myself as a leader, by developing and raising up new and future leaders who can help lead SpringHill today. If I do this then SpringHill, as a natural consequence, will also be prepared for that inevitable day – when I’m no longer here.

When Not Having all the Answers is the Right Answer! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 13

2014-04-09 14.15.53 HDRCan you effectively lead without having all the answers? Will others follow when you’re not the source of all knowledge? Or might it be possible that having all the right answers might actually get in the way of leading others effectively?

Now before you answer these questions ask yourself this – what is the role of a leader? Is it to be the source of all knowledge? Or is it to be a guide to others in their journey of discovery, to empower others by helping them find their own answers?

Consider this reality – knowledge is power, so having all the knowledge of knowledge means having all the power. Now admittedly leaders need power and good leaders use power for good reasons. But power and knowledge are not scarce resources to be held tightly and handed out like war rations. Instead they are much more like Black-eyed Susan’s, when planted in well watered and fertilized soil, spread and fill a garden with beauty.

In other words, leadership is about multiplying power not keeping and hording it. And the most effective way to multiply power is to help others learn how to discover their own answers to their questions, to gain their own understanding and knowledge.

How do we help others do this? We shy away from the temptation to simply answering their questions; instead we answer their questions with our own thoughtful, probing questions. We use the right questions to guide and direct others in their journey of discovering the right answers. Because when a person discovers their own answers they’re empowered with their new knowledge to anticipate, act and respond to the world around them.

So in leadership it’s better to ask the right questions than have all the right answers.

When it’s Good to be a Drip! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 12

015No one ever wants to be considered a drip. But sometimes being a drip is the best way to lead. My friend and mentor Jerry Martin use to tell me that when I wanted to move others to a new place I had to drip on them. You see just as a slow drip of water, overtime, can wear away rock, simple and gentle persuasion can move people farther along a desired path than being hammered by our position, power or authority. This is because when we drip, we allow people the opportunity to see, understand and then embrace change instead of having changed beaten into them. And whenever people embrace change, they own it. And owning it people move from simple compliance to serious commitment. And serious commitment is the key ingredient in any organization that intends to do remarkable and impactful work. Now admittedly there are times when we need to hammer, especially when safety, significant loss or when there’s clear moral and ethical failure. Most often in these situations there is very little time to drip, decisive leadership’s needed. But, in a leader’s work, these moments are the exception not the norm. And if a leader uses the dripping of gentile persuasion as their primary way to lead, when the moment calls for decisive action they’ve created the credibility and trust needed to move people with commitment and speed. Learning to lead through dripping is also critical to leading those who do not report to you or in whom you have no positional or organizational authority. Effective leaders must learn to persuade and move others who are not required to move. So at SpringHill, we want to be drips, which mean we want to lead through persuasion and influence, so that people move from compliance to commitment, and move our organizations from average to remarkable.

The Secret Ingredient in an Outstanding High School Education!

2014-05-20 21.20.33What is the secret ingredient in an outstanding high school education?

Could it be cutting edge academic, athletic and fine arts facilities? A curriculum loaded with options comparable to a small college? Maybe it’s a large student body that creates intense competition in the classroom, on the sports field and in the auditorium? Or the ability for students to specialize in a particular academic pursuit, sport, or fine arts discipline? Maybe the secret ingredient is as simple as parental involvement or small class sizes?

Now based on our four children’s experience, I can say with certainty, that most of these ingredients aren’t necessary to create a life transforming education. I also now believe it’s likely that some of these ingredients can actually stand in the way of one.

So then what is the secret ingredient? To answer that question, take a look at the above photo of our school’s conference and regional men’s and women’s 4×400 championship teams. They represent the secret ingredient. But to see this ingredient you need to know a bit about these eight students.

There are:

  • 5 seniors, 2 juniors and a sophomore
  • Six 4 sport athletes and one 5 sport athlete
  • The valedictorian and salutatorian of the senior class
  • Leads in the school plays and musicals
  • 7 students (with the other next year) who participated in an overseas mission experience
  • Members of the:
    • School band and choir
    • State runner-up Quiz Bowl Team
    • MHSAA Student Advisory Council
    • Student Council
    • National Honor Society (6 students)

Now do you see the secret ingredient? It’s the ability for students to participate, in a meaningful way, in a wide range of life developing activities both inside and outside the classroom. As a result these eight students and their class mates will graduate as well-rounded, versatile people prepared to enter an ever-changing, complex world and to be a  difference maker in it.

But what about getting into those top-tier colleges and universities? Well these seniors received acceptance into and will be attending nationally acclaimed colleges and universities. There is no doubt, because of all of their educational opportunities, these seniors were able to create impressive and persuasive college applications.

And here’s the real secret –the only kind of school that creates the opportunity to participate in a wide range of life developing activities, and to do so within the context of a small, supportive community of facility, staff, coaches, parents and families – is a small school.

And this is what our four children have experienced in their education at Northern Michigan Christian School. We have no doubt their diverse educational experience, combined with the people  and community who provided it, have set them up not only to be successful in their careers but to be difference makers in the world. .

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