I Need a Yardstick…

yardstick

It’s amazing how much stuff we measure–everything from sports statistics to website hits. It seems like everything has its own set of metrics. Everything has its own ruler. Teachers have grades. Football refs have yard markers. Businesses have spread sheets. They even have a laser trained at a spot on the moon to tell us if it moves closer or farther away!

Here are a few units of measure:

  • League–approximately 3 miles
  • Quire–used for measuring paper (it’s sometimes 24 sheets and sometimes 25…can’t we just decide?)
  • Hand–4 inches (about the width of a hand). That’s how they measure the height of a horse.
  • Bolt–40 yards of cloth

Here are some, well, more “dubious” units of measure:

  • 1 Smoot–5’7″–Harvard fraternity brothers measured one of their own, Oliver Smoot, and declared the Harvard Bridge to be “364.4 Smoots long +/- 1 ear.
  • 1 Sheppey–the approximate distance from which one can stand from a herd of sheep and still have them look like little cottonballs (we have Douglas Adams to thank for this one).
  • Mickey–(from Mickey Mouse) One mickey per second is the smallest resolvable unit of measurement for the speed and direction that a computer mouse is moved.
  • Donkeypower–250 watts; about a third of a horsepower.

So…how are you measuring your life? (And I don’t mean in years or Smoots!) How are you measuring the value of how you spend your time or resources? What is the yardstick for deciding almost anything at all?

Every leader needs to develop a personal set of metrics. Every leader needs to help her business, team, organization, family…to do the same. I’m not alluding to bottom lines or inventory control. I am talking about those guiding principles designed to measure the value of our words, the correctness of our behaviors, the wisdom of our thoughts, and the merit or our choices.

Very few take the time to develop or adopt a yardstick for behavior or personal growth. We are usually just reactive. It is often difficult to look back and even say why we made the choices we made. As a Christian, I believe the Bible is a great place to start. That is certainly my “go to” tape measure. It provides something extrinsic by which I can see how things measure up.

Our measuring stick, our stack pole has got to be more than mere opinion, desire, or gut feeling. It needs to be a set of principles and values that have strong enough structures to bear the weight of all the important things we must do (or not do) for ourselves and for those that depend on us.

What is your yardstick?

What’s in a Word? (part two)

lightning

Here is the conclusion of the article I started in the last post. (I promise…my next post will be 500 words or less…no I mean it). For more context, you may want to read Part One below.

Need/Want

This is a big one. We have made these terms virtually synonymous. Thanks to our greed and the advertiser’s penchant for understanding that greed, we often have a difficult time re-asserting the difference. The lines are so blurred we feel that most of our wants are essential for life. How can we live without this thing or the other? How can we hold our heads up without this label or the other? If we aren’t careful, we become driven by our wants without fully considering our deepest needs.

You will become as small as you controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.   – James Allen

The root of much joy (see the next section) comes in needing what we want and wanting what we need.

Happiness/Joy

In a nutshell, happiness is the feeling you get after a good meal (unless you overindulged!); joy is the contentment you receive after having lived the moment well. Too often, we seek happiness and the effects of its immediate gratification. I’m not “whupping” happiness. There is nothing wrong with the right kinds of pleasure and fun…not at all. But to seek happiness over joy is to feed a growing beast with an insatiable appetite. Something new and exciting is always trumped by something newer and even more exciting. Just ask any smart phone owner!

Joy, on the other hand, is indelible; once it has marked its place on your soul it is there forever. Knowing the pleasure of God; fulfilling the need of a loved one; serving the greater good…all of these things may well be marked by initial happiness. They are sustained, however, with the joy of living well and truly. This joy, unlike happiness, isn’t consumed with the last piece of cake, or diminished by the first scratch on new car, it endures.

My Christian worldview is satisfied by a quote from John MacArthur:

For most people happiness is possible but it’s also fickle, shallow, and fleeting. As the word itself implies, happiness is associated with happenings, happenstance, luck, and fortune. If circumstances are favorable, you’re happy. If not, you’re unhappy.

Christian joy, however, is directly related to God and is the firm confidence that all is well, regardless of your circumstances.

In Philippians 3:1 Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord” (emphasis added). The Lord is both the source and object of Christian joy. Knowing Him brings joy that transcends temporal circumstances. Obeying Him brings peace and assurance.       -John MacArthur

Winning/Gaining

Let’s face it, most of our daily pursuits are tinged with  the thrill of tallying wins and losses. I got the closest parking space. I got the promotion. I have the remote control–These are wins.  She got the recognition for work we did together. I lost the spelling bee. I couldn’t finish today’s Sudoku (without cheating, any way)–These are losses. Somehow, along the way, we have supplanted the idea of personal and corporate gain with gamesmanship and winning at virtually any cost.

Our inner voice has tricked us into paying more attention to what we may win rather than what we may gain. We can come to believe that the spoils of winning are equivalent to the benefits of healthy gain. Health is the dividing concept in reclaiming these terms. Winning may or may not be healthy…I am certainly not above a cutthroat game of Monopoly (Yep, I own Boardwalk WITH a hotel!)  or Basketball (My bad. Let me help you up!). Yet, incessantly vying to win, as a goal unto itself, is an open door to selfishness. Gain, on the other hand, is to “improve; make progress; advance” (Dictionary.com). At the risk of straining at a gnat, my point is to draw a distinction between terms separated by their altruism and health-outlook.

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!     -Vince Lombardi

It’s difficult and probably foolish to quibble with perhaps the most famous football coach of all time; but, that’s what I do! Seriously. We all understand Coach Lombardi’s famous quote. In a sporting contest you judge by winners and losers. Absolutely. I get it. If, however, you adopt this as a leadership principle, you are likely to end up in some hot water. Winning is rarely the most important issue. Health is almost always the right choice…even if you lose a hand or two.


 

Here is the wrap up to another lengthy post (thanks for sticking with me!): Saving the word for the word’s sake is immaterial. Dealing with pure semantics or splitting linguistic hairs is equally fruitless. The issue is the preservation of the precious meanings of our intentions AND our ability to communicate them precisely. We owe it to those whom we lead to plainly convey, in what we say or write, our sense of truth, clear directives, and definitive feedback . Our words are the weak vessels tasked with carrying our most precious thoughts. Failure to reclaim and bolster those good, strong words will, to some degree, diminish our ability to lead others to higher, healthier places.

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.        -C.S. Lewis

 

What’s in a Word? (part one)

lightning

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lighting-bug and the lightning.

                                                                                 -Mark Twain

Words mean something. In fact, I am a HUGE believer in finding the correct word for the purpose. A good vocabulary is vastly underrated. In fact, attempting to explain a feeling or situation with an inadequate vocabulary is like trying to paint a picture of a sunset with a box of eight crayons. You can do it, but it certainly loses something in the specificity and translation. Good communicators read and incorporate words the same way artists add ever-varied colors to their palettes.

But, it’s not just the size of the vocabulary rather the quality of the words and the precision of their meanings that often make the most difference. If you know a million words but don’t use them correctly, it muddies up communication. Sometimes the misuse is a slip up, a malapropism. Here are a couple of funny examples:

He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious–Yogi Berra

A rolling stone gathers no moths–Anonymous

We all get things mixed up. We’ve all used the wrong word…and probably suffered the snickers and the retellings. The real difficulty comes when we consistently use words incorrectly. Over time, this erodes their impact; it blunts the fine point of their exactness. Worse, it can fundamentally alter their quality and even rob us of the best and clearest form of expression.

English is especially prone to this. We use the same word in a multitude of ways. We overuse it.  It becomes part of advertising slogans or colloquialisms. Important words can become so watered-down and so ubiquitous that they lose their savor and poignancy. We are left searching for a replacement. Here is what I mean. I’ve compiled a list of seven words and pairs of words that have, for lack of a better term, been misappropriated and even hijacked. Their misuse and overuse have diluted their potency. They have lost their sparkle and uniqueness. They beg to be reclaimed.

Love

We love our mothers. We love pizza, We love to watch basketball. How can that word mean the same thing in each instance? The first definition in Dictionary.com is “a profoundly tender passionate affection for another person.” What differentiates the love for my wife and the love for chocolate? Romantically, we use this word when we really mean infatuation or even lust. As a verb it has been relegated to the same level as “like” or “prefer.”

The Greeks had multiple words for love. Each one had a different shade of meaning. Each one was apt for a particular use. Yet, in our English translations of the Bible we have chosen, for the most part, to replace those nuanced words with a single word, “love”. That is how it is in our personal use of language. I want the word “love” back! I want to know that when someone says they love me that I’m not on par with a really good steak. When I use the word, I want the recipient to know that I honor, cherish, and value them…at least a little bit more than a really good steak!

Friend

Every time we enter the realm of a new social media platform, we can amass hundreds of “friends”. I have people at the grocery check out line referring to me as “friend”. We hang out with all of kinds of people that we identify as friends. Really? Acquaintances, buddies, classmates, co-workers…perhaps these are better descriptors.

The Bible indicates that friendship is something more: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). John 15:13 states, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. There are people in our lives that make us better, hold us accountable, and stick with us through thick and thin. These are our friends. There are people in our lives who, while important and worthy, rarely bring out the best in us and seldom hold us accountable for our thoughts and behaviors. These people are, well, something else.

Excellence

This term is a superlative; a term that indicates first rank and transcendence. We apply this, and similar terms (e.g. great, perfect, etc.), willy-nilly. How many things are truly great, transcendent, or excellent? We have diluted not only the meaning of the terms but the category of things worthy to receive such labels. Questionable things we call “good.” Average things we call “great.” Better-than-average things get excellent marks. We have shifted our sensibilities and pursuit of quality so that more and more things receive high marks; when truthful marks that aren’t syrupy with “excellent,” “great,” or “stupendous” can prompt much needed improvement. Over the past decades, the group that administers the SAT test to prospective college students has lowered its scoring criteria so that more test-takers get higher marks. Rankings are historically higher but true aptitude has declined.

There is an old joke: A driver happened by a farm. Another man was shooting arrows into the side of a barn. Every single arrow was squarely in a bulls-eye. Amazed, the drive stopped to marvel at the skill of the bowman and said, “Sir, that is excellent marksmanship.” The bowman thanked him but said it wasn’t that big an accomplishment. “Shucks,” he offered, “I shoot the arrow and then I go draw a target around it. That way I NEVER miss.” Are things excellent because they are truly excellent or because we are constantly drawing and re-drawing the targets?

Expert

Every book, blog, infomercial, and advertisement…the list is long…touts some expert with a matching opinion. A few of these kudos are well-deserved by people whose credentials, pedigrees, and experience are impeccable. They offer well-reasoned, studied opinion and advice on the topic at hand. Alas, they are in the minority. We are inundated with the self-proclaimed experts; those who have no real knowledge or status (apart from having a platform, inventing a fad, answering questions on a talk show or being a celebrity). Why do we so consistently name them “experts” and cling to their pseudo-science, poor theology, or, at the worst, fraudulent claims?

Why are we so quick to name someone “expert” or believe a dust jacket that makes the claim? This is a difficult question. My thought is that its answer is a mash up of laziness, herd-mentality, gullibility, and susceptibility to advertising. At any rate, we usually stop short of doing our own due diligence. We don’t dig deeply enough to uncover the real expertise (or lack thereof). The proliferation of information on the internet means that anyone can write and be published. Any outlandish claim or notion can be proffered. To be frank, we have begun to equate print with truth. Even the founder of Wikipedia said this of his own invention:

It (Wikipedia) is pretty good, but you have to be careful with it. It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.

                                                                          -Jimmy Wales

Another lame joke: Leading a group, a tour guide at a museum said of a dinosaur skeleton, “This skeleton is 100,000,005 years old.” A member of the group wanted to know how the guide could be so precise. “Because,” answered the guide, “An expert told me that it was 100,000,000 years old when I started working here 5 years ago!” I suppose in some areas I have been closer to the real paleontological expert; and, sometimes I’ve been the guide who proves that a little knowledge is a faulty, even dangerous thing.

TO BE CONTINUED: My next post will be the conclusion of this article. In the meantime, help me think through this. What words do we misuse? What concepts are weakened because our language has become too careless? How does this impact leadership and communication?

 

No Pain, No…well…No Pain!

pain

Let me begin with a radical comment: No one likes pain. (And you needed to read a blog for this?!) We do almost everything we can to avoid it.

We have a pain avoidance reflex. It’s evident in the flinching when a foul ball comes into the stands. It’s the knot in your stomach when you have to go to the doctor or dentist. It’s the desire to ditch the spin class and eat a pizza. We are averse to suffering.

Some forms of pain, or at least discomfort, are a part of almost any worthwhile task. Exercising, dieting, working hard, learning a new skill, eating liver… these are the kinds of things that, while uncomfortable can improve our lives. Other forms of pain have no apparent use at all. Our inclination is to completely avoid them–hitting your thumb with a hammer, sitting in a traffic jam, getting stung by a bee, eating liver (I’m moving “eating liver” to this category. I am not going to suffer the liver thing ever!).

For leaders, pain avoidance can be a serious hazard when it comes to delaying hard conversations, difficult decisions, or distasteful tasks. All of us suffer from it. The question is: Does it keep us from doing what needs to be done? If there is someone you need to talk to but your dodging, it probably has something to do with avoiding pain. If you are procrastinating, it probably involves some sort of pain avoidance. If you are putting off tackling something that is going to present a challenge, involve a potential conflict, or take you out of your comfort zone, then…you guessed it…old mister pain avoidance is probably lurking.

Here are thirteen notable quotes that cover several different aspects of pain avoidance:

“First, do no harm.” (Hippocratic Oath)

Don’t try to cause pain. We are here to help and encourage.

“We are all just one small adjustment away from making our lives work”.  (George Costanza)

Small adjustments along the way can prevent monumental shifts. You can avoid a lot of pain by taking care of small stuff before it becomes big stuff.

“If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: “Take two aspirin” and “Keep away from children”.”   (Anonymous)

Things rarely get better by themselves. Leaders are supposed to pay attention to those things. The “aspirin” your team needs may just be the action you’ve been avoiding.

“Aye, there’s the rub!” (Shakespeare)

The only way for there not to be heat is to forego friction. Growth is dynamic, moving. We must manage the accompanying change. As change happens, there WILL be friction…and, friction often causes blisters!

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” (Max Lucado)

Leaders will inevitably encounter difficult situations. How one deals with them is the issue. Be prepared: where there are two or people; there are two or more points of view.

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” (Mark Twain)

Once there is an issue, deal with it. (see #3) Delay only promotes the “monster in the closet” syndrome.

“Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.” (Ronald Reagan)

A really good question: What do you want this to look like when we’re finished? Steven Covey calls this beginning with the end in mind. Take charge of the future by working toward the future you want.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”       (Mark Twain)

The fear of the issue is always worse than tackling the solution…well, almost always. Even if it’s a little scary, have courage.

“It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse. “ (Adlai Stephenson)

Leading and managing are hard work. Leadership is not for sissies. Be confident. Do what’s right.

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” (Winston Churchill)

Don’t seek conflict but neither run from it. We owe our followers the best possible chance at health. Speaking the truth in love is often the best way to accomplish that.

“His location was fantastic. I don’t think he threw a single fastball over the center of the plate.” (Mark Loretta)

Having difficult conversations or resolving difficult situations should be done in the right place, at the right time, with the right tone. Matching the apt word with the proper delivery and timing is an art that takes practice.

”If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you’re going to have problems. You’ll be dead a lot.”       (Dean Smith)

If you’re just trying to win, you’ve already lost. Make sure it’s meaningful. Seek truth…even if it comes from the other person!   Listen for how YOU can be better. Health is vastly more important than wins and losses.

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” (Zig Ziglar)

Stick to the point. Make it about the issue, not the person.

This is longer than most of my posts. My apologies. But, this is a HUGE deal. It is amazing how often we derail ourselves by avoiding pain and allowing inaction to rule. Here is your assignment: Start small. Find something you’ve been avoiding because you thought it would be too hard or painful. Do it. A task, a conversation, a meeting, a discipline…find something and DO IT! My belief is that you will be surprised to find that the pain of jumping in was not nearly so great as the fear, waste of energy, and lack of progress that came with the avoidance.

Let me know how it goes.