Monthly Archives: May 2010

Getting Started – Breaking Free

I didn’t grow up with a very positive image of myself, and being the youngest of three, I certainly didn’t see myself as a leader. My father was a good man, but not very adept at the skills of helping a young boy develop confidence. In fact, I can actually remember the one time my father told me that I had done a good job. I was probably eight years old, and I was thrilled at his postive feedback about my accomplishments. In addition to the lack of positive feedback from my father, I grew up in a church that taught that you could never be too sure whether God loved you. If you were good enough, then you might slip by the burning fires of hell and into heaven. Well, I knew I wasn’t very good, so I was sure I must be damned.

I thought the best thing for me was to get away from home as early as possible and to begin charting my own course in life. At eighteen years of age I enrolled in my denomination’s version of seminary in order to study the Word and become a preacher. I wanted to help others “slip by” the coming damnation.

Four things happened to me in the following five years that changed the course of my life. One, I reconnected with my childhood sweetheart and we married. I was blown away that Terry would chose me. I still believe that I married up and am grateful every day that she is still the love of my life. I have probably learned more about love and grace from her than from any other source. In fact, her love and forgiveness are experiences of grace that continue to help me more fully understand God’s unconditional love.

Secondly, I met my father-in-law, who believed I could do anything he thought I could. He constantly encouraged me to be positive and step out of my comfort zone. He pushed me to speak, teach and lead, and I stepped up. That push was all I needed to get started pushing myself.

Thirdly, those years in seminary and a short time in Vancouver planting a church forced me further into God’s word as I tried to figure out how to understand how that “fire insurance gospel” could be the “good news” of the scriptures and good news to the unchurched people I was trying to reach. It was there that God revealed to me the meaning of His grace and unconditional love for us all. This was the most important of all these events, but the fourth one had a different kind of significant impact.

The fourth thing that happened is relatively small and seemingly insignificant. A real estate agent, whose name I cannot even remember gave me a set of tapes recorded by Zig Ziglar, entitled, How to Stay Motivated. Since Ziglar’s teachings were peppered with references to the Bible I listened with great interest. The one thing he taught that has stuck with me through the years is, “You are who you are and where you are because of what has gone into your mind. And you can change who you are and where you are by changing what goes into your mind.” Those words reminded me of the words of Solomon who said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” That is when I set my course on changing what goes into my mind. I learned that I am not helpless and life is not hopeless. I have since become a life long learner, reader and student of God’s Word and of human and organizational behavior. I have surrounded myself at every opportunity with great leaders and teachers. I have studied and observed them. I have made it my purpose to continuously improve my leadership skills so I can help others do the same.

I know there are great leaders today who have life experiences much more difficult and challenging than mine. Watching these leaders and realizing my personal experiences gives me confidence that it is possible for anyone who aspires to be an exceptional leader to break free from the chains of the past and become the exceptional leader they envision.

Destructive Strong-Ties

Following on our conversation about Strong-Ties, we need to understand that it is actually possible to have developed Strong-Ties that are destructive, resulting in personal or professional derailment, or at minimum, impeding your progress toward the success you have envisioned. These ties may be more accurately described as Strong-Holds. These negative or destructive Strong-Holds will have to be untied, in order for you to rebuild toward your goals. Some of those destructive ties, such as poor attitudes, habits, negative conditioning and poor self-image can hold us equally firmly in our failure and lack of effectiveness. Someone once said that the chains of bad habits are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. The reality is that they can actually be harder to break free from than the more positive habits are to incorporate. Remember, I said hard, not hopeless.

Whether you are at the beginning of your leadership journey, facing a new challenge, picking up the pieces after a devastating experience or breaking free from negative Strong-Ties, our purpose is to help you identify and develop the Strong-Ties that will serve as Anchors on your journey to success.

Why “Strong-Ties”?

Shortly after hurricane Andrew swept through Homestead, Florida in 1992 a friend of mine expressed amazement at the massive devastation that was left in its wake. What stood out most in his mind was not the degree of destruction, but rather the houses that were left standing in the midst of it all. In an area that had been totally destroyed, there would be a row of houses, or sometimes a small subdivision that, surprisingly, would be left standing and virtually in tact. So being the inquisitive person he is, he began to investigate how this could happen.It turns out that this was no accident. During construction, most of the homes that stood strong were reinforced with simple little devices called hurricane straps, or strong ties, as one company has come to refer to them. As you can see from the picture above, these little devices were designed specifically to prevent the massive devastation that can be caused by the strong winds of a hurricane. They are now standard building code for new structures in hurricane prone areas. I am told that they can should be best installed while the home is under construction. It is possible to add them later, but it can be incredibly expensive, and is certainly not the remedy to take just before the storm hits.

As the news of the approaching storm spread across the airwaves in 1992, I am sure that many home owners scrambled frantically to save their homes. They did what they had been instructed to do, or what they had done in past hurricanes. They boarded up the windows, stacked sandbags to prevent flooding, and tied down anything they thought might blow away. Unfortunately many, those desperate efforts were futile. As hard as they worked, it was simply too little, too late. Their homes were destroyed.

Robert and Sandra Harris’ house was the only one on Wiggins Street in Pascagoula, Mississippi, that remained standing after Hurricane Katrina hit After being battered in several prior storms, the Harris’ tore down their house and started over, this time with hurricane straps and more. Noted in a FEMA report entitled: Only House Left Standing: Building Code Saves House.

When it comes to weathering the storms of life and the challenges of leadership, Strong-Ties are best put in place during the construction phase. Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents, friends, pastors, teachers, mentors and leaders who helped put these Strong-Ties in place early in our lives. Others of us were fortunate to be employed in progressive organizations where the executives believed in leadership development, talent management and succession planning. These organizations had the values and the vision to provide training, tools, experiences, mentors and resources to ensure their leaders had all the tools required to be effective and successful, and to guarantee that they had the bench strength in place to warrant the future success of the organization. Those who have had these opportunities count themselves blessed, and many are intent on paying this gift forward.

Others have encountered the storms less prepared and have some rebuilding to do. Fortunately those storms can have a positive effect for leaders. In fact one well known leadership research group has shown that leaders attribute most of their leadership effectiveness to all that they learned through the storms they have encountered in their personal and professional life. It is these storms that have impressed on them the necessity of incorporating Strong-Ties into their lives and into their businesses. Unlike the house devastated by the hurricane, we have the fortune of being able to learn as we go, and incorporate Strong-Ties as soon as we recognize the need for reinforcement.