The Water, The Bowl, and the Teachable Moment

For my #ThrowbackThursday offering, here’s a Maundy Thursday post, originally published last year.  This lesson is one all Christians, and especially Christian leaders, need today more than ever.  May you all have a blessed Easter!

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Jesus had a lot of opportunities to teach his disciples while on Earth. Object lessons, lessons that couldn’t be learned in any way other than being in his presence. Like Peter walking on the water, but then sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus. There were miraculous creations of wine and food, healings, and raising others from the dead. And oh yes, the sermons.

And yet, he saved one of his greatest lessons on leadership for one of his final teaching opportunities, that Last Supper night more than 2000 years ago.

Jesus — the only begotten Son, the Creator, who in just three days would defeat death and Hell itself — took on the garb of a servant and washed his disciples dirty, dusty feet.

So why did Jesus wait until the end of his ministry to wash his disciples feet? Why wait until his time on Earth with his disciples was almost over to drive home the point that leaders serve, and aren’t just served? He had talked with the disciples about this before (see Mark 10:43-44).  So why deliver this message in such a powerful way at the end?

We don’t know for sure, because the Bible doesn’t say. One thing we do know: This message was important to Jesus.

Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me. – John 13:8

Maybe it’s because the disciples took the opportunity in the Upper Room to squabble about which of them would be greater in the Kingdom (see Luke 22:24-30). Maybe it was clear that the lessons Jesus taught earlier just hadn’t sunk in.

And perhaps there was yet another reason, one based on simple human nature.

Modern educators often reference the principle of “primacy and recency.” Learners tend to remember best what they heard first, and what they heard last. 

The very word “disciple” means “follower.” The disciples had been followers of Jesus for three years. And they had heard a lot of messages from Jesus up until that point.

But this time was different.  Jesus knew the time for His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection was near.  And, the disciples’ time for merely following was nearly over. Their time to lead was about to begin. And a refresher of what it meant to be a leader was in order.

In a span of just a few weeks, these men would cease being just “disciples” and become “Apostles.” Message carriers. Holy Spirit bearers. Called by Jesus Himself to take the good news of His Gospel to the ends of the Earth, and to show the infant church by example what it really means to follow Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus saved this lesson for the end because this time, it really needed to stick. The young church would face enough obstacles to its survival for its leaders to act superior to its members.

Leaders of today, no matter who you lead, pay heed. Serving those who follow you is your leadership.

 

A Monument to Character

This picture is of the very first McDonalds restaurant ever, located in Des Plaines, IL, just north of what is now O’Hare airport. It’s no longer in operation (there’s a quasi-modern McDonalds right across the street), but it’s maintained as a museum, a monument to what has become one of the great, if not the greatest, business success stories in American history.

Like any monument, what this particular monument means is different for each person. To someone interested in business history, it represents a case study on how to create, and sustain, a universal experience that is appreciated and loved by billions of people around the world.  To someone else, it might represent a memory of sharing that first soda or french fries with your future husband or wife before that really awful movie you saw on your first date (anyone remember John Belushi in “1941”?).

To someone who once worked at a McDonalds, it could represent that first low-paying job where you learned how to work, how to relate to others in a business setting, how to serve well, and maybe even the beginnings of how to lead.  Or it might evoke painful memories of a cruel coworker or supervisor who made working there a living nightmare.

The possibilities are endless.

For me, this particular McDonalds is where my teenage father helped his uncle survey the site so that the builders could place it on the right parcel of land, in exactly the right spot, just as you see it today. My legal work has taught me enough about real estate to know that surveying is an exacting process, requiring precision, clarity of communications, and patience.  That was likely even more true in the early 1950s, when surveying equipment was still much like the equipment surveyors used when this country was founded.

Those qualities – precision, clarity, and patience – my father has carried with him throughout his entire life.

Knowing that my father walked across this land measuring, taking notes, and carrying surveying equipment – all the while building those character traits that made him the man that I know him to be – made me feel somehow connected to this place. And more connected to him.

And to the french fries.  Always the fries.

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The Water, The Bowl, and the Teachable Moment

Jesus had a lot of opportunities to teach his disciples while on Earth. Object lessons, lessons that couldn’t be learned in any way other than being in his presence. Like Peter walking on the water, but then sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus. There were miraculous creations of wine and food, healings, and raising others from the dead. And oh yes, the sermons.

And yet, he saved one of his greatest lessons on leadership for one of his final teaching opportunities, that Last Supper night more than 2000 years ago.

Jesus — the only begotten Son, the Creator, who in just three days would defeat death and Hell itself — took on the garb of a servant and washed his disciples dirty, dusty feet.

So why did Jesus wait until the end of his ministry to wash his disciples feet? Why wait until his time on Earth with his disciples was almost over to drive home the point that leaders serve, and aren’t just served? He had talked with the disciples about this before (see Mark 10:43-44).  So why deliver this message in such a powerful way at the end?

We don’t know for sure, because the Bible doesn’t say. One thing we do know: This message was important to Jesus.

Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me. – John 13:8

Maybe it’s because the disciples took the opportunity in the Upper Room to squabble about which of them would be greater in the Kingdom (see Luke 22:24-30). Maybe it was clear that the lessons Jesus taught earlier just hadn’t sunk in.

And perhaps there was yet another reason, one based on simple human nature.

Modern educators often reference the principle of “primacy and recency.” Learners tend to remember best what they heard first, and what they heard last. 

The very word “disciple” means “follower.” The disciples had been followers of Jesus for three years. And they had heard a lot of messages from Jesus up until that point.

But this time was different.  Jesus knew the time for His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection was near.  And, the disciples’ time for merely following was nearly over. Their time to lead was about to begin. And a refresher of what it meant to be a leader was in order.

In a span of just a few weeks, these men would cease being just “disciples” and become “Apostles.” Message carriers. Holy Spirit bearers. Called by Jesus Himself to take the good news of His Gospel to the ends of the Earth, and to show the infant church by example what it really means to follow Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus saved this lesson for the end because this time, it really needed to stick. The young church would face enough obstacles to its survival for its leaders to act superior to its members.

Leaders of today, no matter who you lead, pay heed. Serving those who follow you is your leadership.

 

My Vision Source

Saw an interesting tweet recently that I thought deserved some consideration. Here’s the quote that made up the body of the tweet:

Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but by the absence of vision. — Anonymous

This quote tracks one of my favorite Bible verses: “Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

In my 31+ years as a husband, my 28 years as an attorney, and my 27 years as a dad, the most effective leadership advice I’ve ever known is from the Bible. It’s been as true for for me when providing corporate leadership as it has been when I am leading my family.

Often imitated, never improved upon. Thousands of years old, and yet as relevant today as……well, as a minutes-old tweet.

Yes, God knows a thing or two about human nature.

Winning the Prize

Running a race. The phrase paints a lot of mental pictures, doesn’t it? Men and women, all dressed in bright colors, running on the same track, in the same direction, at the same time. Someone wins, the rest lose.

Then there are the marathon runners. Twenty-six-point-two miles of just you and the course. Running alone. Continuing to run in spite of withering exhaustion, and often searing pain. Hours to think, “Am I really up to this? What is the point?” That’s assuming your brain can even function after running, say, 19.1 miles.

My dear aunt passed away last month after a brief fight with cancer. The pastor of her small town church delivered the funeral message with a strong Gospel testimony, and a very definite theme from Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians: She ran her life’s race to win it, to claim her prize.

It’s easy for most Christians to see that the “race” of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul’s use of the imagery of athletes training for competition helps readers understand what’s going on, but it’s not a perfect picture. Yes, our lives will have exhaustion and pain, mixed with moments of exhilaration when we get our “second wind.” But in each individual’s race of life, only that person can win. And only he or she can lose. There’s no arbitrary finish line. (I mean, 26.2 miles. Really?) No stopwatch to beat. No man-made route to follow.

Just you, and the race that God has set out before you. And in many important ways, you get to choose the course. Lifestyle. Relationships. Worldview. Entertainment. Perspective.

The race of life is won by how you run your race. By why you took each turn in the course. And most importantly, by Who you’re running to. And while only Jesus can finally judge whether you or I have won our individual races, those of us on the outside can see evidence of a winner just by looking at the fruit of his or her life. Love and joy. Peace and patience. Kindness and goodness. Gentleness and self-control.

I am thankful for my aunt’s well-run race. And for her leadership as I continue to run mine.

#Leadershipgoals

OK, guys, we’ve all seen them. You know, those posts on social media that you hope your wife, kids or your girlfriend never see.

How about the impossibly cute way that a guy proposes to his bride-to-be? Thank you so much, Pinterest, for setting expectations way too high. Don’t they know that most guys don’t even look at Pinterest?

By the way, I feel so bad for the guys in high school these days. You can’t even ask a girl out to Homecoming without baking a dozen cookies, or getting donuts. Son, you had better show up with at least a poster using the wrappers of candy bars as words in the question (with the candy bars inside, of course), or she won’t even listen to you.

And then, at the bottom of these (usually self-congratulatory) posts, there’s often this hashtag: #Relationshipgoals.

When my daughter and her close friends do something cool together, they take a selfie (usually several selfies) followed by the hashtag #Squadgoals.

What about that dad who built the amazing Ninja course in his backyard for his daughter? I bet that #Dadgoals has appeared somewhere on social media in association with that video.

So, after seeing these posts and swallowing my daily dose of inadequacy, a different hashtag comes to mind: #Leadershipgoals. What are the goals I’m setting today for my own family?

Andy Andrews, one of the country’s top speakers on leadership, said on a recent Dynamic Communicators podcast that, with respect to parenting, our goal should not be to raise great kids, but to raise kids who become great adults. Excellent advice. Andy’s kids still live at home, but his words certainly apply to our adult children as well.

In short, empty-nester parents must decide: What is the desired end product of your parenting today – and yes, you are still parenting, every day – even though your children don’t hear from you or see you daily?

Those of you who have young adult children can testify to the change that occurs when they leave home. Especially the dads. I still love my children, but these days, I have to lead them more than ever before. Advising, consulting, counseling, encouraging.  As I’ve written before, a person who “leads” with the sole goal of completing a task isn’t leading. Leading adult children this way might ensure that they don’t get evicted or the power stays on, but it doesn’t help them move forward in life.

The effective father ensures that his kids are trained and educated on how to complete real world tasks without him. A dad who cares will make sure his kids know the right contacts they’ll need to get things done without him. And after preparing his kids, he’ll then allow them to grow by letting them perform adult-level tasks on their own, without him.

Sound a lot like a good business leader? I certainly think so. Yes, a “leader” may exhibit excellence, competence, or even brilliance in manipulating his business team to or achieve a challenging objective. But if those he leads aren’t better people for his “leadership,” then he’s not an effective leader.

So, what is my top #Leadershipgoal with my kids? Leading myself out of a job. My number 2 #Leadershipgoal? Watching with satisfaction as my kids soar.

Without me.

Close Calls

Ordinarily, we want our children to obey authority, right? Well, there was one time when it almost didn’t work out so well….

During a family trip to Washington DC one Spring Break many moons ago, we came to a stop on the Metro near the Smithsonian Museums, and our entire 8-person group started the processional of filing out the train, with my son with Down syndrome bringing up the rear. That was usually not a problem, except just as the person in front of him stepped off the train, a very authoritative female voice came over the PA system and said, “Step back! Doors are closing.” Stephen, ever the dutiful oldest child, stopped in his tracks, took a step back, and waited.

“Stephen, come on!” We all yelled the same words, almost like a chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy, aware that if he didn’t get off that train now, we might have to pick him up in Baltimore.  Still totally confused, Stephen still didn’t move. The doors started to close.

That’s when the “Dad instincts” kicked in.

With a shout of “NO!” I sprinted the 30 feet back to the train, pried the almost-closed doors back open, and pulled Stephen off the train. To hear my kids tell this story (and they do), I exerted Hercluean effort to open those doors. In reality, as soon as the automatic doors sensed my resistance, they reopened with no effort from me at all.

After a few minutes to catch our breath (first, I was really out of shape, and second, we were all scared to death) after that close call, we realized that we had been given a highly teachable moment.  There was absolutely no way we could be angry with Stephen. He simply followed what, in most cases, were reliable directions from a trustworthy source. The more important lesson for Stephen, and for the other three kids as well, was to pick wisely which authoritative voice you obey. Is it the automated voice on the train? Or is it Mom and Dad yelling, “Get off the train!”?

The Word of God warns us many times of false teachers and messages the world will ask us to believe. In fact, a 2013 article on Bible.org by Stephen Cole (find it here) states that warning against false teachings is emphasized more than anything else in the New Testament. So, what this near-catastrophe allowed us to share with our kids is what Paul shared with the early Church in Romans 16:19: “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” In other words, knowing which voice teaches good and which voice teaches evil requires wisdom, and wisdom comes from God.

Today, almost 10 years later, I think that lesson sunk in. Praise God.

The Character of Leadership

Note: This is the second in a two-part series of blog posts on leadership. To read the first installment, please click here.

Leadership is a very self-less proposition.

I’ve seen any number of leadership articles in the mainstream media, and many of them come close to getting it right. Several mention the humility required of a leader, and the integrity and genuineness needed to effectively lead. Even more discuss the focus, passion, and engagement a leader needs to drive his or her team forward to success.

But none of them capture what I see as the complete scope of leadership. That is, until I started thinking about leadership in terms of family.

Of all the relation-ships you can have with other human beings outside of marriage, the position of leadership requires the most selflessness of any of them. The greatest picture of selfless leadership available to us today is in the Bible, where the Apostle Paul describes the husband’s leadership of his wife and family. The Bible tells us that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and that he is to give up his life for her.

While leaders don’t love their followers in exactly the same way as a husband loves his wife, a leader is still called to love them, as Jesus instructed in his second greatest commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). And as a leader, what does “giving up your life” look like with respect to those you lead? As I mentioned in my previous post, it looks a lot like respect — for the responsibility, for those you lead, for those who help you lead, for those you don’t lead but who may see things differently.

And, this advice applies as much to women who lead as it does to men.

But aren’t leaders, especially in the business world, also asked to fulfill many other tasks, and to perform with excellence? Yes, absolutely. But a tyrant who excels at identifying end goals is still a tyrant. Pushing a team to achieve by oppression is not leadership but subjugation. And in the end, there is no two-way relationship between a self-important dictator and a group he is charged to shepherd. The communication only flows one way.

Ironically, not every company or organization is looking for or wants true leadership. Too often, corporations seek only “results” that can be measured in number of customers, profits, and satisfaction metrics. The people who fill those roles are better called “managers,” “bosses,” and “supervisors.”

But people who selflessly guide others to a common goal while changing the lives of their team members for the better? Those people have earned the title of “leader.”