Alex Hoffer

People are Human First, Employees Second

This post is a reminder to the leader who cares about those they serve. 

The person exhibiting authority and assertiveness might be doing so because they have a low level of control at home. 

The person talking about the office, even people inside the office, as if they are somehow above the fray, might be looking for a place where their opinion matters. 

The person going around the office telling everyone how great they are might have been verbally abused for years. 

The person with strong opinions about particular issues of the day might have experienced a great hurt in their past. 

The person that seems emotionally distant, always tired, and not as engaged as they used to be, might have a child needing extra help and support. 

The person that is quiet might simply be alone.

The person that says the inappropriate joke might simply need a real friend. 

The person that makes work seem like “life or death,” might be doing so because other areas of their life lack the meaning they hoped for. 

Work is human. 

While I do not claim that all work conflict stems from the “mights” listed above, a leader has to remember that those they lead bring everything with them to work. 

Everything. 

There is no such thing as work-life balance. 

There is, and should be, limits to work. 

There is not, nor should be, limits to being human. 

Therefore, the whole person comes to work. 

As leaders, then, we need to see the person behind the worker. 

We need to be curious, without being over-bearing or unnecessarily getting into their business. 

We need to ask questions when the door is open. 

We need to listen, rather than to counsel. 

And most of all, we need to care. 

Not all problems at work originate from what we bring to work. Further, work conflict can be very healthy to both the organization, and the individual, when it is constructive. 

But, disclaimers aside, this post is a reminder that work is human. 

The problems we see at work are often not the problems. 

They are a window into the soul of the worker and into the brokenness of the human condition that we all share. 

Let’s see the human. 

Let’s care for the soul. 

Let’s affirm the person. 

That is what leaders do. 

Return on Anger

It is not an over exaggeration to say that our current times might later be classified as the age of rage. As divisions over almost everything mount, we are becoming a more angry society. 

Like most posts I write, the idea of this post came to me because of something I was experiencing. While I do not think of myself as a naturally angry person, I have to confess that I have seen it bubble up more frequently in the last year. 

Am I alone? Or, does any of the following get your blood boiling? 

COVID-19 restrictions 

Lack of COVID-19 restrictions 

People that preach the vaccine 

People that preach the vaccine is a Government take-over 

Politics: Right, Left, or anywhere in-between 

The lack of anywhere “in-between” politically 

Politics coming into every aspect of life 

Your pro baseball team’s lousy hitting

Okay, maybe the last one is not something you get worked up about, but I would imagine you have feelings, perhaps even strong feelings, about all the rest. Perhaps these feelings even lead to anger. 

Notice, I purposely did not take a side on any of the issues listed above. I suspect that even mentioning them gets people a little agitated these days.

I do not know a single leader in any position of authority that does not do a return on investment (ROI) for a capital expenditure. So, here is my question for today’s post, when was the last time you did an ROI on anger? 

This is the question I posed to myself last week when I felt angry after reading the latest Wall Street Journal article on another political divide. My answer was that I never get an acceptable return on my anger. 

Let me repeat for impact. 

I never get an acceptable return on my anger. 

What about you? 

The more I thought about it, the more anger costs me. 

For example, 

When I am angry, I do not serve my spouse, or my kids, well. 

When I am angry, I come to work with a demeanor that can be off putting to others. 

When I am angry, I can make bad decisions. 

When I am angry, I can say hurtful things. 

When I am angry, I am sinful. 

You might not like the word sinful. As a follower of Jesus, however, I want to be clear that I am not judging you, or anyone else. Rather, I am just confessing that anger separates me from God, which is what sin does. When I am angry in the ways described above, I am not righteous. Rather, I am separated from God and sinful. In effect, I am saying to God that my way is better and my thoughts on a particular issue are supreme. 

None of this is true. Regardless of what I am angry about, I am not fully in the right and my way is not entirely right. 

I am simply not God. 

Coming back to leading others, it is important to turn away from this kind of anger. I say this with conviction because leadership is about serving others. To be someone worth following, then, a leader needs to set aside their preferences for the greater good of those they lead.

To this end, can’t we all take a collective sigh, and for the good of our organizations—the area where we actually have influence—lead with humility? Perhaps, even lead in a way that is welcoming of diverse thought and diverse views? 

I believe that is the way the One I follow would want me to lead. Note, this does not mean I do not have convictions, or even strong points of view. It simply means that I can hold those, while simultaneously being open to the view of others. This open-mindedness opens the door to a reality that is less about anger and more about love. 

I know this is counter-cultural, but this is why I pray for those I do not agree with. Please note that these prayers are NOT about God somehow changing the people I disagree with, but rather about God changing ME. 

I pray: 

“Lord, I do not agree with so and so about the particular issue of X. That said, I pray that you bless them. That you give me eyes to love them. Help me discern where they are right, and where I am wrong. Most importantly, lead me to your Truth in this situation. Help me also to be humble. Help me to live according to your Word only, and not to anything less than your Word. Help me to love others as you love me.” 

You see I have come to discover a truth shared long ago: love has an acceptable ROI, whereas anger does not. 

Therefore, the more love I bring to my spouse, kids, and work, the better off I am in the long run. 

To do this, I admittedly have to monitor what I am turning my mind to. This may mean signing off social media or ignoring the latest Wall Street Journal article, but my life is better for it. 

Please understand that this is a constant struggle. The constant bombardment of messages sometimes gets the best of me. It is at these times when I return back to some kind of the aforementioned prayer I wrote above. 

Leaders, I will ask the question one last time that I started with post with. When was the last time you did an ROI on your anger? 

My suspicion is that any type of ROI on anger is going to teach you that it does not give you the return you need to be an effective leader. 

On the other hand, love has an unlimited return to the leader focused on serving other human beings. 

Choose which return you want. 

But, as for me and my house, I am serving the Lord and building my life on irrational love. 

Especially for those I disagree with. 

1 + 1 + 1

It has been said that leadership is the art of doing things with, and through, other people. The idea of a solo entrepreneur is a misnomer because others are always needed for movement to occur. The other person is often someone inside the organization, so developing people within the organization is vital. 

Given this reality, leaders often talk about the process of delegation. It is, given what I just outlined above, necessary. But, the word “delegation” can have a negative connotation. 

At one point in my life, for example, I was the person on the receiving end of someone else’s delegation. In various “intern” roles, this did not feel good. Over the course of a few summers, I did everything from making copies to completing useless Excel spreadsheets that made absolutely no sense to me. 

Delegation at its worse feels like this, an unexplained task dump. But, even at its best, when the task delegated is meaningful and explained, it leaves something to be desired. What if something more than the task was delegated? What if the leader delegated both the task and the authority to make it happen? What if they empowered the individual to act on behalf of the organization? 

Here is a brief example to help illustrate what I am getting at:

Delegation: Sales Leader asks Salesperson to fix pricing issue with Customer A. The Sales Leader defines what the goal is and then delegates the process of creating a strategy to the Salesperson. The Salesperson then asks for feedback regarding the strategy, makes adjustments, presents it to the customer, and then reports back to the Sales Leader.

Empowerment: Sales Leader asks Salesperson to fix pricing issue with Customer A. The Sales Leader then asks for action, promises support, but leaves all creation of the “how” to the Salesperson. This sounds similar, but with one major difference: the Salesperson has been empowered to define the goal. They are “empowered” to make the call, one way or another. In sports terms, they are now calling the plays as opposed to just “running the offense” dictated to them. 

In the delegation scenario, the Salesperson needs a lot of hand-holding to get what they need done. Significantly less help is needed in the empowerment example, unless it is asked for. The key for the leader is to still check-in routinely. But, the goal is not to dictate the outcome. Rather, the goal is to offer support.

Before moving on, if any part of you (the leader) is hesitant to give this kind of authority to a team member, I would ask you to consider whether you have the right team member to begin with. Trust is essential to being someone worth following. Obviously, I would not recommend over-empowering someone lacking experience because to do so is not loving. But, the majority of your team members can take on more than we (leaders) allow them to. And this point leads to something I want to spend the rest of the post explaining:

1+1+1 

Put succinctly, 1+1+1 is the formula for leadership development, or the process when one person builds into another person who then builds into another.  

At its essence, empowerment frees one to discover how to accomplish whatever it is they are attempting to accomplish. This must involve complete freedom. What I mean is that they must decide how to go about doing whatever it is they have been empowered over. Or, using the example above, empowerment frees the Salesperson to make any call necessary, even one that differs from the leader’s point of view. 

I want to be crystal clear on freedom because freedom forces accountability. Think about it, once empowerment occurs, the person is not simply doing a task, but in charge of a problem. They have both agency and authority. This forces them to lead the third “plus,” or 1+1+1, because they need the help, and support, of other people to move whatever it is forward. The Salesperson, for example, may need the help of Customer Service, Quality, or Production. So, they will need a “plus 1.” 

Remember, leadership is the art of doing things with and through other people. The only way for the empowered person to move forward is by doing things with and through other people. What’s better is that this empowered person most likely does not have positional authority. Therefore, they have to develop, and use, real leadership skills. They have to earn the buy-in of key stakeholders, they have to solicit the help of others who are probably “busy” doing their own job-related tasks. All of this is met with resistance because anything worth doing always is. Overcoming this resistance helps them become a leader. 

This may sound harsh, but only those worth following are going to have success in making things happen in this model. I do not say that to be mean, but rather, from what I have observed. Over the last year, I have been amazed at how certain people on our team have stepped up when empowered. I have watched two young Salespeople use their leadership skills to gain the buy-in of others throughout the organization—keep these two Salespeople in mind as I will return to them in the closing paragraph. I have also observed one of our Plant Managers take the next step in their development through empowering others to do things on their behalf. All of the sudden, this Manager has time to build into his team, rather than being the chief “doer.” The morale improvement is palpable. 

Conversely, I have also seen others on our team struggle to move the ball when they are empowered. I have observed how the organization does not respond positively to them, which means that others often have to get involved to alleviate issues or bottlenecks that arise. To be 100% sure, and please do not miss this, these people are image-bearers of the God I follow. More so, and this is also key, they are treated with grace and respect throughout the organization. Their contribution to the team is also not questioned. In fact, the people I am thinking about do good work. The reality, however, is that they are simply not leaders, and not people others follow. Therefore, it is best for them to exist in the 1+1 world rather than trying to force them into the 1+1+1. 

The majority of the readers of this blog are leaders themselves so let me close by clearly spelling a few things out so that we are all on the same page. 

The most important thing to remember is that this is not some gimmick, or Jedi-mind trick. This is actually hard to do because you, the leader, have to give away something that you probably hold on to closely, namely authority. To be sure, without empowering others to make decisions, they are stuck in a world of simply doing tasks. I will go so far to say that promoting these kinds of people may eventually work, but you (the leader) are causing them all sorts of pain by robbing them of the opportunity to develop leadership skills before they have positional authority. 

Leaders, I know it is does not feel good, but we have to give away power every single day. Let’s stop giving lip service to “working ourselves out of a job,” and let’s actually live it. If we do, our organizations will be thriving with new leaders. 

Finally, remembering the two young Salespeople I mentioned a few paragraphs up: What I am describing above, as it relates to the 1+1+1 model, only addresses empowerment around decision making, and the development of leadership skills necessary to achieve whatever the goal is. The real magic, however, happens when the new leader starts building into others and starts learning how to help them develop more leaders. To keep with the formula, the real magic, then, is when 1+1+1 becomes 1+1+1+1. To this end, I have been challenging these young Salespeople to do exactly this. I hope to report back in the months to come as to their progress. 

Let me close with some encouragement. 

I did not come up with this idea on my own, but rather from the one I most follow. Matthew 28:18-20 outlines Jesus’ Great Commission, and regardless of what you think of him, it is hard to deny the impact his movement, and Church, has had on history. 

This should encourage you because “making disciples that make disciples” overcame Rome, overcame countless cultural forces, and was initiated by outcast people of all genders and backgrounds. 

Setting faith aside, the reality is that people can be empowered to do more than any of us think possible. 

To that end, let’s expect the best of those we lead. 

And let’s give them the opportunity to become leaders themselves. 

The Most Dangerous Lie A Leader (Might) Ignore

The older I get, the more experience I gain, the more I have come to realize the power of the mind. The thoughts we think impact everything from our outlook of the world around us, to our individual performance and almost everything in between. As Henry Ford allegedly said, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” 

Most leaders realize that their thoughts have the power to either enhance, or hinder, not only their performance, but also the performances of those they lead. In fact, most leaders I talk to think about what they are thinking about, as strange as that sounds, and work to make sure that their thoughts are enhancing the environment around them. And when their thoughts hinder either their performance, or those around them, they work to change those thoughts. All of this is vitally important, and fundamental, to a leader. 

But, this post is about a different kind of thought. While the thoughts I am referring to above are conscious, meaning we hear them in our heads, the singular thought I am referring to today may or may not be. It may not be heard because it can, at times, be suppressed deep inside you. If so, it only becomes heard during times of stress or frustration. Because of this, it holds more power than it deserves. For this reason, it is the most dangerous lie a leader (might) ignore. 

I won’t tease out what it is any longer. The most dangerous lie a leader might ignore is the following:

It is always going to be like this.”

To be clear, there are hundreds of contending lies that leaders can tell themselves, but I am taking the position that this one—“it is always going to be like this”- is the most dangerous one a LEADER can believe for several reasons. 

First, by definition a leader helps people move from point A to point B. Leadership is never sedentary and always requires movement. So, the word “always” in the statement, “it is always going to be like this,” implies that the leader no longer has agency to move whatever they need to move from point A to point B. Believing this lie, then, is the socially acceptable way for a leader to subconsciously say, “I give up.” Therefore, we need to root it out of our mind so that we continue to lead ourselves and others.  

Next, this statement is the most dangerous lie because it can be buried inside our subconscious, as I already mentioned above. Think about some similar statements like, “I am not good enough,” for comparison. “I am not good enough,” is never subtle. It is usually heard very audibly in one’s mind, whereas “it is always going to be like this,” is less so. It typically comes in a time of seclusion, or late in the evening, when the day is done. It is the ultimate “give up” moment.  

As I will mention below in the application section, we need to combat this lie with truth. This starts with recognizing the statement for what it is—a lie!—and reminding ourselves that things can change! That is, if we want to continue leading ourselves and others. 

Finally, “it is always going to be like this” is dangerous because it is an opinion. I am going to capitalize whose opinion it is so that you do not miss it. It is YOUR OPINION of YOUR SITUATION. What makes this so dangerous is that you tend to agree with your own opinions! What I mean is that when you hear it, you believe it, because you thought it! 

But, it is still a boldface lie! 

Therefore, I want to pivot to application because leaving you here would be like saying “it is always going to be like this, so good luck.” Not only is that not cool, I do not believe it for one second. 

So, here are some applications: 

First, start thinking about your thinking. Yes, think about what you are thinking about. Notice what you believe about situations. In fact, I recommend that you write down the themes that emerge. Spend time acclimating yourself to the trends of your thinking. Do you get negative when you are tired or stressed? Do you tend to make better decisions in the A.M. or P.M.? Simply notice how you think and how hard (or easy) you are on yourself.  

Second, reflect on your own leadership. What initiatives are you ignoring? What people, or change, have you given up on? Ask yourself whether you subconsciously believe that it is always going to be like this? Be honest here. It is easy to gloss over this one. It is easy to even lie to yourself, which is why you cannot stop here (see number 3).  

Third, ask someone else for help. I meet regularly with an Executive Coach and also an accountability partner. I highly recommend that you find one, or both, for yourself. If you think you can’t find one then find a coworker that you can trust. Or, ask your spouse to expose the trends of your thinking. After all, they most likely know you and your thought patterns better than any other human on the planet!  

Take time to reflect on the 3 points listed above.  Are you voicing a subconscious belief that “things (in whatever situation you are describing) are always going to be like this?” Take it from me, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you do not think this way. Sometimes I need my Executive Coach to call me out, like he did last year when I (subconsciously) voiced an opinion that our sales were always going to suffer because of COVID. He immediately challenged me back, “it is your job to lead and make sure that is not the case!” 

In essence, he was reminding me that “things do not have to always be this way!”  

Finally, and the applications listed so far are not intended to be an exhaustive list, I would highly recommend taking a deeper dive on the topic of the mind. The best book I have read on this subject is Craig Groeschel’s, Winning the War In Your Mind. I highly recommend reading this book and following the exercises prescribed in the book. 

In closing, there is one thing I know about leadership that I want to leave you with that I hope will encourage you. As I stated above, leaders move things from point A to point B. They do this because they are always surrounded by people, the very people they are leading. 

So, with others around you, things do not have to always be the way they are. Things can change. 

Whether your version of “things are always going to be this way,” is something related to you personally, or your organization, I can say this with confidence. With the help of others, you, or your organization, CAN change. 

Believing things can change starts the process of, you guessed it, changing! 

It is equivalent to the farmer planting the seed. 

So, remember that you are not on this journey alone. 

You have more people around you that care than you most likely realize. 

These are the truths that you need to remind yourself of regularly. 

Things can change. 

It may be this way today, but things can and will change tomorrow. 

Meetings are where Leaders LEAD

I used to absolutely dread meetings. I am task-oriented and like to check off my various to-do’s throughout the day. Meetings used to find their way onto the to-do list, but only begrudgingly so. I was never fired up to go to meetings, outside of the strategic planning meetings that clarified what mountains we were going to climb. 

Can you relate to my dread of meetings? Do you get tired of the monotone reading of the last meeting’s minutes? What about the overview of the action items? Has a part of you ever cynically wondered to yourself why they are even called “action” items given how little “action” is taken upon them? Maybe a better word choice would be “chore list,” because they typically are met with the enthusiasm kids have when their parent asks them to do a “chore.”

The problem is that meetings are where leaders LEAD. 

Think about it. 

A good meeting can: 

Cast vision

Clarify direction 

Asks penetrating questions 

Build people up

Share what’s going on in different parts of the organization 

Set strategy 

Adapt strategy when things in the environment change (COVID-19!)

Resolve tension 

And this is just the start. 

These are the things that leaders DO. 

Obviously, a leader cannot do all of this in the same meeting. Doing so is not only foolish, but it leads to what I refer to as “meeting stew,” or a mixture of multiple meetings in one. Unlike your mom’s stew, however, it never tastes good and leads people to the “meeting hangover” effect. The kind of hangover where they say, “I’ll never do that again…” 

But, they will. 

And in the context of organizational life they have to because it is part of their job. 

That said, it is our job as leaders to make meetings no longer suck. 

Yes, suck. 

This may be harsh, but the complaint from others that they’re in “so many meetings” that they can never get anything done, might be a cry for help for us (the leader) to run better meetings. 

So, why don’t we? 

The point I am driving home in today’s post should be obvious by now. But, let’s be crystal clear. Leaders need to believe that it is their job to run productive meetings. Further, they have to buy-in to the reality that meetings are where they actually get to lead others. It is their playing field. It is the golf course, football field, or pitch (your preference). Play the game. Set direction. LEAD. 

I get that not every meeting is run by you, the leader. The point is that when you, the leader, run a meeting, you need to step up and run it with excellence. Your meetings should feel different. 

To get you started, here are some of the types of meetings that I run:

Weekly meetings with direct reports (Having fun with these has been mutually beneficial) 

Monthly meetings with people I want to build into (“Nextgen” meetings)  

Weekly meetings with my two sisters where we support each other, hold each other accountable, and then I lead us in prayer over the business. 

Monthly operational meetings that goes over metrics, and gives the team a chance to fire questions at me. I learn a ton in this one! 

There are also a bunch of weekly meetings that I also participate in that range from our daily operational meeting to various weekly operational meetings. All of these are also important, so I have to show up with focus and energy. 

Regardless of what you think about meetings, to be someone worth following you have to create meetings that inspire, challenge, and set the organizational tone. 

Then, others will follow. 

Processing Bad News

Yesterday, I received some bad news about someone on our team. It has nothing to do with health, or any other external circumstance, thank goodness. Rather, the news is that their role, and the hours worked, need to change because of some external factors. 

This post will explain the things I did the last twenty-four hours to deal with the change. My preferred course would be for this person to stay in their position as is. This transition is not preferable for me, but out of care for them, I have to find a mutual path forward. 

Isn’t that what leaders do?  

First lesson: I have been taught that anger can be an emotion that covers up either fear or sadness. In fact, I have frequently written this blog about how I find it helpful to ask myself what am I afraid about, or sad about, when I feel angry. In this situation I feel both fear and sadness. I fear losing a top performer in the position they are in and I am saddened to lose them as well. Acknowledging this has been helpful because I am not really angry about the situation. What I am feeling is a little fear and probably more than a little sadness. Yet, I was acting angry yesterday afternoon when I learned about it, so this clarification helped. 

Second, something I heard Colin Powell advise in a talk that I attended years ago helped me yesterday when I learned about the situation. The line was this: “Things will look different in the morning.” I think what Colin was pointing out was that our minds can think more clearly after a good night’s sleep. So, after thinking about this news for several hours, I put it in the “Do Not Disturb” part of my brain and went home. Confession: this part of my brain has a VERY WEAK door, meaning things usually do not stay in there long! This is why I could not stop here.

Three, I shared all of the above, especially my emotions, with my wife, Sarah. I am a verbal processor, so Sarah hears it all! I am the complete opposite of most guys that I know in that I have to talk things out. Otherwise, my thinking will go into over-drive (and the door of the “Do Not Disturb” portion of my brain will be blown off its hinges). Had I been on the road yesterday, I would have had to journal about the situation to get it out of my mind. The point here is that until I talk about it, or write about it, I will think about it. This may be the one thing you take from this post: get whatever is in your mind onto a piece of paper, or talk about it with a trustworthy person. This will help settle your brain and will help you think clearly about an issue. 

Fourth, I prayed about the situation. This is not a token gesture, I pray multiple times a day. So, with Sarah, I prayed through the acronym I use (C – confess, H – honor God, A – ask God for help, T – Thanksgiving). I confessed my fear, and even my lack of faith. I also confessed my selfishness, meaning I had only been thinking about the situation from MY perspective, not this person’s needs. I asked for wisdom. I also asked God to bless this person and give them wisdom to handle the troubling external situation they were in. Finally, I thanked God that this was the problem I was dealing with. What I mean by that is that this person is a great person on our team, and the problem is not a health problem, or something really dire. So while it is still a problem, it is one that can be dealt with. 

Fifth, after prayer, I drank a glass of good wine with Sarah and watched a light-hearted T.V. show to wind down. Do not miss this step, especially the wine! 

Sixth, I got up bright and early the following day, did my Bible reading, prayed again, and then went to the gym. I worked out hard, which allowed me to further get out of my mind. I had music blaring and got in a good sweat. An hour later, I was ready to tackle the day. 

Finally, I went to work. 

You know what? Things DID look different than the day before. 

I do not know how this whole scenario will play out, but I wanted to use this week’s post to share what I have done the last twenty-four hours to process this “bad” news. I use quotation marks because after doing all the things listed above, I have gained some perspective. While I do not prefer this news, it is not the worst kind. In fact, I think there is a mutual path forward where everyone will win. 

Thank God for his wisdom.  

I will eventually talk to the person I am keeping confidential. I will close by saying this process has allowed me to get back to a place where I am FOR them and not against them. Yesterday, I was in a place of fear and sadness that would have shown up in anger had we talked then. That would not have ended well. I am praying I can lead myself through the fear and sadness, with the Power of God, and build this person up as we, together, figure out what the next steps are.

Loving Transitions

I do not think I am an overly emotional person, but I recently found myself fighting back tears listening to the podcast, “The World and Everything in It”, (Episode 4.30.21). The last sixteen minutes of the podcast was a “farewell” to one of World Magazine’s reporters, Megan Basham. Among many different roles with World, Megan wrote entertainment reviews and gave movie reviews every Friday on the podcast that were extremely helpful to Sarah and me. So, I was sad to hear that she was leaving World for a new opportunity. 

What I was unprepared for, however, was the emotional send-off to Megan. Various colleagues recorded messages that were played the last sixteen minutes of the podcast. It was poignant, emotional, and touching. The love being shared was not of this world. As my burly next door neighbor likes to say occasionally to me, “it hit me right in the feels.”  

It also made me ask a horrifying question: How do we do transitions at Hoffer Plastics? Do we send people off with love, or are we bitter they are going to the next opportunity? 

Did I mention Megan is going to work for a quasi-competitor? (To clarify the new company is in the media field, but in a different lane than “Biblically-based journalism.”)

Another question I considered: Forget everyone else, do I love God enough to be open to the reality that his plans for others might be different than my preferences for them? 

I’ll be real as always. 

There are three typical reactions I have when someone is going to leave. 

  1. Relief. Let’s be honest, there are some people that are just in the wrong job. If they leave, everyone is relieved, including them. My experience suggests this is less than 10% of the time. 
  2. Somewhere between relief and sadness: This is the land of complex emotions. My experience suggests that most transitions are this one, let’s say 80%. 
  3. Pure sadness: The kind of transition that impacts your sleep for months. Or, maybe that is just my experience with one necessary transition last Spring. I am still not over it. 

Admittedly, my emotions used to change based on what kind of transition I was experiencing. In retrospect, I was too often frustrated and selfish. Rather than dealing with my complex emotions, I would rationalize things to make myself feel better. This is a fool’s errand because it does not deal with the matters of the heart. I would have been better off writing in a journal, or talking it out with someone like my wife.

Realizing this, I am asking myself a few more questions after listening to the aforementioned podcast.

Do I love people enough to want what is best for them, even when it hurts Hoffer Plastics in the short run? 

Do I trust in God enough to provide, even when the path forward is potentially dark, confusing, and scary? 

Do I idolize people? Tim Keller reminds that anything you cannot live without is by definition an idol. To a business leader, that includes people. 

These questions are instructive to me, and bring to light the kind of person I want to become. I want to be someone that embraces loving transitions. 

You might not like all my questions, so I challenge you to create your own. More to the point, I challenge you to rethink how you do transitions. 

I am accepting my own challenge. 

While I do not speak for others, I see this as a faith issue because anytime I do not love the person over my own preferences, I am failing to love my neighbor as myself. Further, anytime I lack trust, I am falling into the trap of self-sufficiency and idolatry. 

Let me be clear, I am not self-sufficient. Also, my way is most often not the best way. 

Any success of our company is not mine. I was reminded of this last Fall when we had a record month while I spent 1/4 of it with a feeding tube in my nose. I know that is a blunt assessment, but I want to be clear here. I believe the experience was one way of God gently reminding me that I am not self-sufficient, and that He is in control. 

Here are some commitments I am embracing. I invite you to do the same as we close this post:  

I commit to erring on the human. 

I commit to trusting God, even when people that I do not want to leave are leaving. 

I commit to love. 

Transitions are never easy, regardless of what category they fall in. Therefore, we have to choose how we will respond now.  

We can be bitter. 

Or, we can be loving. 

I am embracing loving transitions. 

Will you commit to doing the same? 

(Author’s note: 5 days after writing this post, I have experienced two unforeseen transition announcements. So, God was preparing me for what was to come).  

The Choice

This post is going to get straight to the point. Do you want to be a leader? 

Are you sure? 

The more I think about leadership, the more I think it comes down to one choice. This choice decides everything. It is the difference between being an actual leader, or a person others follow, and just someone with a title. 

The choice is between two forces that cannot coexist. One always wins out. One always takes precedence. 

The choice is simply this: Whose success do you care more about, yours or others? 

Admittedly, this is one of those questions that you have probably heard a thousand times. So, it has probably lost its power. You know the right answer, but do your actions live it out? 

Take one minute and ask yourself this question again. Whose success matters more? 

Yours? 

Or, others? 

If you are in any kind of “leadership” position in your organization, the chances are that you are, or were, a high performer. While this is not always the case, the majority of companies tend to promote high performers to positions of authority. If business was the game of basketball, the high performer would be the leading scorer on the team.

Leadership, however, is not about “scoring points.” In fact, in light of the basketball analogy, it can be compared to a position change. Instead of being a “scorer,” you now are a point guard. This means that your objective is no longer to score points, but to set teammates up to do the scoring. You are now a passer, not a shooter!

Leadership is the art of setting others up for success. Similar to how a point guard distributes the basketball to their teammates, a leader gets everyone involved and helps them along the way. Modern basketball distinctions aside (where point guards are scoring more frequently), leaders maintain an “others first” mentality and this is what makes them followable. The success of others is more important than their own. 

This distinction is hard to accept. It takes someone who is secure in themselves to go from scoring the game’s most important points, to making the game’s most important passes. 

This is why I am asking you to ask yourself whether or not you really want to lead. To be sure, organizations need good “shooters,” and good “passers.” They are just different roles, so we should be clear on which one we want to play. Then, if we choose to lead, we should excel in passing.

Admittedly, I have struggled with this at times. I would be remiss not to confess that “shooting” feels good, and certainly soothes the ego when the shot goes in. 

But, I am also reminded of the ultimate servant leader, who once said, “if anyone wants to be first, they must be the very last, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

The choice is to be last, so others can be first. 

This is what leading others means in reality. 

What Is Success?

WHAT is success?

If it is a list external accomplishments set by the collective “we,” will it be worth the toil?

If it is some desire in the soul, perhaps recognition or title, will it ever satisfy?

And if it is a set of uncontrollable circumstances, like a healthy family, it may be grasped but never fully attained.

For, we are never in control.

What IS success?

Is it the next breath?

Is it the next leap?

Is it the next conversation?

Does it have anything to do with the next?

Is it a person?

A moment?

An event?

Or, even an accomplishment?

What is SUCCESS?

Perhaps, it just is.

Perhaps, it is now.

Alive.

Breath.

Present.

Today.

Success is now.

It is not yesterday.

Nor, is it something in the future.

Success is the moment in front of you.

This road.

This moment.

These people.

Stop striving for somewhere else, and start living.

Welcome home.

Learning From Conflicts

I was eating cereal and reading Barron’s on a recent Sunday morning when my wife gave me the idea for this post. She was talking to my sister-in-law, who was also in the kitchen, about how our two daughters had been playing that weekend. Inevitably, our two daughters found small things to fight about over the weekend they spent together. My wife commented, “it is good for them to have conflicts because that is how they learn.” 

What immediately jumped to mind was what I said next. “If it is good for them to learn from conflicts, why do adults tend to spend their lives running from them?” 

Obviously, my statement is an over generalization as not every adult runs from conflict, but, my experience suggests that the vast majority of people do, especially in the workplace.

I lead a business with my two sisters and the three of us have equal positions in the company. Confronting them on something can be extremely difficult. I value the relationships I have with them outside work, so it can be tempting to not address an issue because I wrongly assume “conflict” will mean a disruption to our relationship —more on this below. Before moving on, however, it is important to clarify that my sisters and I do not even have major issues, just the ones all human beings have inside a workplace. Still, even issues that are relatively “minor” can be hard to confront.

I imagine my sisters rolling their eyes at the last paragraph because they have always been willing to listen to feedback. Here within lies the rub. The rub is the reality that the conflict, and especially the potential for major relationship disruption, is much bigger in one’s mind than it is in reality. Our mind tends to imagine the big blowup fight when we think of conflict. The reality, most of the time, is that nothing of the sort happens. 

If anything, what tends to happen is the resolution of conflict. 

For me, my subconscious fears some kind of fight depicted between family members in pop culture, perhaps a shouting match at a Thanksgiving dinner or some other family event. Thankfully, our holiday dinners are much more fun than fight! But, my fear can make me believe that I won’t get “seconds” if I have certain conversations at work. Of course, this is not true, and I have to continually remind myself that it is not. I also need to remind myself to do what I need to do, which is have the conversation. 

Remember, if a little conflict is good for two playmates, it is also good for us adults. 

Having conflict is obviously not easy. To that end, my sisters and I have spent considerable time working on how to have healthy conflict. For the last several years we have worked with a leadership coach who facilitates a quarterly meeting between the three of us. This forum gives us time and space to talk about our working relationships, the business, and just about everything else. While not every meeting revolves around having a “conflict conversation,” the time and space are there to do so if need be. You might not work with your siblings, but you do work closely with someone, or some group. Perhaps, you need to establish a time and place to regularly talk with them? If you are intentional, this time could turn into the “safe place” to bring up a potentially contentious issue. 

There is also a lot of discipline that needs to go into how the conflict conversation is handled when it happens. My encouragement on that end is to read something from an expert. Two books that aided me were, Difficult Conversations, and Crucial Conversations. I would strongly recommend leaders read at least one of these books so that they approach these hard conversations from a place of discipline and not recklessness. 

Conflict is not fun, but it is necessary. We learn about ourselves and others when we navigate conflict. Done right, both parties leave closer than before. Looking back on the weekend with our adorable niece, there were moments when she, and our daughter, fought about the silliest problems. That said, they learned how to love one another, live together, and even lead themselves, every time they did. 

We would be wise to follow their lead. 

If all else fails, like them, let’s look into the eyes of those we are in conflict with. Let’s take a deep breath, and say we are sorry. 

If it is not too weird, throw in a hug for good measure. 

Be kind and considerate. Relational conflict doesn’t have to be the behemoth your mind might imagine it to be.