Leadership

Show Up, Listen, and Speak Commitment

I spent the last few days with friends who have gone through the unthinkable last year. Their seven year old daughter fought cancer valiantly, but she passed away last November. They were back in the area for the first time this past weekend, and Sarah and I were able to spend two nights with them. The conversations were deep, raw, and emotional. They reminded me of three things leaders need to do when helping others in their grief. 

Show up. For the sake of this blog, I would say that people worth following show up. But, in the case of the above, it is more than that. Genuine love is showing up. Sarah reminds me often that we want to be the type of people that show up. What she means is that people not only notice when you show up, but they also feel your presence when you do. Showing up takes more intentionality than liking an Instagram post. It certainly does not solve everything. Perhaps, it solves nothing at all. But, it physically demonstrates care in an era being defined by distance. 

Second, listen more than you talk. Sarah advised me of this before our friends came over Saturday night. It was wise counsel. They are hurting, unimaginably hurting. So, we aimed to listen. We gave them space to vent, to ask questions, and process. We tried not to interrupt, lecture, or counsel. The point here is that people experiencing grief need a sounding board. Wise counsel comes later when they are ready to hear it.  

Speak commitment. One of the things I did tell our friends was that we were going to walk through this valley with them for as long as it takes. I said this with words because they needed to audibly hear our commitment to them. Don’t assume it is known. Say it. Commit to it. Make the words felt. They told us that they felt others were rushing their grief. Grief, however, is not a Starbucks order. It cannot be rushed. It takes time. I told them that six decades from now I am willing to sit on the back porch with them, assuming I still can, and mourn. I wanted them to know there was no timetable. Sarah and I are in this for the long haul, however that looks. 

To their wise admission, it will look different down the road. But, they will never get over this. Nor, will we. Therefore, we are committed to them, however that commitment looks. I said all these things so they heard it, felt it, and knew where we stood. I repeat this on purpose because some of the biggest regrets in my life stem from not voicing commitment audibly.  

Then, when they got up to leave, we hugged and told each other we loved one another. 

It was real life. 

Nothing left to the imagination. 

No filters. 

Nothing fake. 

Let these ideas sink in: show up, listen, and speak commitment. They are not intended to be the exhaustive “how to” list of entering the depths of grief. But, they are a starting point. 

As someone leading a business in 2021, here is what I know. While your team hopefully is not dealing with pediatric cancer, they are dealing with some kind of grief. Grief these days is almost unavoidable. Like the morning dew in the summer, it is like a thin layer that is always present when you turn on the news or run into your friend at the store. Or, in the case of my friends, it can be as thick as the clouds present in a category 5 hurricane.

This part of life comes with every person walking into our business. The same goes with yours. So, in the midst of all our important organizational initiatives, let’s take stock of this reality. Let’s be people that show up, listen, and speak commitment.

The Power of Intentional Connection

I am often asked how it is to lead Hoffer Plastics with my two sisters. My response is that while our relationships are healthy, there are challenges. I then often ask back, “how would running a business be with your sibling or siblings?” This often gets an awkward chuckle. 

Leading the business with my siblings has given me the opportunity to learn, and practice, healthy relationship skills. This starts with learning to navigate difficult conversations with each sibling. To date, the three of us have succession planned, navigated COVID, and dealt with almost every issue in-between. While our relationships are not perfect, nor is perfection attainable, I can say that our relationships are deeper today than when we started working here. Further, we have vacationed and done many holidays together. 

Having relational skills, however, is only half the battle. The other half is intentionally engaging. To that end, we made a pact to meet weekly this year so that we prioritize time to connect. Otherwise, it is too easy to go on auto-pilot and only connect when it is absolutely necessary. This runs the risk of issues getting buried and possibly grudges being formed. 

So, with what is left in this post, I am going to share the format we use when we meet weekly. You probably do not work with siblings, but this format can still be used with other leaders that you work closely with. As the format we use indicates, the point is to intentionally connect. 

Weekly Meeting (my explanation in parentheses): 

Goal: To maintain strong, loving, family relationships while becoming better leaders. 

Rules: 

  1. Consistency trumps duration  
  2. Phones on airplane mode. 
  3. Longer explorations of specific topics reserved for other meeting. 
  4. Stick to the agenda below

Part 1: 15 minutes (5 per person): The Personal Side 

(As siblings, we have learned to start with the personal side because our family relationship takes priority over our working relationship). 

  1. What support do I need from the other members personally? 
  2. Is there anything the other two should know about my family situation this week (between us there are 7 kids with ages ranging from 15 to 5. Further, life always comes with everyone to work which is why it is important to get any personal issues on the table. Obviously, this will look different if the meeting was between non-family members. Still, I would recommend that those relationships aim for mutual support). 
  3. Accountability: This week I was in the Bible _____ days. (Our faith is paramount, so, we use this meeting for spiritual accountability as well). 

Part 2: 15 Minutes (5 per person): The Business Side

(My temptation is to always start here. But, the personal side is critical. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!)

  1. What is the biggest challenge with my direct reports, if any? (This question leads to an overview of what is going on. Most weeks there is not a major issue to discuss). 
  2. What am I doing about this issue? (We aim to be accountable, not people that blame others). 
  3. Optional: Something I would like feedback on is ________? (When used, this question leads to good information about your own leadership). 

Part 3: Wrap Up 

  1. Based on what has been shared, is there any action the group needs to take (i.e., schedule a meeting to discuss a topic in greater detail)? 
  2. Are there any other questions needed for clarity? 

Part 4: Prayer 

(I close the time praying for our business, customers, and suppliers. This may not be for everyone, but it is for us). 

Leaders can customize the agenda to fit the needs of their team. The point is to take action and be intentional about your personal and working relationships. 

Doing so won’t necessarily be easy, but, as I have learned, growth happens when you do what is uncomfortable in the moment! 

The High Cost of Silence

When was the last time you felt prompted to say something to someone and for one reason or another you did not? This could be something large or small. It could be a problem you see in the relationship, or some help you need from this person. Whatever it is, there is enough behind it that you are tempted not to say anything because saying something could, at the minimum, bring tension. Not handled correctly, the tension could lead to an outright conflict, which is why you are tempted not to say anything at all. 

As someone who has struggled with the above scenario, here is what I have learned: There is a tax to silence. 

First, there is a tax to living with this scenario in your head. As I have said countless times before on this blog, until we get whatever is in our head out, either written in a journal, shared with a friend, or addressed with the person we have the issue with, we will not live in peace. This reality is true, but it is not the point of this particular post. 

The point of this post is the second point. The longer we allow the issue to fester, the greater the chances are that we blow. “Blowing up,” as Patrick Lencioni teaches on his “At the Table” podcast, can make us a capital “J” Jerk. Conversely, handling these moments as they come up might make us a jerk, but only the little “j” kind. (I would highly recommend episode 83 of “At the Table” as it shaped my thinking on this post. 

To drive the point of this post home, that the tax on silence can be becoming a big “J” jerk. I am going to rip the band-aid off of my own scars to show how this happens. Here is an example from my past that I am embarrassed about: 

One example that comes to mind is a blow up I had with an old girlfriend. I start here because “blow ups” in dating relationships are depicted frequently on television and relatable to real life. Most have experienced some kind of argument in a dating relationship. 

I was in my early twenties at the time, and had believed that she was the “one.” We had previously dated in high school and had rekindled that relationship after re-meeting at a bar in Chicago. It had all the makings, but, it just was not meant to be. I am sure she would agree in retrospect, but there were a lot of little differences in our personalities that we did not address. For one reason or another we never got around to addressing them either. That is, until one night, with the aid of a couple of adult beverages, I blew. It was a relatively short eruption, but I was harsh. A couple weeks later we were through and the occurrence was not the best look for me. I learned that I should have had several conversations prior to that eruption. That would have been the right thing to do. 

As the years have gone by, I notice the tax of silence showing up just about everywhere, but especially in the workplace. I write blogs about leadership, but that does not mean I don’t succumb to the tax of silence here. I may not blow up at people like I did in my early twenties, but I can do something that is perhaps even worse: make passive aggressive sarcastic comments. 

Here are some examples: 

-A project is late all the time, so instead of challenging why it is late, I make a snarky comment that shows my displeasure, but does not address the problem. Worse, I do this publicly, rather than privately.  

-A person comes in late all the time, so I poke fun at their tardiness rather than talking with them directly. 

-I walk the production floor and find part containment and cleanliness that is not up to par. Rather than having one-on-one conversations, I default to sarcasm to others about how bad things look.  

None of these behaviors addresses the real problem. In fact, all increase the danger of the tax of silence coming due for payment. 

As I wrap up, I hope you get the point that you are better off addressing issues in the moment. It is the kind, even loving, thing to do. We are tempted not to do it out of protection of our self. Ironically, addressing issues in the moment is both the uncomfortable thing to do and the most protective thing to do for YOURSELF and others. 

The tax paid to conversation is less than the tax paid to silence. In fact, there is often no tax at all.  

I am nudging myself in the direction of having more conversations. I say nudging because it is hard. The easy thing to do these days is to avoid having difficult conversations and default to passive aggressive behavior, like venting on social media. 

Direct conversations, however, take intention and effort. We must persist in doing this kind of work. So, let’s be the kind of people that love others and ourselves, enough to talk about issues as they come up. 

Accountability is an Act of Love

I have been doing a lot of thinking about accountability lately. Holding others accountable is not something that comes easy for me. I have often struggled with the desire for the approval of others. So, it can be difficult to give people the kind of feedback necessary to hold them accountable. That said, holding others accountable is the loving thing to do. In essence, it says that you love them so much, you are going to help them get better. Realizing this truth has been helpful because the last thing I want to be is unloving, yet, that is what I become when I stay silent. 

Holding others accountable is one of the main reasons we follow leaders. I have always known this to be true because a leader does the things that are hard, and the things that most other people do not do. But, what I have come to realize is that this is only partially true. What I mean is that people are much more inclined to follow leaders who hold them accountable. I have found that people are willing to jump through hoops for the few leaders that nurture accountability in an uplifting  way. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean. To differentiate, I will refer to the kind of leader that uplifts others as the “indispensable leader” for the remainder of this post. 

First, the indispensable leader holds others accountable in private, not in public. While this is obvious, it is absolutely critical. While some public accountability around the “what” is unavoidable (public metrics like sales figures, operational metrics, etc.), no public accountability around the “how” should ever happen. By the “how” I am referring to the activities the individual person engages in to perform their task. All discussions about the “how” should take place privately so the individual is not embarrassed publicly. 

Second, the indispensable leader encourages more than criticizes. There has been a lot written on the 5:1 ratio, or 5 messages of encouragement for every 1 message of critique. I have found that I am at my best when I do this at home, work, and everywhere else. Admittedly, it is easy when performance slips (mine or others) for me to be overly critical. I am a terrible leader when I do this.

Third, the indispensable leader processes an accountability issue with the person they are holding accountable. This sounds obvious because it is, yet I have succumb to the temptation of processing an issue with others in the past, so I note it here. While I continue to be a firm believer in perspective gathering because I often have the wrong view of a situation, it is important to keep this to a minimum within the organization. If it is absolutely necessary, be sure to process an issue with someone of equal organizational status or a superior. Secondly, make sure that you recount the situation in such a way that you would not be embarrassed if every word got back to the person not present. 

Finally, the indispensable leader is indispensable because they persist. I use the word persist intentionally because I have discovered that holding others accountable is not a one time event. The older I get, the more I realize how long change takes in myself and others. The only way this happens is through persistence. 

I turn 40 in the weeks to come, so I am doing a lot of reflection on my personal leadership as well as many other topics. If you come back to this blog you will probably notice a lot more reflections in the posts to come. I make mention here, however, because holding others accountable is an area I need to grow in, especially as it relates to peers and siblings working in the business. I am being ruthlessly honest here because the biggest takeaway for me has been learning that I am actually unloving when I am not holding others accountable. 

Said differently, the deepest longing of my heart is to be loved by God and loved by others. Therefore, it can be said that I desire being held accountable by others as well. To that end, may all our team members reading this post hear the invitation to my office when I need to be held accountable. Please tell me. And, please remember the 5:1 ratio when you are giving me the feedback I need to hear. 

I will do likewise. 

Let us be an organization where iron sharpens iron. 

Conversations Worth Having

What is the highest and best use of your time? I believe that if you are a leader, the answer is building into other people. While there are multiple ways to do this, this post will focus on the one-on-one meeting because it is the most impactful. 

If you get promoted enough, you will get to a position in your organization where it is no longer clear exactly what you should do. While this sounds ludicrous on the surface, the reason that it is so is because you are technically somewhat in charge of a lot, while being fully responsible for little of the day-to-day activities.  

To illustrate what I mean I will share my personal experience. When I became Chief Revenue Officer, my role suddenly oversaw the areas of Sales, Customer Service, Operations, Automation, Engineering, and Maintenance. This encompasses a lot, so it was difficult to prioritize where I should spend my time on any given day. With the guidance of my coach, however, I changed my thinking from “what” I should do, to “whom” I should build into. In short, I began setting up one-on-one meetings with key people in all these areas because that was the best use of my time. 

First, I began meeting regularly with our Director of Manufacturing and the Director of Engineering. Much of the above falls under their areas, so, these meetings happen on a weekly basis. The purpose of the meeting is so they can discuss challenges as well as provide an overview of what they are working on.  This also gives me an opportunity to provide feedback as well as coach and encourage them. 

As I have told them repeatedly, this time is a reserved space for communication, not a performance review. What I mean is that it is a relaxed atmosphere. In fact, while there are usually serious conversations being had, there is also a lot of laughter. We are collectively doing hard work and having fun while doing it. These two leaders also have a great relationship, so the two meetings usually involve some overlap with the appropriate amount of good-natured trash-talking between the three of us. This latter part is more bonding than serious, and quite frankly an hour I look forward to every week.  

Our Executive Vice President is also currently overseeing our Sales team. He is constantly on the go, so our conversations are more ad hoc than scheduled. Having said that, however, we also schedule extended time to make sure that we have alignment. This relationship has been extremely beneficial to me over the years as this person was once my boss. Simply put, I would not be where I am today without his help and support. So, this is another relationship where I never regret investing time. 

Outside of our Directors, and sticking solely to one-on-one meetings, there are two other segments of people that I think leaders should meet with regularly.  

First, leaders should meet with the emerging leaders. For example, I meet monthly with two of our Sales team members to hear what they are working on, clear up any questions they have, and most importantly, get to know them better. This is another time that I absolutely love because they are both driven to become better. They also have great insight about our organization and many fresh, new ideas. They always leave me more energized than I was before our time together. 

Before moving on, a necessary reminder for leaders with around-the-clock production is not to forget emerging leaders on off-hour shifts. For example, I recently began meeting with one of our team members from the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. Not only has this person given some tremendous insight about what is happening on our production floor, but he also has reminded me of the untapped talent we have here while I am typically at home sleeping. 

Finally, the last group I think leaders should intentionally meet with is harder to label. Put bluntly, this group of people may not be present at every organization, although I suspect they are. What I am referring to is the select group of people with positional authority on one hand, but probably not a long list of followers on the other. 

In short, they are isolated. You might even hear others complain about the area they lead, but few are spending time with them. So, if you want to be someone worth following, you need to be the one to invest the time in them. That is what leaders do. 

There are two individuals on our team that probably fit into this category. One is brand new to the company, and a complete extrovert. The other has been here a few years and his job is both important and complicated. To that end, I have heard others questioned what each of them does. So, putting myself in both of these people’s shoes, I thought the wise thing to do would be to reach out and setup a monthly catch-up meeting. In the invite I emphasized that there was no ulterior motive, I just wanted to create a better relationship with them, hear what challenges they were facing, and see how I could help them. 

Both immediately accepted. 

To wrap, here is what I know to be true about leadership: 

Leaders are worth following because they spend their time building in to other human beings. This is not some gimmick. In fact, the fakers can be spotted a mile away. Rather, this is heart-felt. It is genuine. It errs on the side of being human. 

The magic happens when people are encouraged. 

The magic happens when people grow and take on more responsibility. 

The magic happens when the organization gains new ground. 

If leadership is doing things with and through other people, it begins with the process of building into other people. 

Once those seeds are planted, the world should watch out! 

Because the magic will happen. 

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. 

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. 

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).