Leadership

What the Oregon Trail Taught Me About Leadership

I went to grade school in the 1980s. And if you’re of a certain age, you remember that going to the computer lab was a big deal back then. In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I earned free lab time was to play The Oregon Trail. My buddies and I competed, as only pre-adolescent boys can do, by seeing who could race towards Oregon the fastest. But none of us ever made it close to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. We pushed our digital families to the extreme, usually ending in their in-game demise of some disease like dysentery. 

I shouldn’t be surprised that my own boys (who now play the game on an iPad!) basically do the same thing I did back in the 80s. They push their crews fast, ignore the health warnings, and laugh when their characters give out. After watching this for long enough, I decided to give the game a try as an adult.

The first decision I made was on the crew. I ensured the crew had diverse backgrounds and talents. I read each character’s profiles, ensuring I had people who could fix things, socialize, and even negotiate. Next, I made sure to buy extra medical supplies and food for the journey. After all, I thought, you never know what kinds of obstacles are going to come up on the Oregon Trail! 

As I started the game, I chose “walking” as our pace because I didn’t want to burn anyone out. I also made sure to allow our team to rest whenever the computer gave me the option. I even had the team stop and talk to people on the journey so that my “social health” indicator stayed green. 

About an hour later, with my crew all still healthy and progressing toward Oregon, my son said to me, “You’re good at this game!” 

The Leadership Lesson  

What I learned from this gameplay was three things: 

First, I learned that to do well in the game, you must lead people well. In short, that means you ensure they’re fed, that they have medical supplies, and they can take breaks and rest when they need to. Additionally, you must ensure there’s enough social interaction for everyone to stay engaged and healthy. And in case you miss the implication, this is exactly how you lead people in real life as well! 

Second, understanding the “how to” of leading others is only the first part of it. The most important part is actually doing it. That means helping your team slow down when they get tired, and providing opportunities for social interaction when it’s needed — along with countless other things that you have to observe and act upon. This all takes awareness and a desire to help people. 

Lastly, to do all the above, you have to lead yourself well. It’s often easier to do these things for others than for yourself. But pushing yourself past fatigue, failing to rest, and neglecting to make time for social interaction will negatively impact your health — all things that can make you sick and make you less effective in leading others. 

So how can you apply the above lessons to your leadership as we enter the summer months? Think about these questions:

Do you need to provide your team with opportunities to socialize? 

Do you need to provide your team with opportunities to rest? 

Or do you need to focus on yourself? 

Do you need to socialize? 

Do you need to rest? 

The start of summer is a good time to take this quick assessment so that you can stay on track for the second half of the year. 

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What Do You See?

As I sat overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful early January morning, I asked myself that very question. I watched the waves and began to ponder life, leadership, and family. What follows are questions I jotted down that morning:

What do you see? Do you see the blue water, or do you see the vast mountains on the horizon beyond the water? Both are beautiful, but the latter is only noticeable when you are focused and present. 

Are you focused and present? Not just in this moment, but at the dinner table after a grueling Monday? 

Do you see the grumpy person in front of you at the grocery checkout line, or do you see someone who just needs some encouragement and affirmation?

Do you see only the limitations of those around you at work, or do you see their potential? 

Do you only see their few mistakes, or do you their vast goodness? 

Do you see another day filled with meetings and tasks, or do you see another day filled with opportunities to do things with and through other people? 

Do you see your own past? All your failures, limitations, and most embarrassing moments. Or do you see lessons, possibilities, and future moments of redemption? 

Do you see Jesus or at least the goodness of people who are passionately following Him? Or do you just see all the things that annoy you about Christians, the church, and religion in general? 

(This last one might be more for me, but let it guide your deepest human relationships as well).

And finally, do you see your wife and all the sacrifices she is making to homeschool your kids? Do you let her know how much you appreciate and love her? 

And now I’m off to remind Sarah how much I appreciate and love her because I DO see it!

In the meantime, I challenge you to ask yourself what you see — and learn from the answers.

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Chris Chelios: The Ideal Team Player

Patrick Lencioni defines The Ideal Team Player as someone who is humble, hungry, and smart. They possess the kind of humility that values others before themselves. They have a relentless work ethic. And they are emotionally intelligent, as they know how to prop others up and give credit where credit is due. 

I couldn’t help but think of these attributes when I attended Chris Chelios’ jersey retirement ceremony at the February 25th Chicago Blackhawks game. Chelios, one of the best U.S.-born hockey players of all time, played for my beloved Blackhawks from 1990 to 1999. These were the years when I fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. His hard-working demeanor was something I identified with. His willingness to get down and dirty (much like Chicago Bulls’ Dennis Rodman) motivated me to dive for every loose ball while playing basketball in the 1990s. Hockey would have been an option for me if I could skate. I couldn’t, so I settled for teeing it high and aggressively trying to hit golf balls 300+ yards. 

I didn’t know then, however, that the moment I most admired Chris Chelios was still to come. His 30-plus-minute speech at his retirement ceremony taught me so much that I had to write a blog post about it. And to take it in with my 10-year-old son, Ben, was something I will never forget.  

Humility 

Throughout the night, there were countless examples of Chelios’ humility. For starters,  Chris included a guy at the ceremony that no one in the United Center had ever heard of. Bobby Parker was a youth hockey teammate of Chelios’s, and after the Chelios family moved to San Diego, Parker made the call that changed Chelios’s life. Because of that call, Chelios ensured Parker was center stage at the retirement ceremony 40-plus years later. 

Furthermore, after being referred to as the “greatest American-born hockey player of all time” by the emcee Pat Foley, Chelios shifted the attention to Patrick Kane. Kane, another favorite all-time Chicago Blackhawk of mine, now plays for the Detroit Red Wings. Naturally, the game was against the Red Wings because Chelios also played there after his time with the Blackhawks. So when Chelios called to Kane, the spotlight literally shifted to Patrick Kane sitting on the Detroit Red Wings bench. With the spotlight shining on Kane, Chelios said, “Patrick, you are the greatest American-born hockey player of all time.” 

There was nothing planned or staged about this statement. Kane didn’t know Chelios was going to say anything. In fact, Kane didn’t do a pre-game media event because he didn’t want to detract from Chelios’ big night — even though it was Kane’s first trip back to the United Center as an opposing player. 

It was a beautiful exchange of humility or thinking more about others than yourself.  

Hunger

I don’t need to belabor this point because you don’t get to a jersey retirement ceremony without a ridiculous amount of hunger. But two things stood out to me. First, while listening to former teammates describe Chelios’ work ethic, they all said the same thing: “He outworked us.” More so, several who played against him at some point in their careers said that was extremely difficult. “Everything hurt,” former Blackhawk Jeremy Roenick said. 

Chelios commented about going to the arena during the height of the success of the 1990 Chicago Bulls and observing how hard Michael Jordan worked. “MJ had a trainer and was in top condition. So I went and got a trainer and started working hard. This is what allowed me to play in the NHL until I was 48 years old.” 

That’s the definition of hunger.  

Smart 

Of all the things about the night, however, the most impressive was the relational reach of Chris Chelios. At this event, there were people from all walks of life, from all over the country. Celebrities, former athletes, and even rock stars like my son, Ben, and Kid Rock. The only plausible reason all these people came to an arena on a February afternoon in Chicago was that Chris Chelios had touched their lives in some way. He was someone they followed because he treated them well.  

But the smartest thing he did was putting his family before the celebrities, former athletes, and even the rock stars. He rode out to the ceremony with his mother, called his wife up to the podium to be center stage, and raised the banner with his family. This is true leadership.  

As Ben and I drove home that night — after Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal for the Detroit Red Wings, no less — I asked him what his favorite moment of the night was. 

“Without question, Chelios’ speech.” 

 Mine too. 

What a moment that we will never forget!  

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Why Sleep is a Leadership Secret Weapon

What if I told you you already have access to the best supplement for your life and leadership? Meaning you already own it and it’s free. Your only cost is NOT taking advantage of it. Would you be interested? 

If you’re like me (and most people I know), you’d jump at the chance to improve your life. 

That’s why I’m willing to share what I think is a secret weapon for effective leadership: getting enough sleep.

Sleep As a Luxury

Many folks feel like sleep is a luxury, an option they can implement as needed. That’s why people say things like:

  • “I can get by on 3-4 hours of sleep a night.”
  • “I’ll sleep when I die.”
  • “I guess I’m just permanently tired.”

I know I fit into the “sleep as a luxury” crowd. Certainly, I recognize how important sleep is — but that hasn’t helped me prioritize it. My excuses are lengthy, and I’m often tired because of them. Like many people I know, I’ve viewed sleep as a “supplement” and have seen it like a healthy protein shake or vitamin water, trying to add a little sleep to my routine when I’m taxed, sick, or overtired.

I’ve found, however, that this isn’t good enough. That’s why I’ve made “getting enough sleep” one of my primary goals for 2024. 

How Much Sleep Do We Need? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for those in the 18-64 age range. And SingleCare’s recent survey found that 44% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. 

But my doctor brought up a good point. In my annual checkup in December, he asked, “Alex, the AVERAGE person gets under 7 hours of sleep per night. Do you want to be average?” 

He then gave me examples of high achievers and how much they sleep. For instance, he shared that Lebron James sleeps an average of ten hours per night and naps for one to two hours every afternoon. 

Now, I’m a die-hard Michael Jordan guy, but maybe I want to sleep like Lebron? 

How Much Sleep Do You Get?

Do you know how much sleep you’re getting? 

Do you know how much sleep you need? Here’s a clue: this isn’t what you think — it is what your doctor, your significant other, and the team you lead believe you need. 

What are you going to do about it? 

After my doctor’s visit, here’s the sleep routine I committed to. Feel free to use it as a starting point for customizing your sleep routine.

My goal for 2024 is to be in bed (a controllable variable) for 8+ hours on 80% of nights or 292 days of the year. That means on a typical work night, I’ll be in bed from 9:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. 

My weekend goal is not to allow my go-to-bed time to move more than an hour later, and the same goes for my wake time. The reason for this is to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. 

I aim to do this 80% of the time because I acknowledge that some days won’t be typical — I regularly travel for work and have early wake-up calls and other obligations. That said, I’m committed to being the guy that others poke fun at for leaving work dinners early. I feel confident that my health gains will far outweigh any good-natured teasing. 

The Early Results

As I write this post, I have a few weeks of my “new” sleep schedule under my belt. And even though it’s been a relatively short time, I’m already seeing many positive results:

I was able to stay calm and focused when a personnel issue arose. The extra sleep provided the necessary reserves to handle the added stress. I didn’t break out with canker sores (a normal response for me), nor did I feel the need to medicate with an extra glass of wine at night. 

I’ve been showing up at home with more energy for my wife and kids. I want to point this out because going to bed a little earlier is also a sacrifice for Sarah. Yet, she sees a difference in me. With more sleep, I am more help for her. 

Besides noticing an uptick in my physical health, I’ve also seen an uptick in my clarity and creativity. For example, I was able to craft the message I delivered at our holiday party in 50% less time than it usually takes me to create a message.  

One Last Word of Encouragement 

I will close with one more thing my doctor told me about sleep: Certainly, robbing yourself of sleep today is something you can do. But you must realize that, like a business, you’re simply trading in future earnings to stay “alive” today. Eventually, you will become “sleep-poor” and have no reserves to cash in. 

With this in mind, what do you lose in going to bed earlier or sleeping a little later? As I’ve found, there’s much to gain. 

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Gaining Clarity: My Six Focus Areas

Last fall, I attended the Path for Growth leadership experience in Asheville, North Carolina. Path for Growth’s mission is to help impact-driven leaders step into who they were created to be SO THAT others benefit and God is glorified. In pursuit of this mission, much of the experience’s content focused on clarity. This makes sense because for a leader to be someone worth following, they need to be clear about who they are (including what they value) and what they do. 

In today’s post, I want to focus on the latter: What is it that you do? What are you focusing on in your current role? Reaching clarity on this matters because it will help you more effectively prioritize your time. 

During some downtime at the Path for Growth experience, I clarified six specific areas where I invest my focus and time. I will share what these areas are and why they matter below. Then, I’ll challenge you to do the same:

My Six Focus Areas

My role: Co-CEO 

My areas of focus: 

Safety: I see this as the most foundational area for a senior leader in any business, not just those of us in manufacturing. I say this because if there isn’t physical, emotional, and spiritual safety inside your workplace, the workplace is unhealthy at best and potentially toxic at worst. Safety allows everything else to happen. 

People: Leadership is about doing things with and through other PEOPLE (emphasis mine). This means that you don’t use people; you realize they intrinsically matter. My focus is on how I build up our people. How can I say hard things in a way that is instructive and not unnecessarily cruel? What questions can I ask to show that I’m truly interested in our production floor tech’s life outside of the floor? How can I show and demonstrate value to people every single day? These are the real questions that keep me up at night. 

Vision: Leadership is always about moving people from “here” to “there” and you can’t do that without having eyes on “there.” What are the threats, and opportunities 18 to 24 months out? What things do we (the company) need to do right now to keep our people safe in the future? What technology can we develop or invent that would improve the lives of our customers? 

Finally, what can I learn about pending regulations in our industry? And what relationships can I develop to learn more about all these topics? 

Financials: A good leader would never miss their yearly physical because doing so could mean they miss a diagnosis when it is still treatable. Keeping an eye on your business’ financials is much the same.

What complications are coming in terms of costs like healthcare, CapEx, or changes in raw materials pricing? Can the business handle inflationary wages for the foreseeable future? If not, how can the business strategy pivot so that it can? Other leaders might have different questions than mine, but our mission is to be all-in for people first, so we stay true to that. 

Sales / Relationships: Without the customer, there is no business, and without sales, the company dies. As a leader, we should be asking how we can help customers gain market share with a new design? What can we do to help them resolve production floor challenges? Who should we spend more time with, and are we prioritizing our time to do so? These questions energize me! 

Succession: My final area of focus is succession — at all levels of the organization. I recognize that our people are priceless, but I also realize that everyone is replaceable (even and especially me!)

How can we help our people end well? How can we help younger leaders level-up their leadership skills in preparation for upcoming opportunities? What kinds of people do we need for the future, and what skills is our team missing today? These are the questions that I think about regarding succession. 

What a Life!

In my private notebook, I wrote one final note that I hesitatingly share now. I hesitate because it is kind of embarrassing, but it also gives you a sense of the ah-ha feeling I hope you get when you do this exercise yourself: 

Focus on these areas and what a career! Actually, what a life! 

I invite you to spend time in the next few weeks clarifying what areas you focus on. The ah-ha may or may not come, but trust me, this exercise is worth your time.

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The One Thing a Leader Always Does

In my previous post, I shared my experience of not having a job at the start of 2008. That experience humbled me and changed the way I view every single Monday. Every Monday that I get to go to work is a blessing. But more than this, the experience taught me that every job has value. I may not have had the job I wanted back then, but my job as a substitute teacher had honor, dignity, and value. 

So, as we start another year, let’s level set in today’s post. Since many folks use this time of the year to work on becoming a better version of themselves or start new habits, let’s begin this year getting crystal clear on a few things: 

What is a leader? 

A leader is someone worth following — and they’re worth following because of the kind of person they are. They have integrity. They’re the same behind closed doors as they are in public. You can always trust them to do the right thing, even (and especially) when doing the right thing is hard or costly. They never purposely harm. They use their words carefully, and when they say something that doesn’t come out correctly, they own it and apologize. 

That’s right — leaders are not perfect. But they are humble, and they definitely own their mistakes. 

What is leadership? 

Leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people. Leadership is never about the leader but always about those the leader serves. This process is always a journey, meaning that it is never stagnant. It always moves something, or someone, from point A to point B. 

Base camp is the “here and now,” while the summit is some future reality that moves the soul. And nothing moves the soul like the betterment of people and the reality of them stepping into who and what God has called them to be. 

So this begs today’s question: 

What does a leader always do? 

A leader always speaks meaning into those that follow. A leader reminds others that Jesus died for them — meaning their value is priceless. The person who is begging for change at the busy intersection? Their worth is incalculable, and leaders are worth following because they get this. 

Leaders see the cashier, the janitor, the grocery bagger, or the person on their production line as invaluable. They are not just doing this to be nice — they know this at their gut level. And because they know it at their gut level, they are moved to speak meaning into others. 

Leaders know that life is tough and the days can be tougher. There have been moments, even seasons, when they’ve lost sight of their own worth, and that moment of remembering was a gift of immense value — the kind of gift so valuable you’d give anything just to experience it again. 

Allow me to speak meaning into you 

Dear reader, I can’t possibly know the situation you find yourself in as 2024 starts. I don’t know all of the extenuating circumstances, nor do I know the challenges that are on your plate. As real as they are, I invite you to set them aside for a brief moment, to lean in, and let these words wash over you. 

No human leader is perfect. Sometimes, you say the wrong thing, think the wrong thought, or forget someone’s priceless value. 

And if this makes you think of a time when you messed up, sit with it for a second. Acknowledge it. Owning it makes you worth following. We don’t make excuses — that isn’t who we are as leaders. But, we can’t stay here just wallowing in it. We have to take the next step:

I invite you to pray these words: “Lord, I confess that I _____________. I ask for your forgiveness. Please help me to turn around and live differently with your help.” 

If you need a visual, write these words on a slip of paper, including your leadership mistake. Then, slip that sheet into a shredder and watch it disappear. I am reminded of these words when I do this: “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

Leaders live differently. We don’t live differently because we’re sufficient. We live differently because we are loved sufficiently. This love met us at our base camp and aimed to take us to a summit higher than our deepest imaginations. In the interim, we have one primary task…

Love people. 

We, you and I, get to do this every single day if we choose to. We get to speak love and meaning into those we see and interact with at work. We get to be generous to those in need. We get to remind people that they are not alone and are of incalculable worth. 

All because we were loved first.

Let’s make this year different. 

What does a leader always do? 

A leader always loves. 

Always

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Health of a Leader, Part 3

You’re on part three of the Health of a Leader blog post series. Check out parts 1 and 2

I began this series by discussing the need to be clear on your mission. With a clear mission, you can catch a vision — something you must do before you can cast it.

In post two, I pivoted to mental resistance — the negative thinking or self-doubt that happens anytime we start a new endeavor. For a leader to be healthy, they have to acknowledge this resistance and battle against it. We cannot do things with and through others if we do not lead ourselves well first. We also cannot lead others if we are unwilling to fight through the resistance and move forward. This is why having a daily declaration is so powerful. 

In today’s post, I’m sharing one last practice that has helped me reduce anxiety and increase focus. I know that’s a bold claim, but I am confident that if you practice what I am about to share, you’ll see the same benefits. 

First, let’s level set. 

Here’s what I know about the people that read this blog. You are people who are extremely active, professionally and personally. You’re go-getters. And you’re the kind of people I respect because you bring your best in whatever you do. 

What’s my point? 

My point is that you have a lot on your to-do list — and I don’t have to see your list to know that. I know that, like me, you get to juggle hundreds of emails every day, countless invitations to jump on a “quick call,” and kids who are in 93 after-school activities.

Simply stated, you cannot do everything. Most of you already know that, yet I don’t think you can be healthy unless you own that. 

I confess that I struggle with owning that! This is why I returned to something I learned some time ago and created a new practice called “Three promises.” 

Three Promises 

The three promises are promises that I make to myself at the start of every single day. I read these promises out loud to myself immediately after reading my daily declaration.

I see my daily declaration as a pep talk from my brain’s “head coach” that helps reorient my psyche. It shares truth and puts the lies in my head in their place.

The three promises move me from the pep talk to the game plan. It reminds me that no matter what I have to accomplish today, I’ll keep these three things at the forefront of my mind and actions. More than intentions, these are promises that I’m making to myself. Period, bottom line, take it to the bank. This is my “line in the sand” moment. 

Here’s the gist of my three promises:

  1. I promise to focus only on today. 
  2. I promise to focus on spreading the Gospel (the Great Commission). 
  3. I promise to give my best effort in everything I do. This is all I can do. I trust God for outcomes. Let His will be done, not mine. 

And here’s why I chose those particular promises:

I constantly struggle with looking both forward and backward. In fact, I would wager that no one up in the middle of the night is thinking about the present; instead, they’re thinking about something in their past or future. My line in the sand moment came when I realized I had no control over either, so I promised to focus on today. 

The second promise is the most powerful because it puts into perspective every issue I read, talk, and worry about. It helps me remember that the best thing I can do is share the love I have experienced through Jesus. Loved people should love people. I have work to do on this end, so this promise reorients me to what matters most. Obviously, you have to find what does that for you. 

Finally, the third promise came after yet another golf failure. I realized that measuring my score wasn’t the best indicator of my performance — it was just one indicator. Is it the indicator I care about most? Yes. But the effort I gave it is the best indicator because it encompasses everything (body, mind, game plan, etc.). I learned that I could accept a bad score if my effort was solid — and the same goes for results at work. 

Am I bringing my best? That is the question. 

A Final Promise

In this series, I’ve shared a few of my leadership processes to inspire you to create your own. We do not drift into improvement; we must be clear on our mission, understand where we’re going, prepare for resistance, and develop a framework that will help us stay focused on what matters.

My last promise is for you. I promise that if you put these things into practice, you will find renewed focus and energy to do what you value most. 

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Health of a Leader, Part 2

You’re on part two of the Health of a Leader blog post series. Check out part 1 here.

In my last post, I shared how clarifying my personal mission and vision helps me focus on what matters and prepares me for the inevitable storms that come in life. It creates a clear picture of where I want to go and what I must do to get there. With this knowledge, I can begin moving from the starting line toward my intended destination. 

But starting always brings with it some kind of resistance. And external resistance can be challenging, but I think mental resistance is even more difficult because it happens in your own head. 

Mental resistance often starts with a little voice in your head. It can be the little whisper of doubt you hear when you get rejected on a sales call. But as you get more rejections, this small voice inside your head can become a roar, saying you are not good enough and will never measure up. 

Unchecked, that negative chatter can permeate all aspects of your life. 

If that sounds too dramatic, maybe I am alone on my own island. After all — and this is tough to admit — earlier this year, I told my doctor that “I feel like a failure right now in just about everything.” 

Okay, that may have been a bit dramatic, but it was how I felt at that moment. The mental resistance I faced had infiltrated how I viewed my life as a whole. Thankfully, that moment led to a better thought on the way home — specifically, that I needed to get right mentally because I was not seeing things accurately. I then remembered an excellent book I read two years ago about winning the war in your mind. 

Daily Declaration 

What I am about to share is something I learned from studying Craig Groeschel. Not only do I recommend that you listen to his leadership podcast, but I also recommend every book he has written. I learned so much from his book, Winning the War of Your Mind, that I cannot recommend it enough. 

In the book, Craig shared a “daily declaration.” The first time I read it, I thought about how powerful Craig’s declaration was. I then referred back to it a few times over the next few months but eventually forgot about it as the months passed. 

My Daily Declaration

Fast forward to that doctor’s appointment: When I was leaving, I remembered Craig’s daily declaration. I knew I needed perspective, so I decided to get his book out and take another look at it. 

I realized that I needed to do a better job of leading myself, particularly in mental health. So I decided to create my own daily declaration, then set a reminder on my phone to read it aloud every morning before work. After 30 days, I planned to ask myself if it made any difference. 

I borrowed some lines from Craig’s daily declaration to create my declaration, then added a few of my own. I ended up with something like this:

Jesus is first in my life. I exist to serve and glorify Him. 

I love my wife and will lay down my life to serve her. 

I love people, and I believe the best about other people. 

I am creative, innovative, driven, focused, and blessed beyond measure because the Spirit of God dwells within me. 

With the power of the Holy Spirit, I can stay calm and collected in the midst of the furnace. For God is with me! 

Of course, your daily declaration would look different than mine, and it might not be so closely tied to spiritual truths. The point, however, is to create a declaration that gives you renewed perspective — a perspective that will give you the fight to take on any internal resistance you feel. Remember: we’ll face resistance in anything worth doing. We must lead ourselves first to counter that resistance. 

My Prayer for You

As we come to a close, I pray that you find inner peace. Life is hard. I write these words a few days after two teenagers were killed in a car accident about a mile from Hoffer Plastics. I can’t stop thinking about their family and the horrific loss they are experiencing. Everybody has to grieve and go through the cycle of grief on their own. In fact, I think the most applicable Bible verse in situations like these is simply: 

“Jesus wept.” 

You might wonder what this tragedy has to do with having a daily declaration? I can only share, again, part of my own declaration, and I share it because it has helped me keep perspective as I weep with those who are weeping.  

Pain is my friend. I rejoice in suffering because Jesus suffered for me. 

Jesus frees me from fearing death. He is there waiting. Eternity awaits. 

Therefore, I can smile through any difficult situation or season. 

I would never preach that to someone else. I’ll reiterate that everyone has to go through the grief process in their own way. 

But I preach this to myself. I declare it to myself. It’s my daily declaration. 

I pray that the resistance you face is the kind that I typically face. And as I mourn with our community, I invite you to create a daily declaration that will allow you to speak truth to the lies in your head and weather life’s inevitable storms.

Health of a Leader, Part 2 Read More »

Health of a Leader, Part 1

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “As goes the health of the leader, so goes the health of the organization.” And with the economic twists and turns this year, this topic has been on my mind. 

Over these next three posts, I’ll share three things I’m doing that have helped rejuvenate my mental health as a leader. These things have been extremely helpful for me, and I pray they will help you, too. 

Defining Your Mission and Vision

As a leader, I’ve found that one of the most important things I can do for my mental health is to define my mission and vision. This seems like a natural starting point to me because if you do not know where you are going — and why you are going there — you cannot be healthy as a leader or a person. That is a bold statement, so let’s unpack it. 

I would imagine that most people reading this blog have heard someone share the need to develop a personal mission and vision — I know I have, literally hundreds of times over the years! But I failed to realize just how much clarity is needed for this exercise. Humans can bear just about any “what” if the “why” is compelling enough. Said differently, if you know where you are going and why you are going there, then you can persevere when tough times come. 

And let’s be crystal clear before going further: TOUGH TIMES 

ALWAYS COME FOR EVERYONE. 

The other insight I have had on this topic is that I need to reverse the order; in other words, put the mission before the vision. I always thought vision came first, but I have discovered that is not true. 

Here’s why.

Personal Mission

Our corporate mission at Hoffer Plastics is to go ALL-IN on people, plastics, and purpose. This statement solidifies what we do and how we do it every single day. 

My personal mission is similar to our corporate mission, but this is not a necessity. What is a necessity is understanding who you are as a person, what matters, and what sorts of things you are willing to pursue sacrificially. To that end, my mission is to go ALL-In on: 

  • Loving God and loving people 
  • Loving my wife and kids 
  • Stewarding the resources God has entrusted me with
  • Extravagantly blessing others
  • Growing life-long relationships 
  • Promoting the dignity of work 
  • Sharing the love of Jesus with ALL 
  • Creating amazing experiences for family and friends 

Initially, I focused my personal mission statement on my work. Then, I realized my mission encompassed ALL aspects of my life. 

Now, I realize that my mission probably doesn’t jibe with what you want for your life — and that’s kind of the point. It is MY mission. 

Your mission needs to be something that inspires you, so start creating one today. 

Personal Vision

As I mentioned, I used to think that leaders could look out over the horizon and know precisely where they must go. They had “vision.” 

While I still think this is partly true, I have come to realize that the ability to do so comes from living within a mission. A vision comes into focus as leaders work day-by-day to pursue their mission. As I have heard from others, visions must be caught before they are cast. 

I think that’s important, so I will repeat it: before we can cast a vision, we have to catch it. 

Given my mission above, what vision am I catching? 

My vision is to live a healthy life — hopefully into my hundreds — loving Jesus, Sarah, my kids, their spouses, their kids, and their kids’ kids. My life will be about doing meaningful work that: 

  • Builds the Church 
  • Builds the family 
  • Builds other people 

But this is a leadership blog, right? I can practically hear some of you asking, “But what about Hoffer Plastics? What about your work? Why the church?” 

Let me be clear: 

  1. I am 1000% in on Hoffer Plastics. In fact, it is the primary space where I do “meaningful work.” In fact, the work enables me to do all three of the things I identified above. It is truly meaningful work to the third power. 
  2. The Church? This is macro for me. I want to devote the best of my time and resources to helping it thrive and giving people hope worldwide. This probably does not make sense to some readers, which is okay. I have been blessed to see how the Church (macro) has come along aside me when I was a twenty-something lost in his way. I have seen how it has lifted up people of different races when no one else included them in their group. And I have seen radical love and acceptance modeled time and time again. Therefore, I am all-in here. 

Before moving forward, I also understand that other people have had very different experiences in their churches. I am sorry. I am not being trite here. That is not how it is supposed to be. This reality that things are not always how they should be is something that motivates, instructs, and inspires my vision for building the Church. 

I know this may sound weird, but I tried running away from working at Hoffer Plastics. Yet, here I am. I feel a calling — a tug on my heart — to use the blessings I’ve been given (and let’s be clear here, they have been plentiful!) to bless other people. Furthermore, I have seen the power of how manufacturing builds more than parts — it builds people. And this is the kind of work I want my life to be about. 

It’s Not About You

Leaders, your leadership is not about you, your pursuits, or your wants and desires. 

Your leadership is about using the gifts God has given you to help others in every way possible. That is what doing things with and through other people means. 

Doing this is what matters. 

So, get crystal clear on your mission and vision. This will help you weather life’s inevitable storms.

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What a Leaking Starbucks Lid Taught me About Value

I like to say that I have been tired since my first son, Will, was born in 2011. With three kids, there is a secret formula to sustainability…coffee. 

Okay, it is not so secret. 

Coffee is the starting point of every day. I can’t even hit the gym at 6 a.m. without brewing a little coffee to get the day going. 

I have been an avid customer of Starbucks because of this. I have liked the consistently good coffee I have gotten from there since I started the addiction (what else do you call it?) in the early 2000s. 

Until recently, that is. 

Providing Value

Value is what customers are willing to pay for. As I just admitted above, I have always been willing to pay a little extra for my perception of better coffee (and by that, I mean better quick-serve coffee — I feel like that distinction is necessary for die-hard coffee drinkers!). 

While the product (coffee) has not changed much, other factors have led me to doubt my loyalty to Starbucks: 

First, I have had CONSTANT leakers. Since the start of 2023, I have had so many coffee stains on my pants that I have bought a Tide-to-Go pen for my office. I have also grown tired of wiping coffee stains out of my car. As a manufacturer (who could mold plastic lids, no less), this is infuriating. I do not pay to get hot coffee dumped on me repeatedly. Obviously, there is an issue with the lid and cup fit. 

Second, the location I frequent is not convenient. There is only one way in and one way out. I have dodged several rear-end attempts by other drivers (who are probably too focused on their leaking coffee cups!) 

Third, there is an alternative option (Dunkin Donuts) that is more conveniently located to the office. So, I gave it a try in early June. While I do not think the coffee is as good, I have gone 10+ times and have yet to have a single drop of coffee drip on my pants. I have moved from the “loyal” Starbucks camp to the “free agency” camp — I now frequent both.

Guarding Against Slippage

The point of this post is simple to grasp but hard to live out. The businesses we lead differentiate themselves on various small, subtle value differences. Just as I did not fully realize how much I valued (and was willing to pay for) a coffee cup that does not leak, I suspect some of our customers probably do not even realize what they value from us. 

Our job as leaders is to find out what those things are and ensure no “leakage” on any aspect of our value. Unfortunately, there will always be some. I am sure if I go to Dunkin long enough, they will mess up an order, or I will have a leaking lid. The point is that leaders need to look for and guard against this slippage. When it comes, we have to address it immediately and fix the problem. 

Then, we will hold on to the value and keep the customer. 

P.S.: I now split my time more evenly. Starbucks won me back in the summer with some really good Nitro Cold Brew. Can you say, addict?!?

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