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Why You Should Volunteer and How to Inspire Volunteers

I learned much of what I know by volunteering. I originally started volunteering because I believed in a cause, but I quickly discovered that investing in other organizations accelerated my professional growth — win-win!

In a setting where people need volunteers, you can be involved in high-profile roles very quickly. And this means you learn things that a regular career will never teach you (or at least not when you’re young). No one at a regular corporation will invite you to discuss the company’s financial situation, unless you’re an executive or in finance, but on a Board of Directors for a non-profit, this is a regular activity. And this is just one of dozens of examples that volunteer non-profit work will teach you.

As the CEO of an all-volunteer organization, I need volunteers to accomplish our mission. I need labor. And people need experience. I can teach; they can get things done. And we both win.  (more…)

Chasing Rainbows and Making Peace

When we’re in the process of dealing with difficult relationships, we have to be able to see the good in others. If we simply look for what needs to be corrected, we will not be able to make peace.

In Paul’s kind remarks to the Corinthian believers, he shows us that there are many ways to look at God’s light. The Corinthian believers—or some of them, at least—are on the verge of stepping into the realm of Satan, away from God’s light. At the same time, Paul affirms the beautiful work that Christ is doing in them. Paul sees the beautiful colors of God at work among them. He recognizes God in them—and in that he finds a connection (2 Corinthians 7:8–11).

I’m betting that all of us who are Christians have felt this connection with other Christians before, even those we struggle to deal with. The connection is a bit like experiencing a rainbow with a stranger: You both stand in awe of it, wondering how this cosmic event can make both of you feel like you’re the same when you’re so different. Of all things, a song by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher summarizes this well:

Have you been half asleep?
And have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound
That calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it,
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it,
The rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

And at one point, the song says, “All of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic.” And that is what believing in Jesus is like, and the connection it creates between us. It unites us. It pushes us forward. It feels like magic. It’s the sweet sound of the voice of God calling us, like a sailor is called to the sea.

As we make peace with others, we must be able to see the “rainbow connection” between us and them. For believers, we must be able to see the image of God at work in them and celebrate when the image of God takes over a part of their lives they once led themselves—or allowed Satan to lead. For those yet to know Jesus, we should see the potential of the image of God to reign in their lives; we should recognize the beautiful things in their lives that are from God—even when they themselves don’t recognize those things—and prompt them to move toward all that is good, true, and wonderful, all that is God’s will. We must see the colors of the light in our world and affirm it when we find it.

God’s work is as colorful as an Indian street market or downtown New York City. God created the colors and every living creature—everything that is beautiful is from him. When God showed us how much he loves this world when he gave us the rainbow—after the flood. God brought the flood to restore humanity and creation as a type of last resort. After the flood, the rainbow is a sign of the covenant God makes with Noah (Genesis 9:13–17).

The story of Noah puts into perspective much of what is happening in 2 Corinthians. Evil exists and belongs to the realm of Satan, but God wants to redeem humanity. Rather than issue destruction, like he did in the time of Noah, he is redeeming humanity through the work of Jesus Christ—which also is seen in believers through the Holy Spirit working in them.

Scientifically speaking, a rainbow is light being reflected and refracted off water droplets. This is some of the most beautiful imagery in the Bible since it comes after the destruction of the earth by water. Yet the rainbow itself can be revealed only through water. The rainbow also reveals the reality of light itself. Light is not white; it’s composed of colors. And just like light, God is not simplistic but multifaceted. God reflects his very image off of humanity—and humanity is at its height when we allow for this reflection to occur. The process of the Spirit of God filling our hearts, and redeeming our actions as a result, is the very process of refraction. Like light being refracted through water, God’s transformative work in us reveals the reality of who we really are. As the old self is destroyed, like water destroyed the earth, something more beautiful emerges in all the colors of God.

Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 12–14, where he talks about the body of Christ having many parts—all of which are used for God’s purposes. Spiritual gifts demonstrate how God is manifest in different ways to different people. Likewise, we see this in the Old Testament when God comes as a burning bush, rider on the clouds, pillar of smoke, and still, small voice (e.g., Exod 3:2; Psa 68:4; 1 Kgs 19:11–12). We also see this through the way the Old Testament is structured, with God speaking through the priests (the Law), the seers (Wisdom literature), and the prophets, and we also read about God speaking through kings. God uses different types of literature, and different types of people, in the process of explaining who he is.

All of this shows that God is, in fact, an artist, molding his world to match his design.

This blog post is excerpted and adapted from my new book, Cutting Ties with Darkness: 2 Corinthians. In celebration of the release of Cutting Ties with Darkness, six of the books I authored or edited are currently on sale for Kindle for $0.99, but only for a very limited time. Pick up your copies here.

9 Steps to Overcoming a Major Project Failure

When project failures occur, it’s easy to place blame. But in the process, we often forget a simple fact: “it doesn’t matter, we’re here now.” Here are nine steps for getting past the problem to a solution.

1. Stop drinking coffee. When a major problem occurs, your adrenaline will kick in, if you add caffeine to the mix, you will likely just compound the problem. What you need when a major issue occurs isn’t to think fast, but to think slow. You need to make a good decision despite the tension. (I learned this from a colleague of mine.)

2. Instill trust. People need to feel secure after a failure. They need to know that you don’t plan to fire them, but instead that you just want to solve the problem. If you get angry with someone, you will put them on the defense, and, as a result, make them nervous and difficult to work with. What you need in the moment of failure is everyone, and especially those who failed–they know more than anyone else about the problem. If you make people feel trusted and that you’re trustworthy, your chances of success are much higher.

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The Art of Admitting Mistakes

One of the most difficult things for a strong-willed person to do is to admit that they’re wrong.

If you can admit that you’re wrong, you will gain the respect of others, be able to move quicker through projects, and continue to grow personally. If you can’t, your mistakes will catch up to you.

Small failures are part of innovation. And it may sound cheesy to say, but learning from your small failures is part of innovating yourself.

Ask yourself today: What’s failing? It’s not negative to go to work with that thought in your mind, it’s actually positive. If you can approach things that way today, chance has it that you’re going to fix a relationship along the way to improving a project.

What’s failing? How can you admit defeat, admit your wrong, and then improve your life and the lives of others as a result?

(Many of the ideas in this post stem from Seth Godin’s The Dip and Paul Arden’s Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite.)

3 Reasons to Create Your Own Project Management System

I’m a project manager who can’t stand pre-built project management solutions. Churches use them, businesses use them, but frankly, they’re just not as helpful as we act like they are.

I used Microsoft Project. I’ve seen and used cloud based project management solutions—many of the ones available on the market. All the options frustrate me and waste my time. They each taught me something about my process and I’m certainly a better project manager for it, but they each led me to force projects into molds and ultimately inhibited workflow. Here are three reasons why you should create your own project management solution(s).

1. Smart people don’t need every task written out for them.

Writing out milestones and dependent tasks is essential for every project, but writing out every task isn’t. Many project management technology solutions require that every task be written out. (And even if they don’t require it, they make you feel like you should.) I have found myself spending hours writing out tasks when I could be accomplishing things. If you work with smart people, why do you need to write out every task? I work with smart people, so why would I force people into my style of a task list? Having one task list master also makes others feel small and bossed around. I want to work with others because of who they are, not force them to think like me. In addition, ridiculously detailed lists created by “supervisors” are for people who want to check boxes. And people who check boxes will never lead in a meaningful way.

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Numbers Don’t Lie and 3 More Fiscal Leadership Proverbs

Pithy leadership statements can be annoying, but when forced to make a difficult decision quickly, they can be sage wisdom. This is especially the case when it comes to fiscal decisions. Perhaps this is why much of the biblical proverbs are about money. Here are four modern fiscal proverbs and why they will help you be a better leader.

1. Numbers don’t lie.

Numbers don’t lie when it comes to our bank accounts, yet they’re often ignored when it comes to employee performance. If you can’t measure it, and point to your accomplishment, then why do it? If people aren’t held accountable by data, our coaching is really based on feelings and intuition, not performance. After prayer and relationship building, start with the numbers. If you don’t have the numbers, create an unbiased system. Then, make decisions using it.

2. Intangibles are intangible.

When faced with ugly financial statements, we’ve all heard the appeal to intangibles, but intangibles are just that, intangible—they don’t pay the bills. The garbage collector won’t get the job done on the basis of purely good intentions. The collector can have all the great intentions in the world and the trash can still be sitting in front of my house. Likewise, the collectors won’t keep picking up my trash on the basis of my good intentions—they need to be paid. Why do we let intangibles guide businesses when intangibles will fail us? The numbers should back your intentions: does a pro forma and past financials prove it? If not, then you probably shouldn’t do it.

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Playing Business Like the Oakland A’s

If gross miscalculations of a person’s value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or under-valued, who couldn’t? Bad as they may have been, the statistics used to evaluate baseball players were probably far more accurate than anything used to measure the value of people who didn’t play baseball for a living.

—Michael Lewis, Moneyball, pg. 72, in reference to what Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts revealed.

Think for a moment how often you have heard people say, “Because I know it will work,” or “He just seems to work harder than his colleagues,” or “She puts in more hours and thus is more valuable,” or even “I was told this by x person and therefore y must be the case.”

Like baseball, business is full of mystery and assumptions. Because we feel or think something doesn’t make it true. Because it happened that way in the past doesn’t mean it will happen that way in the future. Because a few customers have that perception doesn’t mean the viewpoint is accurate.

Most people who are misplaced in a job are misplaced either because they were the wrong hire to begin with, or because no one took the time to train them properly. (Note the “most” qualifier—there are certainly exceptions.) But how can we properly train someone if we don’t measure their performance accurately, with statistics that matter and contribute to the bottom line?

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Impossible: Ban It from Your Vocabulary

The word “impossible” keeps many people from doing what they’re capable of. Along with many other words, “impossible” should be banned from your vocabulary.

Now, there are certainly things in life that are impossible, but you won’t know what they are until you try them and then try again. A lack of precedence doesn’t necessitate a reality of constraints. Biblical interpretation actually serves as a good example for explaining this point.

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They Don’t Care: Half the Battle Isn’t Showing Up

It was cold outside. I could see my breath. The section lead of the drum line didn’t show up. I was a freshman—third snare drum. I realized, “I’m going to have to lead this.”

I rallied the line and we went onto the field. My hands were shaking—part nerves and part cold. My drum roll at the beginning of the Star Spangled Banner was inconsistent. It was embarrassing. (Who messes up the national anthem?) We moved on. We began the pep band songs. I was off rhythm for two entire measures; it took four more measures to get the drum line back in sync.

We left the field. My band instructor grabbed my snare harness near my shoulders. He looked me in the eyes and yelled over the noise of the crowd, “Barry, what happened?” I replied, “My hands were cold. And I just learned the cadence last week.” He yelled, “You hear that?” He pointed towards the crowd. “They don’t care. They don’t care. They don’t care that your hands were cold. They don’t care that you just learned the cadence. They don’t care.”

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5 Principles to Lead By

Innovation without excellent execution will fail. And execution without innovation is a waste of time.

What makes a team different? What makes them unique?

I think the combination of five things can set any team apart:

  1. The Henry Gantt principle: Execute well and follow through
  2. The William Zinsser principle: Use art, story, risk and science to communicate
  3. The Jacqueline Novogratz principle: Solutions is the answer in an interconnected world
  4. The Seth Godin principle: Be a rebar company that creates tribes around linchpin products and people
  5. The Donald Clifton principle: Play to strengths, working as a unit

What type of leader are you? Where will you lead?

What principle would you add to the list?

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