Thursday, April 16, 2015
While it wasn’t a huge scandal, and it didn’t really rock the NFL, it still got its own nickname — DeflateGate — and seemed to add a little dirt to the reputation of the team that had been found guilty of videotaping another team’s signals — SpyGate — a few years earlier.
Who was guilty of ordering that Patriot footballs be underinflated by a couple pounds per square inch, to make them easier to throw and to catch? Was it the ultra-competitive head coach, Bill Belichick, or the famous player who would be doing the throwing, quarterback Tom Brady?
An investigation was promised.
And here’s my prediction. No one will be found guilty of ordering the footballs to be deflated. There will be no “smoking gun.” There will be no recovered e-mails.
Here’s why. These kinds of orders are given as hints. Suggestions. Wishes. When I was in the army, I learned how an upper-echelon officer could make a passing comment that would turn into an order by the time it trickled down the chain of command to us. For example, the Commanding Officer (CO) of a military post could make an observation as he was leaving, “Some roses would look nice by that front gate.” His Executive Officer might repeat it as “The CO wants some roses planted by the front gate.” Cue an eager-to-please newly minted lieutenant and some obedient and energetic privates, and by the next day there would be rose bushes at the front gate. One his next trip through the gate, the CO might be amazed, or amused, by the roses. Or he might not even notice. Did he really want roses planted at the front gate? Or was it just an idle observation? No one could know for sure. Maybe not even the CO.
A more famous example occurred in 1170. The King of England, Henry II, was in deep conflict with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. One day the king was so furious at something Becket had done — or refused to do — that he shouted, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four knights overheard what the king had said and decided to handle it for him. They travelled to Canterbury, searched the Cathedral, and killed the archbishop.
In the following years, the four knights fell into disgrace, Canterbury Cathedral turned into a shrine that was visited by thousands, and Thomas Becket was canonized.
And the line, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest” echoed down through the centuries. We’re not sure if the king really meant it literally. Nor are we sure, of course, exactly what words the king used, but that’s the gist of it.
And this is the phrase that immediately came to mind the first time I heard about DeflateGate. I couldn’t imagine that the head coach or the quarterback gave specific orders and explicit directions on how they wanted the balls underinflated. But I could easily imagine how the quarterback could say, casually, off-hand, in passing, “It would be great if these balls had just a bit less air,” or maybe “I wish there was a way for these balls to be deflated just a tad.”
Someone ready to obey and eager to please could have heard the quarterback. Maybe it was an assistant coach, or a member of the equipment staff. Maybe it was two of them. Or four of them. Just like King Henry’s knights, they thought the request was important and truly desired. And they figured out a way to get it accomplished.
The investigation might find and charge the culprits whose hands literally let the air out of the footballs, just like we know the names of the four knights who hacked the archbishop to death: Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracey, Hugh de Morville and Richard le Breton. But I doubt that the investigators will find out who issued the command.
Because there was no command. It was just “Some roses would look nice by that front gate.” It was just “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest.” “It was only “I wish there was a way to make these footballs a little softer.”
Maybe whoever it was — coach or quarterback — was up on his medieval history and actually said, as he squeezed a fully inflated football, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome pressure?” A man that smart almost deserves to win the Super Bowl.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Refreshment (food and rest)
First God attended to Elijah’s most basic needs. What do you need when you are tired and hungry?
Then he [Elijah] lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. (1 Ki 19:5–9)
I suspect that a lot of you are a lot like me. When I’m desperate to do something extraordinary, I forget to take care of the ordinary. The first to go for me is recreation, then exercise, then nutrition (I didn’t say food… food and nutrition are two entirely different things)… the final thing to go, for me, is good sleep.
I know for others it may be in a different order, but in desperation to do something extraordinary, we forget to take care of the ordinary… and the ordinary usually includes of recreation, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
When finding ourselves in a state of burnout, we probably need to start with regeneration at the most basic level just like Elijah did.
Once getting his basic needs attended to, Elijah had to think. Picking up in verse 9 of 1 Kings 19:
And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
This wasn’t a call for information; it was a call for reflection. Elijah’s response reveals something of what Elijah was wrestling with:
And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Ki 19:9–10)
An important ingredient in the remedy for burnout is to lay it all out before the Lord. We need to confess our disappointments, and confess our sin. We need to identify how we see things and, even if we don’t see things clearly or even rightly, we ought to lay it before the Lord.
Listen to what God says, and does, in response to Elijah’s reflection.
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Ki 19:11-13)
Everything had changed. God fixed it all up and Elijah was able to return home in safety. Well… no… not exactly.
After Elijah had witnessed the powerful wind, earthquake and fire, yet found God in the gentle whisper, that still small voice of assurance heard with the ears of faith, God asked Elijah the very same question. And Elijah, a second time, gave the very same answer.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Ki 19:12-14)
I’m sure I’ve read this many times, of course, but when I read it again more carefully in this study, I first thought I misread it. Surely something should have been different in the response after meeting God. But the answer was the same, and the circumstances were the same too.
I think we find ourselves in similar positions, waiting on God to do something extraordinary and fantastic like winds and earthquakes and fire that reduce mountains to rubble. We wait on the sidelines for God to get in there and dramatically change the circumstances before we’re willing to get back into the game.
But God didn’t change the circumstances that day for Elijah; He changed Elijah. Elijah didn’t need God to fix things; Elijah needed to fix his eyes on God. There was no renovation of Israel that day, but there was a rebirth and renewal of Elijah.
God’s final ingredient for the remedy for Elijah’s burnout was redeployment. The answer is the same for all of us; eventually we need to get back to work.
God told Elijah to anoint kings and anoint and train a successor. The circumstances hadn’t changed and the work needed to continue. Elijah never was alone, and God’s call reminded Elijah that he shouldn’t be alone. Kings were to rise up to do their work, there were thousands reserved by God himself that had not bent a knee to Baal, and Elisha would be Elijah’s successor. The work that Elijah thought was his alone would continue with the help of many… and continue after Elijah was gone, living on through his successor.
From our position of burnout, are we merely going to pray from the sidelines and ask God to change our circumstances? Are we going to pray down fire from heaven, like the fire that consumed the sacrifice or the fire that passed by Elijah on Mount Horeb? Are we going to pray for a wind to blow away the mountains in our path, or an earthquake to reduce the mountains to rubble?
Is that the kind of answer we want? Could God do it? Might He do it?
Or could there be something better, something higher? Isn’t the lesson learned here that the certainty of knowing that we are God’s and He is with us, a certainty that comes from the whisper of God heard by the ears of faith, is God’s best?
(This article was adapted from a talk at Pleasant Bay Church 11/30/11 available on iTunes here)
Monday, October 31, 2011
In one form or another, burnout seems to go hand in hand with leadership; burnout has been around as long as there have been leaders. Here’s an example from about 3,000 years ago from the life of the prophet Elijah.
His words recorded in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings (chapter 19) capture his state of burnout:
He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Ki 19:4)
I have had enough, Lord… ever heard yourself saying anything like that? Can you relate? Was it enough? Did it get better… or worse? Even though we might not be able to relate directly to Elijah’s specific circumstances, I think we can relate to his state of mind.
“I have had enough, Lord.”
We can learn some important lessons by analyzing what brought Elijah to this point of burnout.
What brought Elijah to this point?
These were terribly dark days. Four generations had passed since the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom. David’s crown passed to his son Solomon, but from Solomon the kingdom was divided; the kings of Judah and Israel failed to accomplish their prime directive: to lead God’s people in righteousness.
In Elijah’s day, Ahab was king of Israel. Here is how he is introduced in 1 Kings 16:
Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. (1 Ki 16:29–33)
When God gave His people the Promised Land, he warned them, in no uncertain terms, to keep their devotion to Him, staying away from the religious practices of the other inhabitants. The kings before Ahab erred in mixing in the practices of other religions (syncretism); Ahab move from syncretism to apostasy, leaving Yahweh for Baal and the Asherah poles.
It was a dangerous time to be a prophet of Yahweh… especially one named Elijah (translated: Yahweh is God).
Elijah confronted King Ahab as it is recorded in 1 Kings 17:
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Ki 17:1)
It was an age old way for God to get His people’s attention, control over the elements. Elijah pronounced a drought over the kingdom… a long drought that would only be broken at his pronouncement.
The backdrop of Elijah’s burnout was the incredible opposition he faced. There is no doubt that his work was hard work.
Elijah had been through a lot. After learning lessons about God’s faithfulness, power and provision, Elijah returned to confront Ahab with a showdown. Not merely a showdown between Ahab and Elijah, but a showdown between Baal and Yahweh.
When he [Ahab] saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
“I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” (1 Ki 18:17–19)
The account of the showdown is spectacular.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. (1 Ki 18:22–29)
Elijah wasn’t the only one that was exhausted. The truly religious exhaust themselves regardless of the truth of their religion. Their exhaustion didn’t impress their gods, as if there was any god to impress… as if there was anything that could be accomplished with their spectacle.
Then Elijah came to take his turn…
Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. (1 Ki 18:30–38)
As if it would not have been remarkable enough for God to provide the fire for the sacrifice with just a spark, Elijah made it certain that this was something only Yahweh could have accomplished. With all the water poured on the wood and the sacrifice, no mortal could have quickly produced such an all-consuming fire… a fire so hot and great that it consumed even the water in the trench, as well as stones and soil.
With the contest completed and so convincingly won by God, there were still two practical matters at hand. First the prophets of Baal needed to be dealt with, and their defeat at the altar was sealed with their defeat by the sword at the hand of the people who were so convincingly turned against them. Second, there was the matter of the drought.
Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
“There is nothing there,” he said.
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ ”
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel. (1 Ki 18:41–46)
A miracle, a battle, another miracle, and a run… Elijah was, of course, exhausted. And it seems that there is no exhaustion as potentially dangerous as exhaustion that comes from overextending ourselves for righteous causes.
Elijah must have thought that his great victory was the end of things and everything would have been set right in Israel. He must have thought he had one the war, but it was merely a significant battle in an unending war. He declared “mission accomplished” but the enemy did not agree, had not surrendered, and was still powerful.
It has been noted throughout history that the most dangerous generals are those who rise up more fierce and determined after defeat; conversely Elijah, like most of us, are often most vulnerable after the thrill of victory. Elijah’s burnout came when he was overwhelmed with the realization that the war was not over.
Elijah revealed his state of mind when he made his complaint to God.
I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Ki 19:4).
Elijah had determined that he was a failure; it probably started by thinking he was some sort of success at Mount Carmel. Maybe it wasn’t so much perfectionism as it was pride and self-reliance. Elijah wasn’t evaluating things on what God was doing through Elijah; Elijah was focused on his performance and comparing his success (and failure) to other people (his ancestors).
He took credit for the plan that he so successfully executed on Mount Carmel, and now that there was still opposition he wanted the penalty for the failure.
Elijah repeatedly made the mistake of separateness. On Mount Carmel he proudly declared that he alone was left to stand up for God, forgetting about Obadiah and the hundred prophets he had hidden away in caves. Later God would reveal that there were thousands who had not bent their knee to Baal.
Willful independence is a common ingredient in burnout. We determine to go it alone as we chase success, and we are left to spiral down alone with nobody around to help catch us and lift us up.
Elijah determined that his cause was futile… and now alone in the wilderness there was nobody around to point out his error and talk him out of his lowly state.
I’m glad that this isn’t the end of the story; I’m glad that Elijah was proven wrong. God had an answer. God had a remedy.
Tomorrow I’ll post the remedy God provided for move Elijah out of his burnout. (If you just can't wait, check out my talk from Pleasant Bay by clicking here)
Friday, October 7, 2011
I was a mechanical engineering major for a while at Purdue for long enough to have one of those classes where you apply what you learn about force vectors to a shoe-box-sized bridge made out of balsa wood. After you design it and glue it all together, the final exam includes putting it on a contraption that adds incremental units of stress until the whole thing snaps into splinters. Some of our bridges buckled under the pressure (compression members couldn't take it), and others pulled apart (tension members couldn't hold it together).
I've observed that good leadership teams have both compression members (those types that are sort of solid and can handle work getting piled on their shoulders) as well as tension members (those of us who are happy to be stretched and pulled as we respond to various conditions). A lot of us, of course, have to function in both compression and tension roles. We're like the common 2X4s in a house; some are there to be pushed on (like the ones holding up the ceiling) and others are there to be pulled on (like the ones holding the trusses together in the attic)... and yet others are both pushed on and pulled on depending on conditions.
When building teams and thinking through the various roles on teams, it is vital to design both compression and tension members into the scheme.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
It might be helpful to first be a bit more specific about what we mean when we say team, since team is one of those words we throw around with few boundaries. For the purposes of this discussion, I am meaning a work team that:
- Operates with a specific charter and agenda,
- Is comprised of members who have specific roles and the ability to contribute as a team member, and
- Has the authority and resources to meet the demands of the agenda.
Mere democracy is not agreement. If a group operates according to “majority rule,” whether it is a small committee or a large country, it is not a team. That isn’t a bad thing at all, just a different “thing” than a team. There are all sorts of circumstances where “majority rule” is the best solution, it simply isn’t a team.
The rule of agreement takes into account that team members posses varying perspectives as well as differing amounts of influence. This is an important distinction from a democratic process in which every vote has the same value in every decision. Members of a team should acknowledge that each team member brings different things to the table. Each has a unique perspective, and some perspectives are better suited for various tasks and decisions than others. Some may have various levels of authority and responsibility that impact how agreement may be reached. While it may seem that more influential/powerful members of the team are less agreeable, it could be that their responsibilities require them to be more deliberate in a process toward agreement.
Blind obedience or unswerving allegiance is not agreement. A productive team should not allow for members who are simply “yes men.” It is often the most loyal thing one can do to help members of a team avoid a mistake, or insist on making a good idea a great success. On the other hand, those who only think of their role in terms of being a contrarian or antagonist are not productive members of a team.
Agreement should be neither political or protectionist. Reaching agreement should not be a matter of trading votes (“I’ll support you this time if you support me next time”). It should also not be a matter of giving in to simply protect a position, role, or job. The best team members often approach their work as being “self employed,” not so desperate to protect their job that they give in to anything that might threaten their position.
When agreement is not possible there are at least a couple of potential conclusions. It could be that the work at hand is not suitable for the team, or any team. Or it could be that there needs to be a change in the membership of the team. If a team is intent on operating with agreement, then there may be times that call for difficult decisions.
One of the markers that indicates that a work group has become a real team is when the members consider each other trusted colleagues that “have your back.”
I'm happy to have your feedback!
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
I’m working on a Master’s Degree, and the final step will be writing a 100-page thesis. (A daunting task for a guy who has spent large chunks of his life writing three-paragraph ads, 30-second television commercials, and 60-second radio spots. Much of what I’ve written has taken just one page.)
There’s actually a class on Research Methods, which helps us learn how to define the subject, do the research, organize the material, and write the paper. Reading one of the textbooks the other day (Your Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers by Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, which is actually – surprisingly – interesting) I came across this quote from Ellen White, written in 1892: “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn.”
That sentence caused me to pull out my yellow highlighter. As did the one a line or two later: “Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view… will be disappointed.”
I usually think of education as learning new stuff, to pile on the mound of things I already know. But what if some of the timbers in my intellectual foundation are outdated, or insufficient, or flat-out wrong? It may only be a matter of time before there’s some sort of collapse. At best, it could be embarrassing; at worst, a disaster.
Learning, as Ms. White points out, should force us to unlearn as well as learn.
That can be difficult, for two reasons. First, we cherish the “truths” we already have gained, through study or experience. It’s hard to let them go, even when new discoveries and new situations render them false or irrelevant. But second, and quite insidiously, we sometimes don’t even recognize the building blocks of our own intellectual infrastructure. They are comfortable, assumed, unexamined. In the same way that fish don’t know they’re wet, we don’t recognize the assumptions and biases that we’ve acquired along the way.
So how do we unlearn?
Perhaps it takes an attitude and an action.
The attitude would be just a touch of humility. Just a glimmer of an admission to ourselves that we don’t know it all, and that some of what we know might be outdated or incomplete. We keep our ears slightly cocked to hear the warnings that there might be some creaking or sagging in our foundation.
The action would be to force ourselves to encounter information from different sources. Here are just a couple examples. In my work in advertising, I’ve noticed that companies tend to pay attention to the efforts of other entities in their same category – car dealers notice the ads of other car dealers, churches pay attention to what other churches are doing, etc. One secret is to cross-pollinate. Look at the ads outside your industry (after all, your customers are). When I ran the marketing for a Christian university on the west coast, our efforts at a new web design started with looking at many of the sites our prospective students might visit. We looked at the sites of other Christian universities in our category, of course, but then, step by step, we widened the net, step by step. First, bigger universities, state universities, and universities in other areas. Then we looked at Pepsi, Scion, ESPN, even Hollister and Abercrombine and Fitch.
Here’s another example. In my personal life, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I want to avoid the cultural myopia that can sneak up on us. In addition to reading contemporary authors from my home country, the United States, I also try to read authors from other countries and from other centuries. (Often, you can get two birds with one book. Try, for example, something by St. Augustine. He lived in Africa in the fourth century, and today is highly regarded by Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.)
So, thanks, Ms. White, for pointing out that “unlearning” can be just as important as “learning.” It makes sense. Adding new software requires deleting the old. You have to find, cut out, and replace the rotten timbers on your sailing vessel before it’s again seaworthy and can be trusted to embark on your next voyage.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
As imperfect as they are, I'm looking over the U.S. News rankings today and noting that Northwest University cracked the top ten in their category, ranking #9 among regional colleges in the West.
Having invested 13 years in Northwest, I'm really gratified to see NU continuing to be recognized as a great place.
I remembered that I did some really rudimentary analysis a few years ago of peer schools, including a number of schools that "compete" with NU for students (we call them "crossapps" schools that also receive applications from our new students). I spent a few minutes and updated the rankings from the current report.
As Merlin and I are looking forward to serving other organizations, I'm glad that we can point to experience like this... evidence that we've had a hand in greatifying a place like NU.