One of the things about my job is that I am sometimes placed in the position of being the bearer of difficult news. Sometimes the data from a survey, or a team’s service quality assessment, is not what my client wants to hear. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to communicate undesirable truths in a way that they can be received and turned into tactical options for turning things around. Sometimes, that’s impossible.
One of the things I’ve observed in my career journey is that the crucial variable in these types of situations is the wisdom, maturity, and attitude of the leader who is hearing the news I have to bring. There are times when it didn’t matter how I approached the situation. I, the messenger, would be shot.
I was once asked to sit in on a CEO’s advisory team as he launched a new initiative. I was impressed with the team that had been assembled and was actually excited to participate as an “outsider.” What became clear, however, was that the CEO wanted team members who only provided advice deemed positive and encouraging to the ego. I’ve seen this before. A client asks us to create a quality assessment scorecard that ensures every employee will get nothing but perfect marks all the time. The motivation for this request is the mistaken notion that everyone will “feel like a winner” (the customers are the losers who are still getting a poor service experience from the company’s representatives, while those representatives are continually rewarded for their mediocrity). I didn’t last long on that advisory team. I was good with that.
In today’s chapter, wise King Solomon shares that success comes with “many advisors,” and I believe that to be true. However, I found myself wanting to add a footnote to the proverb. The heart of both the leader and the advisors are crucial. The advisors have to be willing to say what the leader needs to hear, and the leader must be willing to hear whatever wisdom the advisors feel necessary to share (even if it’s not what the leader wants to hear).
As I was mulling these things over I found myself reminded of a recent Board meeting of our company in which one of our Directors really challenged a decision. Even though it didn’t ultimately sway a change in the decision, we needed that challenge. We needed to discuss a different point-of-view. It helped bring clarity to the issue and forced me, the leader, to consider the wisdom of other options. I want my Board members to be honest, and I want to be wise enough to heed their counsel even when it goes against my personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on several experiences as both leader and advisor along my life journey. I’ve learned that I can’t really change others. I can only be responsible for myself in the role of both leader (accepting wise counsel) and advisor. My time is most wisely spent with those who really want my honest input, whether they ultimately heed it or not. Those who don’t really want to hear what I actually think and believe are better off finding another advisor.
I quietly reached a milestone in my journey as a blogger yesterday. With my post Time, Distance, and Perspective I have blogged my way through the entire Bible twice. Along with posts that are basically diary entries about me and my family’s life journey, I have been posting my personal thoughts about one chapter of the Bible roughly every weekday for over twelve years.
Along the way I’ve learned some important lessons about blogging. I’d like to share five of them for any aspiring bloggers out there for whom it might be helpful. First, a little background is in order.
In March 2006 I began my blog and called it Wayfarer. A wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and my blogging journey began with only a sketchy sense of where I was headed. You’ve probably never heard of me because twelve years later the number of subscribers and followers to my blog is less than a thousand and the vast majority of those followers are simply other bloggers and businesses following me in hopes that I will follow them back. The actual number of faithful readers I have might be enough for a decent summer picnic and a pick-up game of whiffle ball, but that’s okay. My blog is called Wayfarer because it’s about the journey and there’s much to be learned when you keep trekking for twelve years.
The primary motivation for me starting my blog was simply to have an on-line journal for family and friends to keep tabs on me and the fam. If they want to know what we’re up to, they can simply check out the blog. While Facebook might accomplish the same thing, I control my blog and its content, not the algorithms and social media gatekeepers. I like owning my own little acre of the internet.
It’s also important to know that while I’ve blogged my way through the Bible twice, I don’t consider my blog a religious blog. I don’t represent any church. I’m not out there trying to convince anyone of anything. My “chapter-a-day” posts have their roots in my relationship with my good friend, Kevin. Kevin and I are both followers of Jesus and years before I started my blog we came to an agreement to help each other be better followers. We decided to read one chapter of the Bible every weekday. Because we both had jobs that required a certain amount of windshield time we simply called each other and shared with one another whatever we got out of that day’s chapter.
As I began my blog I thought it might be cool to simply transfer the chapter-a-day journey Kevin and I had already been on for years from the phone to the internet. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought to myself, “If we had a record of the chapter we read each day and what it made us think about?” That’s where it all started, and I’m still going.
So what have I learned along the journey? Here are my top five lessons:
Your Motive Matters
There are literally millions of blogs on the internet. My blog is on the WordPress platform, and WordPress reports that there are over 500 new sites started on their platform daily with a total of over 76 million sites and 15 billion pages of content.
If your motive for blogging is to get discovered for the talented writer you know you are and to become a famous celebrity blogger then you need to know that you are playing the Powerball of on-line popularity. Your blog is a very small needle in a ginormous global haystack. It’s been said that as many as 95% of bloggers who start a blog abandon it after a short period of time. So, why do it?
There are all sorts of legitimate motives for blogs and sites. Some are built simply to drive traffic and sell ads. Some are businesses trying to make a profit. Some are people trying to build a brand. There’s nothing wrong with any of those motives, but I found that it is important to know what your motive is for starting a blog. You should define “This is why I’m doing this. This is what I’m trying to accomplish.” It helps define what you need to do and how you invest your time and resources.
I’ve also found that a clearly defined motive can keep me going when I occasionally spy the meager handful of views that my brilliant post received and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?!”
Have Something to Say
I think most people start a blog thinking they have something to say, but sitting down at the keyboard on a regular basis and getting it out can be a daunting experience. Once you get out those three or four posts that you’ve had mulling over in your head for years you find yourself asking, “What now?”
A couple of reasons I’ve been able to keep going for over 12 years goes back to the two motives I outlined when I started. I wanted to create an on-line journal of life, and life doesn’t stop happening. I can blog about our kids and grandson living with us this week as they prepare to live in Scotland. I can blog about the role in the play I’m working on or our latest trip to the lake. I also wanted to record my “chapter-a-day” thoughts. That alone has been a built-in content engine. I read the chapter each week day, and then I write my thoughts.
If you’re thinking about blogging, ask yourself: “What is the engine that’s going to keep giving me fresh content to write about?”
Views and Followers Don’t Correlate to Quality of Content
I read[/caption]I read a humorous article yesterday in Wired magazine about a woman whose young son was obsessed with fans. You know, the rotary blade, move the air kind of fans. Imagine her surprise when she discovered the her son was watching another boy on YouTube doing nothing but talking about fans. His videos talking about fans had hundreds of thousands of views. As does the video of the teen girl in Boise talking about her acne. As does the video of the guy falling off his skateboard.
One of the reasons bloggers fail is that they obsess about their stats. They slip into the comparison trap and fall prey to the injustice of the on-line world. I write a brilliant post about how to better cope with life in hard times and it gets read ten times (eight if you don’t count my wife and mother). Meanwhile, Fan Boy has hundreds of thousands of people listening to him talk about the virtues of the Lasko Model 2527 pedestal fan.
Number of views and followers does not correlate to quality of content. Embrace it.
I’ve written some really good stuff over the years. Yeah, that post about the eleventh chapter of Leviticus? Killer. But, I published into the blogosphere like a sower casting his seed and it died on the vine. So did most of other posts that I wrote. Sometime I hit that “Publish” button feeling like a post is really going to resonate with people…until it doesn’t.
Back in January of 2012 I was on my way home from a week-long business trip to Texas. In the plane I was thinking about all of the great experiences I’d had with my client that week, and it struck me that being a theatre major at Judson College had uniquely prepared me for my job in ways I couldn’t have fathomed at the time. So, I got out my iPad and in twenty minutes I wrote a post: 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success. When my plane I landed I published it quickly (I didn’t even proof it), and thought no more of it.
Two weeks later that post went viral. That one silly post I’d hastily typed on my iPad brought in over 30,000 views in one day (FYI: reaching a hundred views in one day is a stellar day on my blog). I had comments pouring in from actors and producers in Hollywood and Broadway. At one point I counted more than twenty colleges and universities who have my post linked on their department websites.
You never know what’s going to land.
I can’t count the number of times that I squeamishly hit the “Publish” button thinking that my post was the most worthless piece of schlock ever written, and then later that day I hear from a stranger saying “This was so good! You have no idea how much I needed to read this today.”
No. I didn’t have a clue. I’m just a sower scattering my seed one post at a time.
The Rewards Aren’t Necessarily What You Think
At this point, it might seem as if I’m being really discouraging about this whole blogging business. I certainly hope you discern between realistic and discouraging. There are all sorts of amazing rewards I’ve received from blogging that this Wayfarer would never have discovered had I not embarked on the journey and stuck with it.
I’m a way better writer than I’ve ever been in my entire life. You know that guy who wrote that it’s not about talent, but about doing something for 10,000 hours? Yeah, blogging thousands of posts across twelve years has improved my writing, my creative flow, and my self-discipline. All I have to do is go back to read one of my early posts (and then fire down a quick shot of Pepto Bismal), and I know how far I’ve come.
I’ve gotten to know some amazing people and have enjoyed sharing the blogging journey with them. A few I’ve even gotten to meet in real life which has been awesome.
While I may not have hundreds and thousands of views of my posts, I’m continually humbled and encouraged when that “I really needed this” comment comes through or is casually mentioned by someone I would never expect. If my motive had to become popular then I would done things way differently.
What were my motives?
I wanted to create an on-line journal and archive of life. Mission accomplished.
“What year did we go to the ballet in Kansas City? Hang on, it’s there in the blog.”
“Oh my goodness, I’d totally forgotten about that time we did the ‘host a murder’ party at the winery!”
I wanted to create an archive of my “chapter-a-day” thoughts. Mission accomplished. All the way through the Bible. Twice.
Someday my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and perhaps even multiple other generations will be able to read through my daily thoughts and the things I pondered. Who knows what they might find meaningful, and funny, and perhaps even helpful in their own respective life journeys. That’s a reward that can’t be quantified.
So those are just five lessons from twelve years of blogging. Another milestone has been reached, and I’m still going. The journey continues. Who knows where it will take me. One post at a time.
I had the lunch earlier this week with a young father. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter. Over lunch we talked about some of the life lessons I’ve learned as a father. Chief among them is that, as followers of Jesus, we believe that “we are not our own but have been bought with a price.” In the same way I believe our children are not ours. They are a gift of God that we are called upon to steward in order that each child might follow God on their own respective journeys. The hard lesson is accepting that my child’s path may not look like the path I would choose for her.
In that vein, I often found myself sharing sage advice and wise counsel with my children. In many cases, the wisdom was born out of my own tragic mistakes and important life lessons. And, quite often, they paid no heed.
Welcome to parenting.
In today’s chapter the Chronicler shares the story of Mannasseh, the son of good King Hezekiah. We don’t know all of the circumstances of the relationship between father and son, but we do know from doing the math that Mannaseh was born when Hezekiah was in his early forties. Hezekiah had a great track record for following God and doing things by the Book. There was even that improbable deliverance from the evil Assyrians we read about yesterday. Talk about a great example to follow.
But, Mannaseh paid no heed to his father, to his father’s legacy, or to his father’s God. The Chronicler says that God spoke to Mannaseh and to the people, but he paid no heed.
Another lesson I’ve learned in parenting is that we often expect our children to behave differently than we, ourselves, behaved in childhood. It’s the “do as I say not as I did when I was your age (not that you’ll ever find out about that if I can help it)” principle. But I was like that. I had my own experiences with paying no heed to my parents, my grandparents and God. It’s part of my journey and a big part of those life lessons that led to wisdom.
This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about myself, not as a father but as the child of God that I still am. I can’t forget that Jesus said becoming like children is required if we want to be part of the Kingdom. Are there places, even now, in which Father God is speaking, whispering sage advice into my spirit, offering me wisdom from His Message…
When David’s envoys came to Hanun in the land of the Ammonites to express sympathy to him,the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Haven’t his envoys come to you only to explore and spy out the country and overthrow it?”1 Chronicles 19:3 (NIV)
I’ll never forget seventh grade. That was the first year of what used to be called Junior High School and is now generally referred to as Middle School. All of the local elementary schools fed into Meredith Junior High. For seven years I had attended school with pretty much the same group of kids. We knew each other. We’d grown up together. Now, we were all dispersed among four or five times the number of kids from all over town.
I can remember the anxiety that came with those early days of seventh grade. You feel awkward enough as it is when you’re twelve or thirteen years old, but then to be placed in a new school with a host of new kids you didn’t know could feel disconcerting. I met all sorts of new friends. Some were positive influences on me, others not so much.
I thought about those days as I read inexperienced Prince Hanun taking the throne and filling his fathers shoes. I have no idea how old Hanun was, but I pictured him as a young man suddenly thrust into leadership and his commanders all jockeying for favor with the new monarch. They whispered in his year during a time of anxiety and fear. Hanun proved ignorant, or foolish, or both. He listened to the wrong advice and it cost him his crown.
Being in a new place can be a scary time. Whether it’s living in a new community, attending a new school, or working at a new job, there is a certain period of time it takes to get oriented and learn the ropes. You also tend to meet a lot of new people who have a whole lot of advice for you emanating from their own self-serving agendas. This morning I am reminded that wisdom and discernment are greatly needed during these stretches of life’s journey. New “friends” you meet in these situation often prove the great wisdom I learned from Looney Tunes as a kid: “With a friend like that, who needs enemies?”
Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her. Esther 2:15 (NLT)
About a year ago I found myself on a committee. I had been asked to assist a team as they prepared a series of creative presentations. I was initially excited to be a part of the team. After a couple of meetings, however, it became clear that the chairman of this committee was not looking for wise counsel as much as he was looking for a group of rubber stamp lemmings to do what he wanted, when he wanted it, the way he wanted it done. After making one suggestion for how something could have been better communicated, I was called behind closed doors and asked to leave the team.
Sadly, I watched as the team fell apart. The series of presentations failed to deliver as promised, but the committee chairman continued to live in the delusion that they were a rousing success under his leadership.
The willingness to receive and follow wise counsel is not something we talk much about. Yet, I’ve come to realize what a key part it plays in successful people. It is likely that Esther would never have been queen if she had not willingly followed Hegai’s advice. Her ability to accept her own ignorance and accept Hegai’s wisdom led to her ultimate success.
We all have individual strengths and we all have individual weaknesses. When we listen to and follow the advice of those whose strengths are our weaknesses we shore up where we are lacking and set the stage for our ultimate success.
If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored. Proverbs 13:18 (NLT)
It is frustrating to have the desire and ability to help another person succeed, to offer your assistance, only to have your offer shunned. In my job as a consultant and business coach, I face this situation all the time. I’m always saddened when others’ insecurities and pride lead to their own unnecessary troubles.
I was called into a meeting with a young businessman and department head. Intelligent and gifted in certain areas, he had risen to a position of some prominence for a person his age. Like all leaders, like all human beings, his growing job description and sphere of authority placed him in new roles for which he was not as innately gifted. Even his superiors knew he needed some guidance and assistance to work on and shore up skill sets in which he was lacking.
Sitting across the desk from me, the young man flatly rejected the notion that he needed guidance or assistance of any kind. Slamming the desk with his hand, he made it clear that the perception he needed to improve in certain areas was completely wrong. When I tried to express that I was only offering some constructive criticism, he explained that he didn’t believe criticism of any kind was constructive. Criticism, he went on to say, is inherently negative and he would not tolerate it.
It became quickly apparent to me that I was wasting my breath and my time. I have observed from a distance as the young leader has struggled. His department and his company are struggling as a result.
I contrast this experience with another leader in the same company. Wildly successful, this gentleman unexpectedly called and asked me to meet with him. “You have knowledge and experience I don’t have,” he explained to me over a cup of coffee. “You’re my guy. I want to learn from you.” I soon came to learn that this leader had several “guys” who were experts in different life disciplines. Recognizing and accepting his own shortcomings, he became a sponge soaking up all of the wisdom and information he could gather from others who were gifted in areas he was not. “How am I doing?” he asks me regularly when he sees me. “What can I do to improve?”
I could not help but think of these contrasting leaders as I read the proverb above in today’s chapter. God, help me be honest and humble enough to accept my shortcomings, to accept criticism and to continually improve the areas I am lacking.
“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.'”Jeremiah 33:2-3 (MSG)
There comes a point in adolescence when my kids didn’t want my advice. I had plenty of things to say, and I think my experience and insight could have saved them some heartache or helped them succeed at this or that. But, I also know that unasked for parental advice is like an ever dripping faucet. Not only does it drive the hearer crazy, but any benefit goes straight down the drain. Besides, my daughters are quite capable, and I knew that they would do well.
So, I often kept my mouth shut. I tried to be strategic and discerning with when I chose to interject fatherly wisdom. Perhaps I gave too little, or maybe I still gave more than they wanted. You’d have to ask the girls. That’s the thing about parenting; There’s no instruction manual and you’re never going to get it perfect – never.
As they got older and on their own, the advice drought gave way to a gentle sprinkle, then to a steady rain with the occasional flash flood of questions for the ol’ man. I am sought after once more, which is a very cool and satisfying thing.
We often forget that God is not just God, He is our Father. And, unlike our flawed earthly examples, He is the perfect parent. He is not going to offer advice unasked for. He does not run off to a far country looking for the prodigal son to give him a nugget or two of fatherly advice. He watches over. He waits. He patiently stands by waiting for the phone to ring. Because when we call out to Him, He has marvelous things to tell us about things we could never have figured out on our own.
But he rejected the counsel of the elders and asked the young men he’d grown up with who were now currying his favor, “What do you think?2 Chronicles 10:8 (MSG)
For the past two years, I’ve helped our daughters make the transition from living at home to being out on their own. The process of leaving the nest is a fascinating one. Given complete independence and autonomy, it’s interesting to watch the decision making process. Sometimes they listen and heed your wisdom. Sometimes, like Rehoboam, they defiantly choose their own way.
I’ve had to discover new levels of discernment as a father. When do you give unsolicited advice? When do you press for them to make the right decision, knowing that it will be best for them? When do you step back and let them make foolish choices, knowing that they will have to learn from the consequences?
I’ve done my best to bite my tongue when appropriate, and have resisted the urge to offer an “I told you so” when it would feel so satisfying to say it. I can thank my own parents who, I know realize, bit their tongues plenty of times as they watched my own foolish decisions and observed me ignore their advice.
And, even though I’m a parent I think about my never ending relationship with my Heavenly Father. Despite all of the wisdom I’m supposed to have at this point in the journey, how often do I still find myself ignoring the advice of God’s message and going it on my own?
Today, I’m conscious of my heeding the wisdom of God, my eternal Father – even as I continue my role of helping our children navigate their own fledgling paths.