Hands of Time

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A beloved reunion took place during the wee hours of this morning. My best friend’s Mom, and an iconic figure in my life, walked through the pearly gates of heaven and took the hands of those who journeyed before her. Oh, what a sweet embrace that must have been!

To know this woman was to know love. Her entire life was a selfless sacrifice of time and devotion to her family and loved ones. Like most women of her era, she worked tirelessly to make a home that others were always welcome in. Her kitchen was the nucleus of her world; the coffee pot was always on, a plate of something delicious thrust in front of you and she was always ready to drop everything and make time to catch up on the latest news.

My earliest memory of her was being awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of a vacuum cleaner attacking the rug in the room where I slept. Ma, as many called her, was rather nocturnal. She did some of her most industrious work while others slept. Despite my initial shock, over the years I found comfort in the nighttime noises of the house. Lulled by the sounds of hands hard at work, my time spent under her roof was a cocoon of love and safety.

Her home was my second childhood home – my own mother will admit getting me to come home was often a struggle – and I loved to spend days on end with my BFF and her family. We were given free reign of the kitchen at a very young age and there, amidst the chaos, my love for cooking was born. Ma let us walk to the neighborhood grocery store and put anything on her ticket, opening the door to endless hours of cooking and laughter. To this day, I do not get together with my bestie without some sort of cooking together being a part of our visit.

But the gifts Ma gave were so much more. She believed in caring for others was a lifelong responsibility; her own Mother lived in a small trailer in the side yard and never worried about her future security. Ma cooked, cleaned and tirelessly cared for her own Mother. It was a lesson her own daughters learned and repeated selflessly.

She opened her home to anyone who was tired, hungry or just needed a place to temporarily call their own. It was always the place to stop by and you never knew who might walk in the door next. Endless hours of laughing, singing, watching old home movies in that kitchen flood my mind. Long after her children were grown and gone, she cooked three full meals each day, never questioning that she would have someone to share each and every one with. Her capacity for giving warmth and shelter to those she loved was immeasurable.

She loved animals and many a year, she thought cat food for the countless strays she fed, was a practical Christmas gift. Pets were always welcome – from the giant dog Rex, who we could ride like a horse, to her beloved parakeet that would perch on her finger and kiss her on the lip. She fed and cared for any animal that crossed her path; including a brief pass at taking in a pot-bellied pig who took up residence in the kitchen. She had a name for every pet and time to show each and every one of them love.

Her talents were many. She played a wicked cordovox, periodically playing shows and performing on local radio. She was the original queen of upcycling, turning found objects into unique works of art. Her biggest patron, her husband and the man I called Pa-Daddy, was her muse. He would invent the projects to spark her imagination and she would rise to the challenge! Paint, beads and old jewelry, sewing, wallpapering…I don’t think there was a project she ever shied away from.

I did not see Ma in recent years. I am embarrassed that my own brief visits home did not include a stop at her house. The one thing she always had for me – time – I selfishly did not give in return. I know she loved me and knew I loved her deeply, but hate that my good intentions never turned into action. That is her last lesson to me: do not squander the time and love you have been given. I hate that I am learning it the hardest way possible.

I will miss Ma deeply. I see her face in her beautiful daughters and in the talents they have each replicated in their own lives. Her sons and grandchildren will equally carry on her many gifts and talents; a testament to a life well- and selflessly-lived. My heart breaks for them all and I am sure they find some peace in knowing she is no longer suffering from the ailments that her body gave residence in recent years.

I am sure early this morning, Pa-Daddy met her at the gate – in my mind in his blue bathrobe and distinct red leg warmers (a necessity his diabetes required) – and said, “It’s about d$%! time, Ma. I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee in years and I cannot get anyone to iron my shorts!”

Yes, Ma, go find peace in your well-earned rest. And just as soon as you get a moment, please get started marbelizing the pearly gates! I cannot wait to see what you will do with the place! I love you forever.

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Click Clacks and The Paradox of Leadership

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Click the image for a great demonstration of original “Clackers” on a 1960’s TV show.

Remember Click-Clacks?  That great childhood toy from the early 1970’s that just disappeared?  If you’re too young to know what they are, imagine a pair of acrylic spheres, hung from a string and small paddle that a child spent hours banging back and forth against each other.  The “click-clack” sound was created by the kintetic energy that drew the two orbs against and away from each other when the person holding the toy moved their hand up and down. It was a hypnotic toy, made especially cool when the spheres were some crazy color.  Mine had glitter seemingly floating in the glass; I loved my Click-Clacks.

Unfortunately, the toys were banned when it was discovered they could explode from too much force, sending shards of hard plastic – err, shrapnel – into the hands and eyes of children. More inventive kids used their Click-Clacks like a bola, sending the weapon flying to ensnare an unsuspecting mammal – usually your younger sibling.  Needless to say, after countless complaints of bruises, broken bones, concussions and trips to the ER, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned Clack-Clacks in 1976 and they disappeared from store shelves.

But why all the talk about Click-Clacks? They remind me of the challenge leaders face: how to bring two opposing forces together and not create an explosion or injury. To me,

Click Clacks represent the perfect icon for the Paradox of Leadership.

Good leaders are very good a solving problems.  They assess the situation, gather the facts, make a decision and move on, right? But what happens when the same issue keeps coming up and won’t go away? The old problem-solving approach doesn’t work; and perhaps it isn’t a problem but a paradox.

A paradox is a situation that has at least two competing sides; two polar opposites , that can be both right and wrong at the same time.

Treating a paradox like a problem to be solved—and picking any one side of the paradox—only creates complication and frustration. To successfully manage a paradox, a good leader has to balance both sides. Paradoxes come in all forms:  individual vs. team, parent vs. child, profit versus mission, etc. To tackle a paradox, we have to understand both sides before we can make a good decision.

Good leaders will seek to keep the constant “click, click, click” of conflict at bay, working hard to:

  • Find the strength of each opposing side’s view
  • Seek to understand their own opposing view
  • Find harmony by trying to accommodate the needs of both sides

In his book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins offers up great advice on how leaders can manage when confronted with a paradox. He focuses first on the what, then worries about the who.  According to Collins, the way to manage the paradox isn’t to emabark on a new vision or deploy new strategies that chance the course of the organization, rather, it is about ensuring that he first has the,“right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Once that issue is solved, then the leader can get on about the business of driving the bus.

Just like the child appropriately using her Click Clack, a strong leader knows how to apply just the right pressure and motion to keep the two opposing forces coming together in a successful rhythm. When he stops leading, the energy leaves and the work stops; no focus equals no action. Reversely, micro-manage the situation or apply too much pressure, and the shrapnel will likely fly.

Know the strength of your team and understand the perspectives each member brings to the work you do. The way to an outrageously successful team is to bring firm balance and direction. And then, drive that bus!

 

Be The Maestro You Were Destined to Be

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John Wooden said “the most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” Leading successfully is about choosing to exhibit, constantly, the traits and skills that inspire others to be their very best. Leading isn’t something you are; it is something you do.

Like an orchestra leader conducting a band, an effective leader brings out the very best of each member of the team. He/she understands the role of each member of the team and is able to coax the very best performance out of each.

Leaders build leaders. Through their actions and behavior, they cultivate a new generation of greatness. They create followership: having others so in tune to their leadership that they go where they go as their career progresses. Followers do the work of a leader so that the goals of the team can be achieved.

Yes, just like there can be no conductor without a band; without followers, there are no leaders.

“A leader with no followers is someone taking a walk, who happens to be highly delusional”
(Turner, 2008)

Like the conductor, a great leader lets the work of the team be the show. Highly confident to be defined by the combined output of the team, a leader turns his/her focus on ensuring each player is their personal best.

Where is your focus? Are you the leader dramatically waving your baton in a grandiose show of ill-rewarded attention? Or have you fixed your focus on ensuring each section and chair in your ‘band’ has skilled, high-performing individuals who, by working in concert with the team, create beautiful music?

A Question of Integrity

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There are two things in this world I despise above all else: lying and disrespect. Like an ill-fated couple, you can always find them hand-in-hand, and where they go is surely to spell trouble.

The funny thing about lies, for many, is that they are wrapped with the very best of intentions. Whispered to spare the feelings of others, we convince ourselves one little white lie is justified. It is so much easier to avoid the awkward uncomfortableness that might accompany the truth, no matter how expertly it is delivered.

Why do we lie? Besides avoiding the consequences of our actions, there are a wide array of seemingly more noble reasons to avoid total honesty, such as…

– Trying to spare someone’s feelings or pride
– Not wanting others to think badly of us
– Being afraid that someone might steal our recognition
– Thinking that we are protecting someone
– Protecting our ego by avoiding embarrassment
– An effort to help others save face
– Our image or reputation is on the line
– We dislike someone but don’t want them to know

We convince ourselves that these a perfectly acceptable reasons to justify a little truth-bending to serve a greater good. Making excuses may soothe our minds in the short run, but it doesn’t do anything for the internal conflict that is created in our minds. Justifying dishonesty for any reason is the same as lying to ourselves.

It is a question of personal integrity.

When someone lies to us, we feel insulted because they didn’t respect us enough to be honest. Let’s face it, being honest requires courage. Being honest makes us vulnerable and accountable. Being honest requires tact and discernment. Yes, it is hard stuff and requires so much more than simply telling the truth, but when you are a person of true integrity, you give yourself no other choice.

Integrity is telling myself the truth.
And honesty is telling the truth to other people.
~Spencer Johnson

Being honest is not always easy and requires a level of courage that forces many of us to dig deep within ourselves to find strength. But honesty is the path – the only path – for people of true integrity. When you take the hand of lies and disrespect, you are wrapping yourself in an ugly cloak of deception. You are not only deceiving others, but lying to and disrespecting yourself, as well.

If you chose to live an outrageously wonderful life of integrity, do your part by having the courage, always, to be truly honest with yourself and all those who cross your path. Truly, there is no other choice.

Another Outrageous Thought to Ponder: Bloom…Just Bloom

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How outrageously amazing would life be if we all just attacked life with the attitude of a lovely bed of flowers?

If our focus was on being the best bloom we could be; basking in the sunlight, weathering wind and rain, and soaking in the nutrients awaiting us in our environment?

Forget competing with the nearby zinna, daisy or coneflower, instead just celebrating how majestic we all are together.

Want to have that beautiful life? Just focus on how you bloom and leave the rest to Mother Nature.

Go Ahead, Judge Me…

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What power trip it is for many to judge the actions of others and make sweeping assumptions about a person’s character, values or being. For too many of us, applying our beliefs and values as a measuring stick by which we decide the quality of their being is far too commonplace. It begs the question:

What gives you the right to judge me?

Believe it or not, as Christians, the Bible gives us not just the right, but the responsibility. But wait, that power comes with a level of responsibility that most forget.

Yes, it states clearly, “judge not lest you be judged” in Matthew 7:1. We’ve all tossed around that verse like a police riot shield when hurtful barbs are carelessly tossed our way. When we see someone stumble, we start a downward spiral of ruin for them by spreading their shortcomings instead of extending a helping hand.

Most of us miss the rest of the instructions outlined in Matthew on how we are to approach the task of judging others. In the verse that follows, we are told “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” That’s pretty heavy stuff. How many of us have the courage to use the same harsh and judgmental standards on ourselves that we apply to others? God doesn’t mince words here: your ruler becomes your measure.

I’ve been guilty of judging others and the victim of humanly judgment by those who would never hold themselves to the same standard. I cannot control the latter, but am wholly accountable for the former. As a work-in-progress toward an even more outrageously wonderful life, learning my responsibilities and accountabilities in judging myself and others is unfinished business.

Judging others requires knowing their entire situation and careful discernment of the facts. Some great tips on our responsibilities in judging others can be found here.

Until we know the complete story, how are we capable of correctly forming an opinion?

Nobody with a ‘log in his eye’ can see things clearly. He is dangerously low on discernment. And, since we all have this distorted perspective, we need either to be very humble or else leave judging to God alone. We have a moral responsibility to judge the moral behavior of others—but only if we are humbly aware that we will sometimes be dead wrong and never totally right. We must remember that our ability to judge is limited and that we, ourselves, one day, come under judgment.

Yes, go ahead and judge me. You are welcome to whip out your saintly stick and appoint yourself wholly (or is it holy?) capable of making unilateral decisions about who I am, the road I travel and the intentions of my actions. Just know that sharp stick with which you measure is the same one you hand to God to use on your own judgement day.

Just know, as you judge me, that I am focused on judging me and holding myself accountable for my words, deeds and actions. And trust me, doing it right is a full time job that keeps me on the path toward and outrageously wonderful eternal life!

Mixing it Up

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As a kid, I always loved going to a friend’s house and helping them do their chores. Somehow, cleaning a bathroom or doing dishes was fun in a new surrounding. At home? Not so much…

Today, the same holds true for the routine tasks and responsibilities that cross my path. I can find time – and the desire! – for long walks and exercise I would otherwise make excuses not to do when I am on the road or at the lake house. Cooking is more fun when it is in an unfamiliar kitchen; same for drudgery tasks like yard work and ironing. Change the routine and the unpleasant becomes almost fun!

We all need to mix it up every now and then. Find new ways to do old tasks we fail to find pleasure and self-fulfillment in. Countless articles have been written on the topic when it comes to exercise. Similarly, the same rules often apply to all facets of our life: work, studying, dating, chores, etc.

In all avenues, mixing it up has big benefits:

1. You meet new people and get exposed to new ideas. A new gym, coffee hangout to study or new play group for your kids… The new environment and the people you meet will reenergize your everyday responsibilities.

2. You prevent overuse. Tennis elbow earned the label by the repetitively working the same joint to a fault, causing injury. Overuse happens in other areas, too: your family dinner menu, your vocabulary, your TV remote, etc. Trying something new can totally transform your family’s appreciation for your hard work, how you engage with others and how you spend precious hours.

3. You develop new muscles. Have you ever noticed how many distance runners have underdeveloped upper bodies? Miles of pavement build lean muscle mass, but it takes upper-body exercises to balance the whole body. Mixing up what you read, the conversations you participate in and the approach take to challenges can expand your brain and give you new insights and strength!

4. You overcome boredom. Let’s face it, we quit doing things well once we get bored; once the task becomes mundane, so does our commitment to it. Relationships end everyday because one partner – bored with the union – became disinterested and sought excitement elsewhere. Churches ignore the need to connect with the diversity of their community, leaving many who want to be led, fed and celebrate in a variety of ways starved for fellowship. Remixing the approach to romance, praise and worship or how we tackle the laundry can bring a renewed passion!

5. You achieve new levels of performance and satisfaction. Tackling the same jobs the same way is definitely efficient, but it doesn’t open the door to new learning and higher levels of achievement. When you mix it up, you expand your abilities and discover greater results. Changing up your standing Tuesday night Taco dinner to a new recipe expands your cooking skills and confidence in the kitchen. Trying a new way to deliver the Monday morning sales report uncovers missed opportunities and gets your team excited about the business. Mix it. Change it. Have the courage to try something new.

Whether you are an athlete looking to build stamina and endurance, or a worn-out single Dad in search of the same with your kids, make a commitment to trying new ways to master the facets of your life. Your reward is renewed passion and energy to fuel you though each day. What an outrageous gift to give yourself!

Becoming More

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In the twilight hours, what does your heart whisper to you? What hopes, fears and longings take rise in the quiet of the night and lull you to sleep? More importantly, are you listening?

In nearly every corner of my world, changes are taking place. My daughter is growing up quickly, finding her voice and confidence as she defines herself and embraces her God-given talents. My mother is finding acceptance in the governor that life brings to a well-lived life. Loved ones are battling the uncertainties of loss: spouses taken by cancer, dreams clipped – hopefully temporarily – by jobs that have been eliminated and so many other unforeseen circumstances.

Change is a fickle friend; fight it and the pain of resistance can bury you. But when we look to change as opportunities to unleash our untested, wobbly skills, we can find the power to transform. We can become more than we ever imagined.

The changes life has placed in your path are for a reason. They protect you from unknown pain and misfortune that is far greater than what you now feel. Change gives flight to your hidden wings of strength and courage. Change sings sweetly to the cries of your heart and serenades you to listen, believe and become.

We were not meant to sit and suffer quietly. An outrageously real life is full, fearful and wildly fulfilling. What are you waiting for?