Leading Change – Part 4

Over the last few posts I’ve written about what causes people to fear change and how to address those fears in a way that helps them buy into you as a leader. Now the question is how do you make change happen? When you recognize the need for change and are aware of the fears that cause people to resist change, what steps can you take to implement the change?

For this I’m borrowing an outline from a very helpful book called, How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results in the Positive, Principled Way, by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. Here are the steps:

F.O.R.M. The Change

The letters in this acrostic represent four questions. Is the change, first, Frameable? Does it fit within the Vision, Mission, and Values of the organization? How can you formulate and focus the change in a way that makes organizational sense? Why is this change happening?

The “O” asks,  “Is this change Obtainable with the current resources?” That’s not necessarily a Go-No Go question. It’s simply necessary to understand what steps may be needed to obtain additional human or other resources to implement the change.

The “R” asks if the change is Repeatable.  In other words, is it stated simply enough to be easily communicated among the people involved. A 1,500-page dissertation may provide a detailed plan to implement a change, but no one will be talking about that over lunch. A short, easy-to-remember statement, like “Four new products by Q4” can easily spread among people.

Finally, is the change Measurable? What ratios will change, or what will you count, to see how the change is progressing? How will you know if the change has been effective?

Communicate the Change

Poor communication is one of the most common complaints in organizations. If communication is important during normal operations, how much more important is it during change? The single most important thing people need to understand in order to get behind a change is, “Why?” When people really understand why a change is happening and buy into it, the rest is downhill. When you combine “why” with the empathy I wrote about last week it becomes a powerful motivator.

You also need to make the “what” clear. Your slogan needs to be understood before it will be repeatable. You don’t have to read the entire dissertation to everyone, but make sure everyone knows enough detail to make sense of what’s happening. Include the “how” and any clarifications around “who” and “where”, be sure to cover all that in your communication. Finally, “By When.” Setting a deadline makes the change more concrete and sets a tone for urgency.

Another important thing to communicate during change is the resources available to people to help them manage the change both professionally and personally. You may have teams of experts, either internal or consultants, available to help people professionally. You may also have an Employee Assistance Program available to help them manage stress. Be sure to communicate this as well as the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why.

Align The Change

Check in with people to see how well aligned they are with the change. Alignment is different from “complyment.” When people comply, they may be doing it because you said so or because there is no alternative. When people align, they get behind the change with a positive attitude about the future.

Ask your people to rate their level of alignment on a scale of 1 – 10. If they say they’re less than 10, take some time to explore what’s keeping them from aligning. Is it a fear you can help them face, or do they need more clarification about the why? This is the opportunity to demonstrate your empathy with them and build their buy-in to you.

Inspect the Change

Build into your change management plan scheduled inspection points along the way. These are opportunities for you to check progress to see if things are on track. If they are, you have an opportunity to celebrate and congratulate. That’s always fun and motivating.

On the other hand, course correction is par for the course in most situations. Did you know that an airplane with a well-laid flight plan is off course over 90% of the time? Weather conditions, turbulence, and other factors cause it to get off track. However, the pilot receives continuous feedback and makes adjustments to get the plane back on the flight plan. Course correction provides learning opportunities and can build resilience among your team.

I wrote last week that creating positive change is the ultimate test of leadership according to leadership coach and author, John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0.  If you seek to understand the fears and other factors that cause people to resist change, work to help gain buy-in, FORM, Communicate, Align, and Inspect your change, you will be far more successful at passing the test by creating that positive change.

Leading Change – Part 3

Creating positive change is the ultimate test of leadership according to leadership coach and author, John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. To create change you need buy-in.  “Buy-in” is a phrase that comes from the stock market. It means to purchase shares of a company by which you are not employed. So, you are willing to invest your hard-earned money to bet on the success of a company over which you have no control. You must certainly believe in the prospects of that company if you’re willing to do that. That’s how the phrase came to mean “agreement to support a decision or direction.” Creating change requires that key people buy-in to what you’re proposing with your change idea.

Here’s another interesting point from John Maxwell, “People buy into the leader, then the vision.” That’s what he calls “The Law of Buy-In” from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  If people believe in you, they are more likely to believe in the change you’re trying to create.

How do you get people to buy into you? One way is to demonstrate that you understand their fears associated with change. In my last two posts, I described four fears associated with change.

1. Fear of Awkwardness
2. Fear of Leaving Comfort Behind
3. Fear of Ridicule
4. Fear of Isolation

What are some things a leader can do to demonstrate sensitivity to these fears when introducing change?

Have a Good Reason

People want to understand the “Why?” We can see that from the title of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  Why are you considering this change? Change for change’s sake is not a good idea unless everyone is already bought into the idea and there is usually a creativity reason behind that.

The reason may be as urgent as a “burning platform,” which means the consequences of maintaining the status quo are so dire that change must be embraced. Or, the reason may be far less urgent but equally as important, like a huge opportunity that will bring growth and expansion to your organization.  In either case, people are much more likely to embrace the change when they understand why you are proposing it.

Review the Past

My family has moved several times. We’ve lived in 9 states and one foreign country (so far). Our youngest daughter, Janessa, builds strong friendships with a few people and has had a hard time leaving them when we’ve moved.

Each time we face a new neighborhood and school, she is afraid of not having any friends. We have encouraged her by asking her about the friends she just left behind. “Do you remember when we moved there,” we ask, “do you remember when you first met that friend? You didn’t even know they existed before that day, and now they’re such a good friend.” That will happen again. You will meet new friends and they will become close, too.

Reviewing the past can help face the future. Whether your team or organization has had a history of success to point to, or there has been failure,  the experience of the past can embolden people to face change. Pointing to the past tells people they can do it again. They can experience success or survive failure and be stronger for it, again.

Acknowledge the Pain

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck studied mindset in education. She has found there is a difference between the outcomes of students who have a “fixed mindset” and those who have a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset believes that things like talent and intelligence are fixed and unchangeable. A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that through dedication and work, these abilities can be developed and strengthened.

One key is to focus not on how “smart” a child is, but on the effort they put into a certain project. Effort more than outcome encourages growth. “Smart” is fixed, effort can be endless.  That’s why Dweck encourages focusing on effort, to encourage a growth mindset.

The point for our purpose is that when encouraging a growth mindset, we acknowledge that things will be difficult, but we never forecast failure. We say,  “this is going to be a challenge, but I know you/we can do it.” Acknowledging the pain demonstrates your credibility which gives people reason to believe in you. It also lets them know you believe in them.

These three things; having a good reason, reviewing the past, and acknowledging the pain will help alleviate the fears associated with change and set you up well for taking the next steps which we’ll talk about next week.

Leading Change – Part 2

Last week we left off in the middle of talking about four things people fear about change.  The first was that change makes people feel awkward and uncertain. The second was they tend to focus on what they will have to let go instead of what good the change may bring. That brings us to the other two fears that cause people to resist change.


On March 2, 1962, basketball great Wilt Chamberlain did something no one else had ever done. He scored 100 points in a single game. That night Chamberlain scored 28 of those points at the free-throw line (he made 28 out of 30). What’s significant about that is Chamberlain’s lifetime free throw average was 51 percent. What was different that night? He experimented that night with the “granny shot.” Instead of shooting his free throws from overhead like most people, he tried something that had made another NBA star, Rick Barry, very successful. He shot underhanded, swinging his shot up from between his knees. It worked.

Despite the success he experienced with this different way of shooting, Wilt Chamberlain gave up the “granny shot.” He went back to his old, much less successful shooting style. Why? In his own words from his autobiography, “I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. Even now, the best one in the NBA, Rick Barry, shoots underhanded. I just couldn’t do it.” As I read about this story I didn’t see evidence that he was actually ridiculed. Nevertheless, his fear of ridicule drove him to make a very bad decision not to change.


During this year of pandemic, we’ve often heard the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” haven’t we? The lifestyle we’ve adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge, uncomfortable change. It was forced upon us by factors outside our control. Change like that tends to make people feel isolated, like they’re going through it alone. We human beings are programmed for community and interaction and isolation feels scary. During the pandemic, people have not only felt isolated by the change, many times we have been physically isolated. That’s why we keep hearing the reminder that we’re all in this together. It’s an attempt to calm the fear of isolation.

It doesn’t have to be a pandemic that may actually isolate us to make us feel isolated. When we are faced with a need to change, one that we didn’t initiate out of a desire to grow, we tend to internalize it and feel like we’re going through it alone. Even if the entire organization is going through the same thing, I can feel like nobody understands how this change is affecting my life. I can feel isolated and alone which is another reason people resist change.


Awkwardness and uncertainty, Letting go of something comfortable, fear of ridicule, fear of isolation. These are all real reactions to changes that come from outside us. If we want to lead change successfully, we would do well to acknowledge these feelings. We’ve felt them ourselves, after all, haven’t we? Understanding where resistance comes from will help us better introduce and navigate through change as leaders.

Next week, we’ll talk about how understanding these fears in our people can help us lead change more effectively.

Question Yourself to Solutions

I was recently asked a question. “What would you do if you were told that you have to solve this problem by tomorrow or you would lose this 12 Million Dollar contract?” Interesting question. What would you do? I ran across a quote from Albert Einstein that seems appropriate. Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”

Another Einstein quote might illuminate this a bit more. He said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Staying with problems longer and spending the first 55 minutes of the critical hour on the proper question tell me that Albert Einstein, a pretty intelligent guy, thought questions were important. In fact, If you’ll indulge me one more quote from the genius, he also said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” So, if we want to find a solution to our problem, we need to ask ourselves the right question. How do you find that?

5 Why’s

In the 1930’s Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries, Sakichi Toyoda, developed the 5 Why’s problem-solving technique. The technique is in the name. You simply define a problem and ask why this problem exists 5 times until you find the appropriate counter-measure to prevent it in the future. The example given in a “Mind Tools” article is this:

Problem: Our client refuses to pay for leaflets we printed for him

Why #1 – the delivery was late so the leaflets couldn’t be used
Why #2 – the job took longer than we expected
Why #3 – we ran out of printer ink
Why #4 – the ink was all used on a larger, last-minute order
Why #5 – we didn’t have enough ink in stock and couldn’t order supplies in time.

Counter-Measure: find an ink supplier who can deliver at short notice so that we can continue to minimize inventory, reduce waste, and respond to customer demands.


In his book, Developing The Leader Within You 2.0, John Maxwell suggests six questions that will help us solve problems. Four of them are “who” questions. He calls them:

  • The Information question – Who knows the most about this problem? Don’t jump to conclusions or start “solving” the problem before you understand it as fully as possible.
  • The Experience question – Who knows what I need to know? “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a mentor.” –playwright Ben Johnson. Is there someone who can mentor you through this problem?
  • The Challenge question – Who wants to tackle this problem? Who can do this is a good question. Who wants to do this, is a better one. The want to will often give a person an edge in finding solutions.
  • The Magnitude question – Who needs to buy in, and how long will that take? Often solutions have an impact on people’s work and lives. The bigger the problem, the more potential impact the solution may have. What pre-work do we need to do in preparing people for the solution?


Maxwell’s sixth question is “What questions do I need to ask myself?” The other day I decided to do an experiment. I called it “Running the Interrogatives.” I defined a problem and then I listed the six main English interrogatives: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. I began to mentally list as many “who” questions as I could about that problem. Then I did the same with”what” questions and so on.

Forcing myself to think of different questions under each interrogative made me look at the problem from different angles. One simple example is “Who contributed to creating this problem?” versus “Who is most impacted by this problem?” Those are almost opposite points of view. Then you have Maxwell’s four “who” questions and so on.

I began to understand why Einstien said he would spend so much of his critical hour searching for the proper question. Leaders tend to be action-oriented. Maybe great leaders pause to understand the question before offering an answer.

Hello, Opportunity, Nice to Meet You

In the last few posts, I’ve been talking about problems and what they do for us. They introduce us to ourselves. Problems introduce us to others. Now I want to talk about how problems introduce us to opportunities. I’m what I like to call a “word nerd.” One of the first things I do when I’m learning something or wanting to communicate an important point is to look up the words being used. Often the definitions open up new insight. I wondered if that might help with this topic.

What is a Problem? – a problem is “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome”

OK. So, what’s an Opportunity? – an opportunity is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”

Here’s how this one works. If you take opportunity’s “set of circumstances” and substitute it with problem’s “unwelcome or harmful situation” you get  “an unwelcome or harmful matter or situation that makes it possible to do something.” That’s how problems introduce us to opportunities. The problem, by definition, needs to be dealt with and overcome. In that way it not only makes it possible to do something, it requires us to do something. Whatever that something is, we would most likely not have done it without the problem.

In last week’s post, I talked about people who use problems as stepping stones to success. Am I one of those people? Are you?

Here are some examples of that kind of thinking.

Infectious Disease

Infectious diseases are a real problem. We know that all to well since the onset of COVID 19 almost a year ago. The story goes that Sir Alexander Fleming was working on a cure for diseases. He tried all kinds of things. Finally, in frustration, he threw away his petri dishes. A little later he noticed that mold was growing on those petri dishes. He also noticed that the mold was killing the bacteria. He started studying what he had found and the result was penicillin which has saved countless lives for over 100 years.

In this case, the solution was in what Fleming threw away. Don’t quit too early or you may miss the solution you’re looking for.  Don’t give up.

Burs on the Dog

If you have a dog and have ever gone hiking you know about burs. Those pesky little balls that stick in the dog’s fur. Even if you don’t have a dog, you know what I’m talking about because they stick to your socks, too. Well, a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral decided one day after a hike in the Alps, to look at those pesky burs under a microscope to see what made them stick so well. What he found was tiny hooks on the burs that allowed them to grab on to the loop weave of socks and to the dog’s fur. That discovery led to the invention of Velcro. Ever heard of it?

In this case, the very nature of the problem led to a world-changing invention. Study the problem. The very thing that makes it harmful or unwelcome, may be what makes it possible for you to change your world.

No More House

Three days after the election of 2008, the company I worked for laid me and six other highly compensated, newer employees off. No one was hiring then, at least in my industry. The housing crisis at that time expanded an industry called “property preservation.” It’s where you care for the inside and outside of foreclosed properties. I attempted to get into that industry but was unsuccessful. Unemployment didn’t cover my mortgage so I could see that in a few months I would be without a home. Long story short, I found a job outside my industry that moved us to China for a life-changing (in a good way) two-year experience.

In this case, the problem caused me to take action on something I never would have even considered under different circumstances. That led to a life-changing experience. Think outside the box. Color outside the lines. Try something different.

Some people don’t even talk about “problems.” They substitute the word “opportunity” because their mindset is on what possibilities that harmful or unwelcome matter presents.

Hello, Interesting to Meet You

Last week I quoted John Maxwell who said, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” Problems are not usually something we face alone. So, problems not only introduce us to ourselves, they also introduce us to others. American novelist and retired physician, Tess Garritsen said, “There is no better test of character than when you’re tossed into crisis. That’s when we see one’s true colors shine through.” Garritsen was talking about how she develops characters in her stories, but it’s the real-life truth of that statement that makes characters compelling.

What do we learn about others when we face problems? There are, for example:

People who make problems worse

The question here is what’s in the person’s bucket? Are they carrying water or gasoline? Are they a fire-lighter or a fire-fighter? Some people seem to find joy in stoking fires to make them bigger. The most insidious of these are the arsonists posing as firefighters. These are the people who create or stoke a fire in order to appear as the hero who puts it out. These people are dangerous to any organization.

People make problems worse by their attitude. They are victims and constantly looking for someone to blame. People make problems worse by their emotions. They are hotheaded or negative. Either one is a detriment to progress. People make problems worse by their inaction or wrong action. They either freeze or head in the wrong direction. Either one trips everyone else up.

People who become problem magnets

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Magnetism” which states, “Who you are is who you attract.” If someone sees nothing but problems, guess what they get in life, more problems. If someone sees nothing but possibilities, guess what they get in life, more possibilities.

The problem with people who see nothing but problems is that they tend to attract more people who see nothing but problems. The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging. We need people who can help us see potential pitfalls. But people who see nothing but pitfalls almost certainly begin to create them.

People who give up in the face of problems

Business Magnate, billionaire, and philanthropist Ross Perot said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot away from a winning touchdown.” Solutions are not always easy to find, but there is always a solution. People who give up wind up putting the problem back in your lap. If you wind up finding the solution, why do you need them?

Our company was asked to take over servicing several additional buildings. It was the Friday before service was to begin the next Monday when I learned we couldn’t find a piece of equipment we needed in each building in order to start servicing it. I personally walked through the six other buildings where the equipment was supposed to have been last seen to no avail. When we couldn’t find the equipment, one of my colleagues suggested we would have to delay the start. That wasn’t an option for me. I made a phone call and drove an hour away to pick up what we needed from our supplier. We started on time that Monday.

People who use problems as a stepping-stone for success

In their book, Cradles of Eminence, Victor and Mildred Goertzel wrote about their study of the backgrounds of more than four hundred highly successful men and women who would be recognized as brilliant in their fields. the list included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. Here are some of their interesting findings:

  • Three-fourths of them as children were troubled by poverty, broken homes, or difficult parents who were rejecting, overly possessive, or domineering.
  • Seventy-four of the eighty-five writers of fiction or drama surveyed and sixteen of the twenty poets came from homes where they saw tense psychological drama played out between their parents.
  • More than one-fourth of the sample suffered physical handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or other crippling disabilities.

What makes the difference between people who overcome such circumstances and people who are overcome by them? They didn’t see their problems as stumbling blocks. They saw them as stepping stones. They understood that problem solving was a choice, not a matter or circumstance.

When I train new or young leaders, I emphasize to them that they need to be solution finders because problem solving is the quickest way to gain leadership.

Hello Me, Nice to Meet You

Happy New Year! My last post went up during the last week of 2020. That was a year we were all ready to have end, wasn’t it? It was so filled with challenges that people began to say, “It’s 2020” in response to any unusual or difficult thing that came up. 2020 was certainly filled with problems. It’s fitting, though I hadn’t thought about it at the time, that I wrote about a personal problem in my last post. Problems are inevitable regardless of the year (sorry, 2021 will have it’s share, too). Here’s an important truth about problems. Speaker, author, and leadership coach, John Maxwell, writes, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” When I look into the mirror of a big problem who do I see reflected back at me? For example, let’s explore that in the form of three contrasted questions.

Am I a Victim or a Victor?

Another way to ask that is, “Am I a blamer or a tamer?” What’s my first instinct when a problem presents itself? Is it to find out who’s to blame? Is it to focus on how the problem is negatively affecting me? Or, is it to ask the question, “What do I need to do right now to overcome this barrier and achieve my desired outcome?”

The difference shows my attitude. Problems introduce us to our attitude. If you look up the word “attitude” you’ll see that it has to do with posture or position. In an airplane, for example, it refers to the relative position of the plane’s axes to a reference point like the horizon. When we think about mental attitude, it means our mental position or posture relative to a given situation. Think of it as am I curled up in a ball wondering “why me?” or standing squarely in the face of the problem ready to take it on.

Am I a Hothead or a Level head?

When I see my reflection in a big problem do I see steam coming out of my ears? Frustration is the feeling we get when we are being obstructed or impeded in our progress toward a goal. Obstruct and impede are synonyms of frustrate. It’s normal to feel it when our progress is being thwarted by something, especially if it’s something out of our immediate control. The question is how much control over me does that feeling have?

The difference between hothead and level head shows my emotion. Another way to look at it is by the effect of each. Think of it this way. Am I a tornado or a Zamboni? The difference between those is what they leave behind? A tornado passes over something beautiful and wrecks it. A Zamboni passes over something wrecked and makes it beautiful. Does my emotional response add to the problem or help put it in perspective.

I said that frustration comes when our progress is obstructed. But an obstruction in our path presents a couple of options. One is we learn how to overcome the obstruction which is a form of progress called growth. Another is we take another path that could lead us to a better destination than the original path. Even if it doesn’t, as long as we learn something, even failure is progress. With that in mind, we can be less frustrated because we can see progress possible no matter what.

Am I a problem spotter or a problem solver?

Any “Captain Obvious” can point out a problem. Even If the problem is less obvious or anticipated, the question becomes what am I going to do about it? Am I the kind of person who only spots problems and points them out, or am I the kind of person who takes action to solve the problem?

I was on a daily call yesterday with my team. At the end of the call I always go around the group and ask if there’s anything else on the topic. One caller spoke up. They said, “I was talking with my peer who told me about this anticipated problem. I put together these supplies they would need, should that situation arise, and delivered them.”

Another one of the callers said, “My concern is that if the customer does this, then that might happen.” The second caller was spotting a potential problem. The first caller learned about a potential problem and took action to solve it ahead of time.

The difference between spotter and solver shows me my action. Spotting problems is important, especially if they’re hard to see or they are potential problems that people aren’t thinking about. But solving problems is what leaders do.

We learn a lot about ourselves by how we face problems. We learn about our attitude, about our emotions, and about our action. But, guess what, if we learn, the problem has become an opportunity.

Life In The Ranch – Trouble In Paradise

I drove up to The Ranch one afternoon shortly after we bought it and noticed water dripping from the insulation underneath, near the front middle of the RV. Uh Oh. I went to the side and saw a gap between the screws holding up the insulation and pulled down slightly to see if I could find out anything about the source of the water. When I pulled down it created a low spot at the edge of the RV and out poured a lot of water that had been sitting in there. The good news is the water was clear, meaning it was grey water at worst, fresh water at best. In case you don’t know, RVs have three kinds of tanks. One holds freshwater for if you’re camping somewhere without a connection to city water. Another holds “grey water” which is the wastewater from your sinks and shower. “Blackwater” is the wastewater from your toilet. Now you know why I said clear was the good news.

Now What?

The dealer we bought the unit from had gone to great lengths telling us how differently they do business, that “As Is” (which is how used units are sold) doesn’t mean “you’re on your own once you drive off the lot.” He told me how they inspect the units carefully to be sure all the systems are working and that if there was anything they missed I should call him directly and “hit him between the eyes with the news.” So I called him. He asked me to send him some pictures which I did. I will admit, I was skeptical he would do anything. My skepticism seemed justified when he said on the phone, “I don’t know what to do, Jim. My repair guy won’t travel that far.”

I decided to try something. I called a local dealership and asked if they had or knew of someone locally who would come to my site and work on my rig. To my surprise, they referred me to a guy named Chris. I called him and described my situation. I told him I was hoping to get the guy I bought the unit from to pay for the repair. He didn’t think that was going to happen and told me he thought it would cost around $1,400 to repair my leak and good luck getting the dealer to pay for it. “I’ve worked with guys like that before,” he said.

I called the dealer and told him I’d found a local guy who would come look at it. He was skeptical. He said, “I’ve worked with guys like that before (funny huh?) “They’ll take you to the cleaners.” When I told him what Chris had estimated the costs to be, he said “See, he’s setting you up for a big bill.” But, to my pleasant surprise, he agreed to talk to Chris.

Then What?

Chris agreed to talk to the dealer but said he would only come if he paid for the service call upfront, $100. I gave Chris the dealer’s number and a little while later he called me back to set up an appointment.  Wow! I thought. This might work out after all. Chris explained what he and the dealer had worked out about how to approach the diagnosis of the problem and asked if I was OK with that. When I agreed he said, “I’ll see you then.”

Chris actually showed up. He drove up in his car, popped the trunk where he had a toolbox and a creeper (a board with casters for rolling around under things on your back). I hung out with him while he worked because I like to learn new things and I wanted to understand what was under The Ranch and what he would be doing to fix my leak. He cut into the underbelly insulating cover and peeled it back.  He discovered that one of the greywater tanks was completely full and, instead of backing up into the kitchen sink like it was supposed to when it was full, it was overflowing underneath.

That was actually good news. I was happy it wasn’t anything that needed to be replaced. It did raise a question, though. How did that tank get so full? I had emptied the grey water tank. It turns out there was a valve to open this tank located away from the other valves for the black water tanks and the other grey water tank. I hadn’t seen it. We opened that valve and the water drained out. The system shouldn’t work like that but it’s something I can manage now that I know. So Chris left to call the dealer with the report and get paid and I was happy with the result.

So What? – The Flexibility of Stories

As I was thinking about telling this story, I realized it could be told with a different emphasis to make the story about one thing or another. That’s really true about any story, isn’t it? This could have been about how the dealer kept his word. It could have been about the action I took to help get my problem corrected. I could have made it more about the colorful character that is Chris. Or, it could have been about systems in a 5th wheel. That’s one of the great things about stories. They can be true while remaining flexible to make different points.

Life In The Ranch

A lot changes when you move from a 2,600 square foot house to an RV (The Ranch) full time. For one thing, you have to decide what you absolutely need for immediate use and what stays in storage. But your routines also change.

The Dog

One big example is letting the dog (Zuzu) out. That’s something you may not think is a big deal, and it’s not really. But it’s way different now. I used to just open the sliding door onto the patio and out she would go to take care of her business in our fenced back yard. Now she wears a harness and I have to put her on a leash and go out with her until she does her business. And now, instead of one of the kids collecting doggy prizes once a week, I take a little plastic bone attached to her leash filled with a roll of doggy prize bags. When she leaves a prize on the grass, I now gather it immediately, picking it up with my hand inside the bag, pull the prize into the bag by turning it inside out and goose neck tie it off and throw it out.

Of course, I have to be dressed appropriately for going outdoors in December (granted it’s California where a cold morning is 37 degrees, not zero or below) and it now makes a difference to me whether or not it’s raining. which it has been for the last two days.

The Cat

We also have a cat (Bandit). He’s a great cat, very easy going, but he’s an indoor cat which raises the question, where do we put the litter box? Well, it depends on the time of day. During the day it goes in our closet at the front of the Ranch, out of sight. He knows to go through our bedroom and into the closet to do his business. But, when it’s time for bed things change. We don’t want the door open and the cat coming into or through our room during the night, so I take the litter box down to the kitchen when we go to bed and close the bedroom door.

Now my weekday morning routine is get up, make coffee, feed Bandit and Zuzu, take Zuzu outside, read, sometimes take Zuzu outside again, write, clean the litter box, shower and get dressed, move the litter box to the closet, gather up the trash from the kitchen where I’ve put the soiled litter and any Zuzu prizes, say good-bye to Suzi, gather my work things, head out the door, leave the trash at the end of our space, head to work.

The Son

I neglected to mention that our youngest son, Jordan, is staying with us for awhile. He sleeps on the hide-a-bed in the living room which, in an RV, is part of everything that is not the bedroom. So, my morning routine is accomplished while being as quiet and stealthy as I possibly can. When I sit to read and write my knees are no more than 12 inches from the corner of Jordan’s bed. Fortunately, he is not a light sleeper. If he were, he’d be a much earlier riser than he would like.

The Point

In the grand scheme of things, these changes in routine are minor. And they are certainly first-world “problems.” But they illustrate a comment I made to a friend the other evening. We had our first guests over for dessert this past weekend. They are long-time friends with whom we get together often, but they hadn’t seen the Ranch yet. So we invited them over for “a tour.”  During the evening we heard a thumping sound coming from the next door RV. We’re not sure what’s going on over there but we hear thumping all evening long. There are four kids and one adult living there long term. It sounds like the Romanian gymnastics team is practicing most evenings. Our friend said, “I could never do this.” She was referring to the whole living in an RV experience and the thumping neighbors just solidified her position. My comment was, “You’d be surprised what you can learn to do.”

Whether it’s transitioning from full time ministry to business, moving to a foreign country to work in a new kind of job, going into healthcare, then going into manufacturing, then going back into healthcare, or moving into an RV full time, one thing I’ve learned is that you can learn to do anything you need to do. It’s not always about how prepared you are. It’s usually more about taking the step.

The Ranch

So, where does a family go who just moves out? The first answer is, to a hotel. We were supposed to close on our house on Monday, November 16th. A hiccup with our Buyer’s Buyer’s lender caused a delay that set everyone involved into Plan B mode.  Our buyer had set up a cleaning company and a moving company based on the anticipated close date. Our plans were also based on that close date. We knew we would have to spend a night or two in a hotel. Our plan had been to close on the house, take the proceeds from the sale and buy an RV for the short term. We want to see what happens in the country and I’m still working so that was our plan.


All that was well and good except for a couple realities we didn’t expect. RVs are selling like hotcakes. When we first started looking, we would find one we liked and call about going to see it only to hear it had been sold. We realized there was no point in even looking until we had money in hand. We also discovered that space at RV parks was at a premium. Lots of people in California seem to be going long term in RV parks. More than once we heard, “We don’t have even two week spots at the moment. Call back at the beginning of the month when people pay rent. That’s when things usually open up.” It was good we started the search for RV spots weeks before the originally scheduled closing date. I was able to make a reservation for two weeks at a park that is only one exit away from my work. As that original closing date came and went, I had to change the reservation two or three times. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate the changes without charging an additional deposit.

We finally closed on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That evening, Suzi and I spent quite awhile online looking at RVs. When we had confirmation the proceeds had been deposited into our account the next day, we took off to look. We checked out two at a local dealer and then drove to a dealer a little over an hour away to look at the one we both liked best from what we could see online. That turned out to be the one. We met with the salesman who toured us through the unit and explained some things to us. He offered to let us go get coffee to discuss it and promised not to sell it to anyone else until we returned. When we got back from coffee, we met the owner of the dealership who told us more about the unit’s history and how they do business. We made a deal.

Early Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving, Suzi and I left the hotel and drove back up to the dealership for our walk through with a technician. It was all coming together. We had checked out of the hotel, gotten our reservation reset for this day at the RV park and completed our walk-through. We don’t have a truck to pull the RV yet so we had it delivered. Finally, almost two weeks after we were originally supposed to close on our house, we moved into our 2014 Heartland Big Horn 3875 FB 5th Wheel.

The Ranch

This is the 4th RV we’ve owned over the last several years. In the past we’ve always referred to them as the “rig” or just “the trailer.” We’re tired of that and decided we wanted to call this one something more “homey.” This one is manufactured by a company called Heartland. That happens to be the name of a Canadian TV show Suzi and I like about a family and their ranch. With that connection, we decided to call it “The Ranch.” It sounds much better to say, “We’re heading back to The Ranch” or “Oh, I left that back at The Ranch” than “… he rig” or “… the trailer,” don’t you think?

This series of posts is about stories. It’s about the power of stories to convey truth. Trying to relay a story like this in around 700 words in an interesting exercise. So much has to be left out. What you include in your stories will depend on what message you want people to retain. This one could be about adventure, craziness, boldness, faith, how things work out, or a number of other ideas. I’d be interested in hearing what you took from it.