A Pandemic Proof New Year Vision

As we wind down 2021 and prepare for the next new year, I would like to revisit another post. This one was also a message I shared with friends at church. I posted this originally on January 6, 2020 under the title “2020 Vision.” Of course, this was pre-pandemic by a few weeks. Little did we know … right?! The good news is that the principles in this post are pandemic proof. This is about clarifying your purpose. If you prefer to watch or listen rather than read, here’s a link to the video of the talk I gave at church. It’s about 30 minutes long, your choice.

Happy New Year! I have a dear friend who lives in the Atlanta area. Each New Year’s Eve I text him at 9:00 PM my time (I live on the west coast). It’s always the same text message, “How does the future look?” This year his answer was a little different. It always says, “The future looks bright!” this year he said, “The future is so bright I’m seeing 2020!” We’re having a lot of fun with 2020 already, aren’t we? Did you catch the Barbara Walters 20/20 montage on New Year’s Eve? “This is 20/20” and “Welcome to 20/20” over and over again. It was pretty clever.

The New Year is a good time to talk about vision. When we talk about Mission, we’re usually talking about what we do. Vision is about why? Vision is about our personal or team or corporate purpose. It’s been said that when you know your “Why,” your “What” becomes more powerful. There is an ancient Proverb that says, “When there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.” It’s saying that absent clear purpose, direction and boundaries, people (individuals, teams, even companies) do whatever they want and that leads to chaos.

What’s Your Why?

I touched on this in a post a couple months ago. But, I want to unpack it a little here. How do you know your purpose, your why? I really like this exercise I learned from John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living. He suggests you can discover your “why” by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you Cry about? Almost everyone cries about things like the loss of a loved one (human or pet) or a broken relationship. So, the question is not what do you cry about? It’s, what do you cry about? What are the things that uniquely move you to tears? I’m a sap crier, not a sad crier. Don’t get me wrong, I cry about normal things. But I tend to cry more about things that are moving. My family calls me a sap. So, I had to reverse engineer this to discover that I cry about Ignorance (when people don’t know that things could be better or how to make them better). I also cry about Estrangement (when relationships that should be wonderful are broken). Finally, I cry about Devaluation (I’m not talking about currency here. I’m talking about when people are written off as having or bringing no value)
  2. What do you Sing about? Again, the emphasis is on you. What are the specific things that light you up to the point of wanting to sing? I get jazzed about discovery; when I see or help people learn the things that will transform their lives. I also want to sing when there is reconciliation, when those relationships that should be wonderful become wonderful again. Finally, I love it when those who’ve been written off are proven to be worthy. Call it redemption or transformation. I don’t care what we call it, I love it.
  3. What do you Dream about? This is not the big house, boat, or fancy car conversation. This is about what one thing, if you could change it, would make all the difference for you? I dream about spending the rest of my life launching leaders to live their legend (more about that in another post).
  4. What’s your sweet spot? What are you great at? It may be natural talent or developed skill, but you’re good at it. Your sweet spot is where your passion (what you cry and sing about), your dream(s) (what you dream about), and your talent and skills intersect. This is where you find your why, your purpose. this is your 2020 vision of who you want to become.

A Final Question

This is the point where you ask “what?” What are you going to do about all this? Dreams are free, everyone has them. The difference between dreamers who just dream and those whose dreams come true is action. Now that you know your why, your what will be more clear and it will certainly have more impact.

What are two things (small or large) you could do in the next week to move you in the direction of your vision? Do those. Happy New Year

Peace

I received a Christmas card from a friend and former coworker the other day along with a tin of yummy homemade Christmas treats (Thank you, Anna!). When I pulled the card out of the envelope I saw one word on the cover, “Peace.” Inside, the sentiment read, “Warm wishes for peace on Earth and blessings on your Christmas.” The reference comes from the Christmas story (not the movie, the one in the bible). After the Angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds a company of Angels joined him and they proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will to men!” That reminded me of the words to a Christmas carol based on the same pronouncement.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

Then, very much like the writer of this Christmas Carol, I looked around at our country and our world and thought,

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

Then the carol reminded me of another promise of Christmas, hope.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

People hate and fight and war because what they believe about right and wrong differs if they care about right and wrong at all. As a person of faith, I believe there is truth that defines right and wrong and that God is the author of it. I know my understanding is incomplete but, as the carol suggests, God will sort it all out in time. That knowledge allows me to be at peace on the inside even when the circumstances on the outside are not peaceful.

This Christmas week I wish you and yours Peace that comes from Hope that comes from the child that was laid in a manger. Blessings on your Christmas!

Transitions

I guess there’s a sense in which we’re all in transition. We get older. I’m writing this in December which means we’re in that three-month part of the year when my wife, Suzi, is older than me. Technically she’s always older than me, but between October and January it shows up when we write down our ages. Many years ago I put an ad in the local paper with her picture that said, “Suzi Thomason turns 30 today. Happy Birthday from your 29-year old husband!” Yes, I did! That scenario where she is “older” than me has come around over 40 times for us so far. The first time my progress in years really dawned on me was a few years back when I realized I was the age my dad was when I got married. That gives you some perspective.

Along with getting older comes the empty nest transition. I posted the other day that Suzi and I had gotten our Christmas tree together, alone, for the first time in a long time. That was bittersweet. The kids get older, they move out, they get married (no grandkids yet), have careers, make choices. You transition to a different role in their lives.

Those are transitions that everyone experiences. Well, most everyone, not everyone has kids, but everyone gets older. Then there are those transitions that are unique to you. Maybe you change jobs or even careers. Maybe you relocate to another part of the country or world. You may have experienced the breakup of an important relationship, a divorce, or the loss of a loved one.

The COVID-19 Pandemic caused a huge transition for people all over the world. Every time there is a change in political administration, the country goes through a transition. The point is things are constantly changing and we have to transition to something new.

How do you remain constant when things are constantly changing? We might lose our minds if something didn’t remain the same. Here are a couple of

ideas that have helped me.

  • Cherish Today. Yesterday is gone, we can learn from it but can’t change it. Tomorrow never comes. Just as it’s about to arrive, it becomes today. Today is a gift. Maybe that’s why they call it the present.
  •  Hold on to your values. Don’t follow the path of least resistance. That path makes both rivers and men crooked.
  •  Follow your north star, that point of reference that keeps you moving in the right direction no matter what. Mine is my relationship with God about whom the book of Provers says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
  •  Commit to growth. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You’ll get stronger still if you consistently ask, “How can I grow through this?”

Suzi and I are in the midst of yet another transition. We’ve moved, again, job change coming, possible career change. We don’t know what’s beyond January. I plan to hold on to those four points. I’ll let you know what happens.

Service!

“Now Hiring!” signs are everywhere, especially in restaurants. So are “dining room closed, drive-through only” signs. We also see signs that say, “Due to supply issues, some menu items may not be available.” All of this signals that you may not have a stellar experience while dining in this particular establishment. Understaffed restaurants mean overworked employees who are doing their best just to get the basics done. On a recent road trip, Suzi and I went 15 minutes out of our way to go to a Dunkin’ Donuts in Denver. When we got there, the dining room was closed. We couldn’t use the drive-through because we were pulling a trailer. Bummer! We got Dunkin’ Skunked.

In the middle of all this, you sometimes run across a bright spot. You encounter a person who goes the extra mile or does something to make things right. I like to highlight those, so in this post, I’d like to share two recent stories.

ABCD Service (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty)

On the same road trip as the Dunkin’ Skunked incident, pulling the same trailer, we had a different experience the day before. I had misunderstood Suzi earlier in the day. She had wanted to stop at a Dairy Queen in Baker, California. I didn’t realize that and rolled past the exit without getting off. We were talking to our son on the phone (hands-free of course) at that moment and by the time she noticed we were passing the exit it was too late and it’s too far to get off and turn around. She was disappointed.

I wanted to make it up to her, so I found a Dairy Queen in Las Vegas and asked Google to navigate us there. We got off at W Sahara Ave and headed there. I pulled into the parking lot and went to the door only to find, you guessed it, the dining room was closed. I couldn’t go through the drive-through with my trailer, so we sat in the parking lot behind the restaurant for a minute consoling ourselves when Suzi noticed an employee coming out to throw out the trash.

I opened my window and called out, “Excuse me! How can I get some ice cream when I can’t go through the drive-through?”

“I got you!” he replied and came over to the car. “What would you like?”

“Can we get a hot fudge sundae with Spanish Peanuts and a small vanilla cone?” I asked.

“Sure!” I’ll be right back. I gave him a $20.00 bill and off he went.

I joked with Suzi that that might be the last we see of that 20 bucks, but very quickly the young man came back with my change. The total was 6 dollars and change. “Keep the change,” I said. “I really appreciate you doing this.”

“No, no,” he surprised me, “It’s my pleasure.”

“Wow!’ I thought. I pressed him and he said, “How about you keep the 10?”

“How about you keep the 10,” I countered. “I really do appreciate you.” He graciously agreed and Suzi and I went on our way enjoying our ice cream.

Service Recovery

A couple of weeks ago Suzi and I went through the drive-through (no trailer in this story) at a Culver’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. They asked us to pull up because we were going to have to wait for part of our order. Boy did we wait! After way too many minutes I was getting ready to get out of the car, go inside and ask if they had to go catch the fish for my fish sandwich (snarky, huh).

Just as I was about to open the door, I saw someone coming out of the restaurant. “Here comes someone,” I said to Suzi, “maybe this is our order.” When I noticed he wasn’t carrying any food, I said, “Nope. It looks like he’s got someone’s change, he’s carrying money, not food.”

To my surprise, he came to our car. I rolled down the window and he said, “I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to get your food. It shouldn’t have happened this way. Your order will be out in less than 3 minutes. Here is your money back and here’s a coupon for another free meal on your next visit. Again, I’m so sorry. Thank you for your patience.”

Another Wow! That guy turned a service disaster into a monumental service recovery that not only satisfied us, it also ensured we would be back to his restaurant again soon.

The message? It’s twofold. First, there are great people out there overcoming barriers and doing great work. Acknowledge them when you can. Second, strive to deliver ABCD service in everything you do and if you fail (it happens), deliver a monumental recovery.

Pivot!

The first year we lived in China, one of the veterans of overseas living said to me, “to be successful living in Asia, you have to be willing to live with ambiguity.” He was right. I learned that the more of my western expectations I was able to let go, the more I enjoyed the experience of living there and the more I learned. Ambiguity means, “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation, inexactness.”

For example, one day soon after arriving in Kunming, my wife and two youngest children were walking outside near our home. My son, who was 9 at the time, overheard a woman talking on the phone. She repeated a mandarin phrase “na ge” (when pronounced it sounds like there is an “r” at the end of “ge”). He asked my wife, “Are these people racist?” My son is black and he thought she was saying the “N” word. It turns out that is a phrase that simply means “that one” and is used by some as a filler like our “um.” We had a good laugh about that misunderstanding when we learned the truth.

Footwork

Fast forward a few years and my youngest daughter (twin to the boy in the previous story) is a high school basketball player. She is over 5-10 so she played in the middle a lot. One thing her coach worked on hard with the girls was their footwork. Footwork is fundamental to every basketball skill and one of the fundamental footwork moves is the pivot. When you want to move and not dribble, you have to establish a “pivot foot” and can only move the other one while that one stays planted. So you essentially swivel on that fixed pivot point.

Players pivot to protect the ball, to get open for a shot, or to get clear to pass the ball. Janessa was a great rebounder. She had a knack for pulling the ball down, pivoting to find her open teammate, and getting the ball to her quickly to move up the court. It was fun to watch.

Life

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life happens?” I’ve learned that my friend’s quote from the beginning of this post is true of living anywhere, not just in Asia. The more you are able to live with ambiguity, the more flexible you are, the more you are able to pivot, the more successful you will be. The opposite of that is to be brittle, and brittle often gets broken.

Probably the biggest of many pivots we’ve made in life was when we moved overseas. I had been laid off during the economic downturn of 2008/2009 and as a result, we lost our home. No one was hiring at the time so we had to pivot. Through an unexpected set of circumstances, we wound up in China. As you can probably tell by how often I reference it in my posts, that 2-year experience was wonderfully transformative for our family. We would never have had that opportunity if life hadn’t happened as it did.

Just like in basketball, we may pivot to protect something. We may pivot so we can take our shot, or we may pivot to give someone else a shot by passing off to them. Those are all potentially great moves in the game of life.

I know we all prefer autonomy. We want to direct our own lives and be in control. But, when everyone wants that, life happens. Sometimes your best autonomous move is to pivot.

Encourage!

I had an unplanned meeting with three assistant managers the other day. Those unplanned meetings where you all just happen to be in the same place and start talking are often the best. One of them started to share a little of her personal story. She has overcome a lot in her life and is now working with some volunteer organizations to help others. Her story is inspiring, but what really caught my attention was how she talked about the people she leads. As an assistant manager in this setting, she oversees a team of about 28 people. What she talked about was their stories, how they tend to open up and share their stories with her, and how many of them had similar backgrounds of overcoming.

Have you ever heard the terms Human Resources, FTEs, Headcount, Staff? I don’t have a gripe against any of those terms per se, I use them myself. But, they are pretty impersonal ways of referring to the people we lead. I like data and numbers and trends, they all tell a story. But, so do our people. We lead teams, but teams are people. Our organizations are made up of people. They all have lives outside of work. They have hopes and dreams, plans and fears, significance and potential. Do you know what they are?

Leighton Ford said, “In our postmodern world, people have been treated as numbers, as replaceable parts, as something on someone’s agenda, a program, a screen name. They long to be noticed, to be valued, to have someone pay attention!”

ENCOURAGE

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Courage! Today I’m writing on “Encourage.” Here goes a little word nerd action. Interesting thing about the prefix “en-,” when it’s added to nouns and adjectives it forms a verb expressing conversion into the specified state as in “encrust” or “ennoble.” So, when added to courage, it means to convert someone into the state of courage, to give them courage.

In my post on courage, I wrote about different categories of courage, Physical courage, Moral courage, Social courage, and Intellectual courage. I defined courage in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, wrote ” Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Acknowledge those who work hard among you.”

HOW TO ENCOURAGE

People often hold back in their work and in their life because of fear.  They even make mistakes because of fear. To Encourage someone, you must help them decide that something else is more important than their fear.

The first step in doing that is to Acknowledge them. People need to be recognized for who they are and what they do. You can take it a step further when you acknowledge them and their work as significant. The next level of acknowledgment is to recognize that person’s potential. Start talking to someone about their potential in a positive way and watch them lean into the conversation.

The next step in encouraging someone is to Know them. You can’t help a person overcome a fear and be courageous if you don’t know what their dreams and fears are.  Connection increases courage. I recently asked a couple of training leads for feedback on a new trainer. One of them said, “She really connects with the new hires.” I asked her to describe that for me. She told me that most of the new hire classes start out shy and reserved. But, as the trainer gets to know them and builds up their skills, they come out of their shells, and by the end of the training week, they’re high-fiving each other, laughing, and learning.

Part of knowing your people is understanding their goals and dreams. That leads to the final step in encouraging them, Help them. Like the trainer who built up new skills for new hires, or a coach who helps a person develop natural talent and/or acquired skills, you show the person what needs to be done and what barriers are in the way. Help remove any barriers you can. Above all, encouraging someone is helping them decide to take action, to be bold, to shoot for what’s more important than their fear.

Think of one person you could encourage today and take action.

Courage!

What is your biggest fear? I don’t mean a phobia like fear of heights, fear of spiders, or fear of public speaking. I’m asking about more common fears like the fear of loneliness, or the fear of rejection, failure, inadequacy, or the fear of being physically hurt or even the fear of uncertainty or meaninglessness. Fear unconsciously (or consciously!) blocks us from so much in life. Did one of those fears stand out to you when you read it? That, then, may be your biggest fear. But, this post isn’t about fear. It’s about courage.

Courage

I had to start with a brief mention of fear because fear plays prominently in the definition of courage. Courage, in the online dictionary,  is “The ability to do something that frightens one.” Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” That’s a powerful statement. Some people have said that courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. No disagreement here, but Roosevelt’s quote seems powerful to me because it talks about why someone might overcome fear to take action.

That raises another question. What’s important to you? Another way of asking that question might be, what do you consider valuable? Setting aside for a minute valuable stuff, is your family valuable to you? Is safety and security? Your job? What about other valuable things also known as values, like integrity, love, honor, humility? These are questions we must answer if, by Roosevelt’s definition, we ever hope to be courageous. Which of us, after all, has never fantasized about being a “hero?”

Categories of Courage

Since the very definition of courage contains a clear reference to fear, it seems reasonable that categories of courage would align with a list of various fears. But, I think it’s helpful to consider them this way. Here are a few categories of courage:

  1. Physical Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your physical safety and security. Our first responders and military, for example, have made a career out of this assessment.
  2. Social Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your social comfort or sense of belonging. Leaders need social courage when they ask their people to believe in and follow them.
  3. Moral Courage – this is when you assess that your convictions are more important than your social standing, your job, or, in some cases, even your life. Religious martyrs and social activists require moral courage.
  4.  Intellectual Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than being right or being part of the “in” crowd. Truth seekers require intellectual courage.

Did one of those descriptions draw you in? Can you see yourself being a physical hero? Maybe. Or what about a social hero, or a moral hero, or an intellectual hero? And that’s not an exhaustive list. The point is that courageous people are clear on what’s most important to them.

A Call to Courage

It was after dark one evening 25 years ago. I was the brand new pastor of a small church in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. Suzi, the kids, and I had just arrived home from a visit to central Illinois where we had lived and pastored previously. The drive was seven and a half hours so we were ready to settle in for the evening. Right after we arrived home we got a call telling us a dear friend who was a member of our previous church had passed away while we were driving home. We had just visited with him on our trip. He was ill but we didn’t expect him to go that quickly.

In the midst of our road weariness and grief, the phone rang again. This time it was a member of our new church. There had been a terrible car accident involving teenage boys from our small community. She was calling from the hospital, “almost the whole town is here,” she said.

“Are either of the other pastors there?” I asked. There were two other churches in town and I wondered if pastoral care was available.

“Yes,” she answered. But it was clear she wanted her church to be officially represented, too. I understood that, of course.

It would be a 25 to 30 minute drive to the hospital in Lincoln. That’s no big deal in and of itself. Being called upon to serve in these situations despite personal tiredness and grief was what I signed up for so that wasn’t part of my struggle. But I did struggle. None of the families involved were from our church and I was afraid that my showing up, the new pastor of the “other” church, might appear morbid. It might appear like I was trying to horn in on the community’s grief to benefit myself or our church in some way.

The Rest of the Story

I made a decision. Serving those people with injured children and answering the call of the person from my church was more important than my fears. I put those in God’s hands and headed to the hospital. By the time I arrived, providentially, everyone else had gone home. Only the parents of the injured boys were still there. I had uninterrupted access to the single dad of one boy and the mother and father of the other. I did my best to offer grace, compassion, prayer, and any other support they would need in the coming days.

It was a genuine tragedy. The single dad lost his son. The parents of the other boy eventually brought him home but he would never be the same due to traumatic brain injury. In the days before those outcomes were known, the people of our church stepped up to serve those families and the community in amazing ways. The result of their actions opened doors to ministry in that community that had previously not been opened. I was a small part of a big thing God did in those days. Had I not done my part, He would have found another way, but I’m grateful to have participated.

Every day may present an opportunity to overcome some fear. If we focus on what’s most important to us, get clear on that, I believe we’ll become more courageous.

A White Cop and a Black Kid

Suzi and I are doubly blessed to have five children. We are blessed once to have them and the double blessing is that we had them through adoption. Two of our children came through inter-country adoption from Guatemala. A third was born in the States but of half-Guatemalan descent. So, our older three (who self-identify as “Group A”) are Guatemalan. Group B, as they call themselves, came along ten years after the last of Group A. They came together as twins and are of African-American descent. Suzi and I, then, are the minority in our family. The kids are all grown now, but whenever we would go anywhere as a family we got interesting looks. Two white people with three Hispanic kids and two Black kids brought a mixed bag of reactions.

The Car

The two younger ones got jobs and so they needed transportation. They borrowed some money from their big brother and bought a modest sedan from a small dealer. That was just as the pandemic was shutting everything down back in March of 2020. The DMV was one of those entities that shut down. The dealer turned in the paperwork for the sale of the car by mail and paid the fees. For months no tags or registration came so the kids drove on the temporary dealer plate.

As I write this in August of 2021, they still have not received the registration and plates for that car. The DMV is conducting an investigation into what happened. The dealer paid the fees as his receipts show but somehow the system shows them still outstanding on the car so it won’t issue tags. It’s quite a mystery and it puts the kids in a quandary. The car is not technically legal but they still need to get to work. So, they’ve been driving it.

The Black Kid

Our Youngest son, Jordan, is a winsome and gregarious young man who seems like a natural at whatever he decides to try. He is an athlete musician. In High School, he ran track, swam, played water polo, and was in the band. In band he easily picked up and switched back and forth between multiple instruments, woodwinds and brass. He also loves helping children and was involved in a high school program that mentored children with disabilities.

When our family moved to China for two years, Jordan and his sister were nine years old. I guess that was just the right age for him to catch a bug for living overseas. He’s dreamed of moving overseas since then. A Multi-Country European excursion with two friends right after High School graduation only added fuel to that fire. He also has a knack for languages. I remember how funny it was to see this young black boy successfully hail a cab and tell the driver where we wanted to go … in Mandarin! In High School he studied German.

He recently completed a course in teaching English as a second language and has accepted a job offer to teach next year at a small school in Spain. Seems like a fitting combination for him. He’s very excited and is working and saving money to make the move. He even opened a Go-Fund-Me page to help raise moving money.

The White Cop

As a result of the car tag fiasco, Jordan has been pulled over no less than five times for the expired dealer tag. Each time has resulted in a warning to get the situation corrected. He has a court date later next month but still needs to get to work so he continues to drive, often late at night when he closes at the fast-food restaurant where he works.

On a recent stop, after the usual explaining why he’s driving the car like that, the running of the driver’s license, and the officer telling him to get it taken care of, the cop didn’t ask him to step out of the car or begin to search him or draw his weapon, instead, he started making conversation. During the conversation, he heard about Jordan’s plans to teach English in Spain.  Then he asked an unexpected question, “Do you have a Go-Fund-Me?” Jordan was a bit startled by the question but told him he did and the conversation ended shortly after that when the officer had to get on with his work.

Later that day, Jordan got a notification that someone had contributed to his Go-Fund-Me account. He looked to see who it was, and was surprised to find that the officer who pulled him over had donated to his fund.

That’s not what you might expect to read these days when you see a title like “A White Cop and a Black Kid” so thought this might be a good story to share in the current climate. Thank you for reading.

Another Super Star

Two weeks ago I wrote about restaurant staff who work hard to provide a great dining experience in the midst of all different kinds of customers. Just the other day I saw a picture of a sign someone had put up that said, “The whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up.” Great point! I kept that in mind last night when Suzi and I and another couple (different couple from the ones I wrote about before) did a progressive dinner date. We went to one restaurant for dinner and another restaurant for dessert (no, we don’t live our whole lives in restaurants). At dessert, I actually thanked our server for showing up to work today. That restaurant was busy and the wait staff was a bit harried and they did their best.

Every once in a while you run into a superstar like Bailey who I wrote about two weeks ago. She’s the one who put “orange juice” on top of our sundaes. This story isn’t mine, but I love it and wanted to share it with you.

Another Super Star

Several years ago I read a good book by John G. Miller called  QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life,  At the beginning of Chapter One he tells this story.

It was a beautiful day when I stopped into Rock Bottom restaurant for a quick lunch. The place was jammed. I didn’t have much time, so I was happy to grab the one stool they had available at the bar. A few minutes after I sat down, a young man carrying a tray full of dirty dishes hurried by on his way to the kitchen.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed me, stopped, came back, and said, “Sir, have you been helped?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “And I’m in a bit of a hurry. But all I really want is  a salad and maybe a couple of rolls.”
“I can get you that, sir. What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a Diet Coke, please.”
Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we have Pepsi products. Would that be all right?”
“Ah, no thanks,” I said with a smile. “I’ll just have water with lemon, please.”
“Great, I’ll be back.” He disappeared.

Moments later he returned with the salad, the rolls, and the water. I thanked him, and he was quickly gone again, leaving me to enjoy my meal, a satisfied customer.

Suddenly, there was a blur of activity off to my left, the “wind of enthusiasm” blew behind me, and then, over my right shoulder,  stretched the “long arm of service” delivering a twenty-ounce bottle, frosty on the outside, cold on the inside, of–you guessed it–Diet Coke!

“Wow!” I said. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a smile and hurried off again.

My first thought was Hire this man! Talk about going the extra mile! He was clearly not your average employee. And the more I thought about the outstanding thing he’d just done, the more I wanted to talk to him. So as soon as I could get his attention, I waved him over.

“Excuse me, I thought you didn’t sell Coke,” I said.
“That’s right, sir, we don’t.”
“Well, where did this come from?”
“The grocery store around the corner.” I was taken aback.
“Who paid for it?” I asked.
“I did, sir; just a dollar.”

By then I was thinking profound and professional thoughts like Cool! But what I said was, “Come on, you’ve been awfully busy. How did you have time to go get it?” Smiling and seemingly growing taller before my eyes, he said, “I didn’t, sir. I sent my manager!”

The Point(s) Of The Story

That server was clearly amazing. And the author goes on to make his great points about asking the right questions like, “What can I do in this situation to make a difference?” rather than what he calls “incorrect questions” like, “Why do I have to do everything around here,” and, “Who’s supposed to be covering this area, anyway?”

I would also like to give some recognition to the manager in that story. How many managers do you know who would respond to their employee by actually going to the grocery store and buying that coke? That person understood their role in supporting amazing performance. In my book, that makes them pretty amazing, too.

One final point. There is a lot of complaining going on in the world these days, much of it is justified. But, there is also amazing happening. Keep your eyes open for amazing, acknowledge it when you see it. Better yet, be amazing.

When No One Is Watching

Christian apologist and well-known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” One thing about restaurants that I find fascinating is that each table is a separate little world where the inhabitants seem to believe that no one is watching them even though they are in full view of everyone else in the room. Ironically, that makes for some interesting people watching.

Once in a while, when Suzi and I are out alone, we’ll imagine the story behind a certain scene at a table. We’re not creepers but every once in a while a particular scene will be so obvious that we can’t help but be curious about “what’s going on over there?” That reminds me of a story I recently read. I thought it was interesting and had a great life lesson along these lines.

An Unexpected Interview

I’m reading a book by Richard Stearns, former CEO of Parker Brothers, Lenox, and World Vision, called Lead Like it Matters to God: Values-driven leadership in a success-driven world. In a chapter about integrity he relates the following story:

Early in my career, I was put to the test on this principle of private versus public behavior in one of my first job interviews. I was twenty-five years old at the time and had a full day of interviews set up for that entry-level marketing position at Parker Brothers Games. I was impressed that even for an entry-level job they had arranged for me to meet with several vice presidents, three marketing directors, and even a “drive-by” with the president. I really wanted this job, so I did my best to make a positive impression. Then at lunch, I was kind of surprised that they sent me out for almost two hours with a much lower-level employee named Clint, who worked as a marketing research analyst. I doubted that his input would matter much compared to the directors and vice presidents. but off we went to a local eatery.

As I recall, Clint and I had a good time eating fried clams somewhere in Salem, Massachusetts, and talking about what it was really like to work at Parker Brothers. A few days later I was thrilled to get the call that they were offering me the job. When I showed up for my first day of work a couple of weeks later,  I spent the morning with my new boss getting briefed. But his opening comments are the ones I remember to this day. He  looked at me and said: “You know why we hired you, don’t you?” Of course, I’m thinking it must have been my scintillating interview technique, my winning personality, my prematurely graying hair, my impressive Wharton MBA,  or maybe my solid twenty months of previous work experience. But no, he said, “You passed the ‘Clint test.’ We knew you would be on your best behavior with the directors and the VPs, but we wanted to see if you were a jerk when your guard was down, so we sent you out to lunch with Clint. You passed. Clint told us he thought you were a good guy, so we hired you.” Wow! And I thought no one was looking.

When No One Is Watching

Just like the people Suzi and I watch in restaurants, Richard didn’t know anyone was “looking” during his “final interview.” The real lesson for me is when I flip that around and ask myself who’s looking at me or at us? What story might they weave based on their observation of my behavior?

I’m a person of faith so I believe there is always someone watching. That both comforts me and keeps me on my toes. Whether or not you believe someone is always watching over you, C.S. Lewis’ quote about integrity is true. Character in general and Integrity, in particular, is what makes people, families, and nations strong from the inside. We seem to be experiencing a shortage of that these days.

Will you join me in self-reflection on the question, “Is there integrity between what’s on the inside of me and how I behave outwardly?” Am I a person of character and does it show? Because you never know who’s watching.