Many years ago, I received an offer to shift roles that sounded exciting until I learned the new job meant I no longer had a large team to lead. Popular wisdom says: “If you think you’re leading, but no one is following, then you’re only taking a walk.”
Our organization’s president offered a different perspective. “This role will require you to learn how to lead by influence and what it really means to serve people. You’ll become a more effective leader because most people can only lead by authority,” he said. “Take away their position, though, and often no one will choose to follow them. That’s not leadership; it’s hierarchy.”
I took the role. Fortunately, the president provided ongoing, nearly real-time mentoring; he proved surprisingly generous with his time. Years later, he made a recommendation that landed me in a CEO role at a different organization. “You’re ready,” he said.
Today, he leads one of our country’s largest nonprofit organizations, and his people there love him as their leader for the right reasons. I still do, too.
What a great example of better, enduring wisdom:
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”
It’s hiring and annual review season. Experience has taught that although words enter my ears, I need not let every one of them establish residency.
22 years ago, a person agreed to approve my hire despite two reservations: 1) She said I didn’t have what it takes to serve as the organization’s voice, and 2) determined I had no writing skills. Years later, another leader decided to appoint me as local/national media spokesperson during a very turbulent PR season. A few years after that, a different leader asked me to co-author a book – the first of several published.
Clearly, authority and wisdom can travel on separate itineraries.
In a world overflowing with opinion, experience has shown that these words point to a better way: "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life."
Simple messages can make profound differences.
Duke University’s legendary basketball coach, Mike Kryzyzewski, is a big fan of the statement I believe in you. He says, “Those four words can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try.”
Tell your child I believe in you as many times, and in as many ways, as you can. Every kid needs to feel accepted and valued. He constantly wonders about himself and wrestles with competing self-perceptions—his abilities versus his inabilities. Ideally, the people closest to him will help tip the scales in this internal battle.
The thought process works something like this: “My dad believes in me—so I should believe in myself.”
A child propped up by such confidence will face the inevitable challenges of life with resolve. Such was the case with Wilma Rudolph. Early in life, doctors told her mother that, due to a debilitating disease, Wilma might not walk again. Wilma decided to embrace a different prognosis. “My mother told me I would, so I believed my mother.”
And that belief became the foundation that later enabled her to become a U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in the 100, 200, and 400 (relay) meter races.
One of my favorite illustrations of this principle comes from Ben Zander, conductor of Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music. He believes grand potential is released when belief replaces reasons for self-doubt, which is why he gives all his students the grade of “A” at the beginning of the course. Their first assignment is to write him a letter, dated at the end of the term, which explains the story of what the student will have done to earn this high mark. His philosophy: “This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
Give your child an A and watch him or her live into the possibilities you’ve inspired.
This topic came up one day over lunch with my friend and mentor Dick. I asked him what advice he had for me about raising a teenager—after all, my son’s thirteenth birthday was quickly approaching, and I’ve heard that parenting challenges change when the teen years arrive. “Expect the best from him, and tell him that you do,” Dick said. “Then watch him chase it to make it happen.”
Then Dick got more specific. “For instance, many parents joke about how awful they expect their children to be as drivers. Your son as a driver might seem a long way off, but it’s not. So instead of making light of him, take any opportunity you have to tell your son that you believe he’ll make an excellent driver some day, and give him a reason or two why. Take that same logic about predicting his success and apply it to as many situations as you can.”
Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison says, “Long before I was a success, my parents made me feel like I could be one.” Her observation is a powerful one—and one we can put to use with kids of all ages.
Many of our country’s incredible educators know how to inspire life-changing confidence. We can learn (and apply) lessons from how they share simple messages that make profound differences. Let’s start with a Kindergarten teacher in Indiana, who begins class every day with a three-statement, repeat-after-me exercise:
“I am kind.”
“I am smart.”
“And I am brave.”
Can words really make such a big difference? Yes.
Pastor and author Jack Hayford tells us why: “It is perhaps among the most humbling features of God’s ways with humankind that He confers upon us a staggering degree of power (and responsibility) in the capacity of our words to cause things to happen.”
Our world desperately needs more kind, smart, and brave people. So, what words will you tell your children?
*Portions of this column come from David’s book, Words Kids Need to Hear
© 2021 David Staal. All rights reserved. davidstaal.net
What goes up must come down.
My son Scott and I decided to take a course to learn rock climbing and rappelling. So, we traveled to Arizona and early one Saturday morning met our instructor Josh. Less than five minutes after meeting us, two things became clear to Josh: 1) We had made one easy climb before, which meant we knew nothing, but 2) we were eager to learn, commitment proved by the fact that we had already purchased legitimate climbing shoes. (More about the shoes to come.)
Five hours later we felt tired, sore, bruised, bleeding, and just smart enough now to know we have a long way to climb before we truly know what we’re doing. That’s okay, because Josh taught us plenty that day.
We began the adventure with a hike around the back of the climbing course that took us to the top. Once there, Josh showed us a pair of 8-inch bolts driven into a rock as large as my garage. Our Yoda-like guide said, “Always know your anchor; you will need to rely on it, so always know what you’re putting your trust in.”
Several more explanations of the function and infallibility of our equipment familiarized us with all the stuff on our harnesses. Good info to know because a few moments later the time came to stand backwards on the edge of a cliff and begin the gravity-defying rappel to the bottom. “When you’re about to make a challenging move, pause for a moment and think about the systems that support you, especially the anchor.”
“Are we starting with a challenging section?” I asked.
“For you it is because it’s your first time.”
Fair enough. A quick scan of my gear and a mental image of those anchors provided enough reassurance to step backwards and begin the descent. While not quite a Tom Cruise maneuver from a Mission Impossible movie, the adrenaline rush hit me big! No wonder Tom makes so many of those films.
Next, we climbed. About half-way up a rock face, maybe 40 feet, another challenge arrived. I felt stuck. No clear next move appeared. For the moment, my feet solidly gripped the rock, thanks to those sweet new shoes. But I knew that moment could not last long. I heard Josh say from the floor that now seemed 400 feet below me, “It’s okay to make a big move because I’ve got you. Trust your equipment. Remember the anchor.”
Emboldened by the image of those 8-inch bolts, I released my right hand, lunged my body weight to the left, and reached high for a grab point that, unfortunately, did not exist. The move made so much sense in my mind. But with nothing to grip, the reality of my situation immediately set in; I will fall. Yep, that’s what happened.
But I only fell a foot or two. The anchors remained in place, the harness held me, and I remained suspended in mid-air. “A few big breaths and plan your next move. You’ve got this.” Josh had confidence in me – just enough for my own to return.
I eventually reached the top and then rappelled back to the ground. As Josh and I bumped fists, he shared wisdom that I needed to hear: “Unless you fall, you will never learn how to completely trust what’s holding you.”
Scott and I both fell that day, making us better climbers. In our own, challenging ways, we both experienced falls in life over the past year. Yet, neither of us plummeted to the floor. Others helped support us, and we held up one another. Still do. And will. Most important, we both have an unmovable, 100 percent reliable Anchor that we remind each other about often. (“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:6)
What do you trust? Who or what is your anchor? When you know for certain, you’ll be able to continue going after a fall. You might even try bolder moves.
Everyone falls. Climb on.
© 2020 David Staal All rights reserved. davidstaal.net
Something sacred happens when the sun sets.
My family felt it often when we lived close to Lake Michigan. Several years ago, USA Today listed sunsets over Lake Michigan as some of the best found anywhere. Many evenings we finished dinner, left the dishes, and piled into a car for a couple mile drive to a remote park we dubbed “Sunset Beach.”
A short boardwalk stroll from the parking lot landed us on cool sand and dune grass. Most times, we stopped talking just as the sun hit the horizon and begin its unusually quick drop beneath the water line. We always stayed for the last ray, which would linger as if saying, “Goodbye for now; I’ll be back.”
That’s it; a sacred promise took place. Whatever happened today cannot be changed. But take heart because tomorrow will happen, and with it comes new possibilities, new opportunities, new everything. Watching the sunset fills a heart with such hope. A welcome relief when a day (week, month, year) has felt dark. Or cruel.
A year ago, my wife Becky received a 12:30 a.m. call to tell her that Teri, her lifelong friend (and my friend too) had taken her own life. They were as close as sisters and enjoyed a love that would make real sisters envious. Teri loved our kids as her own. Her smile shone as bright as the sun.
But that sun set all too quickly and we didn’t get to stand and watch it go. Loss works that way; sudden, without warning, and painfully permanent. How does a person recover from something as dark as a loved one’s suicide? I don’t know the entire journey one must travel, but I did write a book about the first steps to take. A short, companioned walk that will take you to a place as sacred as a sunset. One filled with promise. Where you honestly shed the tears that today deserves – yet feel subtle warmth from a ray of hope about tomorrow.
Three years ago, I listened as a high school student at an assembly told nearly 2,000 peers how much she appreciated their help following her best friend’s suicide. “Even when you just smiled and said hello you helped me make it through another day,” she said to a very quiet fieldhouse. “Wow, what grace!” I thought at the time, completely unaware of how life would unfold for my family and me.
Today her words make even more sense after experiencing the hard-to-breathe-without-it-hurting pain that happens when someone close takes his or her own life. Compelled to do something for others who face this horrible situation, and with a blessing from Teri’s family, I wrote Four Corners of Grace to help you or someone you know make it through another day. All the way to the sunset.
Every Monday I meet with an amazing fourth-grader. This week we began work on a model car; to see the tiny parts required me to don my reading glasses. “I know these make me look old,” I told him.
“That’s okay Mr. Dave,” he said. “You’re still cool. (pause) To me.”
So I celebrate that an old guy like me appears cool to at least one person.
As a country, America celebrates. Especially at the start of a new year, everyone can find reasons to feel positive — regardless of whether your favorite professional football team plays in big games or your political party parades into office. Consider the officially-declared possibilities for joy throughout January: National Hot Tea Month. National Soup Month. National Mentoring Month.
Everyone has a personal favorite tea flavor and can of soup, so let’s look closer at mentoring. Specifically, who needs a mentor and why should churches and attendees care?
Click here to read the full article.