RLL 59: Lessons from 2018

Real Life Leading #59: Lessons from 2018

This year has been, like all years, full and fascinating and up and down and joyful and painful. It’s been a year of growth and of change, and it’s also been a year to be thankful for the consistency of certain aspects of life. Today, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on what I’ve learned this year. The last three lessons are ones that I shared last year, too; when I re-read them, I thought, “Those are worth repeating.” So I did. I hope you enjoy this post, and I hope it inspires you to reflect on what you’ve learned this year as well!

1. I LOVE listening to podcasts and being interviewed on them.

This year, I was interviewed on close to 30 different podcasts, and I probably listened to over 200 hours of podcasts: shows on Tolkien, on Lewis, interview shows, shows about history or religion or parenting, etc. I found this year that I can learn a ton on my commute to and from school (a 90-minute round trip each day) by podcasting, and I strongly recommend you find some that you enjoy as well. The Jordan Harbinger Show is great for interviews and motivation, and the Prancing Pony Podcast and The Green Door Podcast are two of my favorite Tolkien-based shows.

2. I am supremely blessed in that every single day I go to work, I also get to do what I love.

Whether I’m teaching a high school history or Bible class, coaching soccer (youth or high school), or doing a presentation on blended family life, leadership, or education; whichever ‘job’ I’m working that day is a job that I love. I consider myself to be among the most blessed people in the world because I get paid to do what I would volunteer to do anyway. And I never want to take that for granted.

3. Temptations to make selfish decisions never fully go away.

Coaching my younger daughter’s church league soccer team for the final year was bittersweet.

Coaching my younger daughter’s church league soccer team for the final year was bittersweet.

One of my biggest failures in the past has been spending too much time on sports and not enough time with my family. As I got older, I thought this would get easier; turns out, I was wrong. What I’ve learned this year is that every single day I have to re-choose to make the right decisions. It’s a never-ending battle in which I have to die to self and choose others. Sometimes I fail; many times, by the grace of God, I succeed. But I am more than ever convinced of the truth spoken by John Bradford centuries ago, when it comes to temptation or to sin: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I’m not any better than anyone else; only by God’s grace can I do anything good. It’s humbling, because it’s true.

4. 14 and 11 is harder (and easier) than 13 and 10.

This year, my older daughter turned 14, and it was both easier and harder than 13. It was harder because her friends are turning 15, dating more, getting driver’s permits, and transitioning more to adulthood, and she is on the same path. But it was also easier because she’s maturing, she’s making good decisions, and she’s showing that she has the makings of an amazing young woman. I wouldn’t go back to 13 (though it wasn’t bad!), but I’m also not rushing to get her to 15. My younger daughter is now 11 and almost done with elementary school. The thought that my younger one is about to enter middle school is hard, because kids get meaner and problems get bigger. But I’m also excited about the young lady she is becoming, and I’m thankful to get to see her continue to grow and develop and learn, especially as she often imitates her older sister.

5. Dogs don’t understand time changes.

I was very excited about the “fall back” time change, when we gain an extra hour of sleep. My dogs, not so much. Turns out dogs don’t know that the clock says a different time; and that time means that I should get to sleep in a bit! Nope, they’re hungry, or they have to pee, and so at 4:45 (which would have been 5:45), they’re awake and ready for the day to begin. I was not thrilled. We got it sorted after a week or so, but yeesh, I should have seen that coming and prepared.

6. My best friend got married, and I’m so thrilled for him and his wife!

David and his wife April

David and his wife April

I was absolutely honored and thrilled to get to be part of my best friend’s wedding this year. He’s been looking forward to marriage and settling down for some time, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his bride. When we get together, we now laugh about the amusing parts of marriage, and we still recount tales of idiotic things we did when we were younger. The change is subtle but unmistakable: he seems happier, more settled, and it makes me smile each time I think about it. When I gave a toast at his wedding reception, I forgot to say one important thing, and so I’ll say it here: we’ve been buddies for 30+ years, and I couldn’t have asked for a better, more loyal friend. Through ups and downs, moves and changes, pain and joy, he’s been there; and now, we’re thrilled to have his wife as part of our family as well.

7. Reading is a key part of my world.

Listening to audiobooks and podcasts is great, but I also found this year that when I don’t take time to actually sit and read a book (an actual book, with pages and everything; nothing against e-readers, but I just don’t enjoy them as much), I get a bit cranky. So this year, despite the busy, I carved out a bit of time to read at least a few nights each week. And I’m glad I did.

8. Learning history is more important now than ever before.

I’m sure this sounds self-serving since I’m a history teacher, but I believe it is true regardless. Look at the news, follow any major storylines, and you’ll see that people of all political persuasions are taking more liberties with ‘truth’ than ever before. As a result, we need to arm ourselves against those influences by being knowledgeable about the past. And the only way to do that is through learning it. The danger here is that ALL HISTORY that you learn is biased in some way. All of it. Some person wrote it, and therefore the history is influenced by the person who wrote it. We need to remember that is also true of every news article we read, whether about something as huge as politics and tax cuts or something as mundane as a basketball game. The key is: go learn your history, and then you will be better able to see through the biased ‘truth’ being presented by both sides, and you will thus be better able to make an informed judgment about what the truth really is. Start with something simple: sign up for the “This Day In History” email from the History Channel website, and then just read the major headlines each day. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn in a few minutes.

9. Looking to serve other people builds better relationships than just looking to profit from them.

I have always believed in the value of building good relationships, and I learned this year that it’s even more important than I’d realized. Again, I came across this by listening to various podcasts in which Bob Burg (best-selling author of ‘The Go-Giver’ and other books, www.burg.com) emphasized how important it is that we serve other people even when it isn’t going to get us more business or help us make better profits. Also, at the recommendation of my best friend, I read a couple of great books by Andy Andrews (The Noticer and The Noticer Returns ) that emphasize similar ideas. Simply by looking to serve first we build better relationships. In the long run, these may help us profit more, but the point is: profit ISN’T the point. Relationships are.

10. “Where there’s life, there’s hope...and need of vittles.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

My wife and I enjoying a date in Orlando after I spoke at a conference there. It’s hard not to be hopeful when surrounded by beauty.

My wife and I enjoying a date in Orlando after I spoke at a conference there. It’s hard not to be hopeful when surrounded by beauty.

This year, like all years, I’ve spent much time reading through the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and I also began reading works by a man that influenced both of them: G.K. Chesterton. Throughout all of their works, there is a common theme: hope. No matter how bad things are (or seem to be), where there’s life, there’s hope, as Tolkien says. 2018 seemed to be awful for a lot of people in a lot of ways, and unfortunately that means many people are anticipating 2019 to be even worse. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be so. Let’s commit to making our little pocket of the world a better place, full of hope and joy, and together we can make 2019 better than any of us expect! If you don't believe me, that's ok; do me a favor and go read anything by Tolkien (especially 'The Hobbit' or 'The Lord of the Rings') or Lewis (especially 'The Chronicles of Narnia' or 'Mere Christianity') and just enjoy them. You'll also be amazed at how hopeful you feel while reading them.

For a number of years now, I have been reminded of one important truth: we can all be redeemed, none of us is without hope of improvement. I believe that the Bible is true, and it teaches us that all of us are broken sinners; but it also teaches us that we have a hope in Jesus Christ. It teaches us that He will never leave us or forsake us, and it teaches us that through Him, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, His grace is sufficient for us. Therefore, there is ALWAYS hope. Let’s look forward to a hope-filled 2019!

Action Step:

Today, write down five lessons you learned in 2018, and how you hope to apply those lessons in 2019.

RLL 52: 'The Messiah Method'

RLL 52: 'The Messiah Method'

Last year in one of my first blog posts, I wrote a little bit about a book I had read called The Messiah Method: The Seven Disciplines of the Winningest College Soccer Program in America, and today I want to take a more expansive view at it. Written by Michael Zigarelli, a business professor at Messiah, the book is not about soccer per se, but rather it’s about leadership and it contains wisdom that can be applied in any area of life. Today, we’re going to take a look at the key principles in the book as well as some specific applications that can be made. I hope you’re as excited as I am; I love this book!

The men’s and women’s soccer programs at Messiah College have won a combined 16 national championships in 18 years. This is an astounding record of success in any sport and at any level; the purpose of the book is to explain how these programs have been able to attain and sustain success for such a long period of time. The book, written after many interviews with current and former coaches and players, focuses on seven key disciplines that form The Messiah Method.

Discipline 1: Pursue a higher purpose than winning—Success begins by redefining it

Here we learn that, though these are ultra-competitive college soccer programs, their ultimate goal is not simply to win games and championships. Rather, their goal is to glorify God and to encourage each other in everything that they do: academics, athletics, social life, and relationships. The success, then, is a by-product rather than the main focus. “We definitely want to win, but it doesn’t define us. Our worth as a person isn’t wrapped up in it,” says Brad McCarty, current Messiah College men’s coach.

Application: Remember to keep an eternal perspective in our homes, our jobs, and our lives. Our goal is not earthly success but rather bringing eternal glory to God. When we do that, we will experience success as a by-product.

Discipline 2: Be intentional about everything—There’s more under your control than you realize

This blog is all about leadership. We, as leaders, have the power to make changes in our little pockets of the world, and this means that if things aren’t going the way we want them to, we are responsible. “As the leader, you have the power—all the power you need, in fact—so use it to create the team and culture you really want.” (pg. 67) Often we lament that we don’t have the power to change certain situations, but the truth is that this is often a cop-out for when we don’t want to rock the boat.

Application: If there are changes that need to be made, be intentional about addressing them. Choose to consciously make adjustments wherever necessary, especially in regards to relationship-building.

Discipline 3: Recruit the “both-and” players—Why talent is not enough

Often in sports and in life we see that exceptions are made for people with outstanding qualities in other areas: athletes with great physical ability aren’t held to the same academic standards; employees with great sales records are let off the hook for not attending mandatory training, etc. However, at Messiah, they blow this notion up by refusing to compromise their standards. “While elevating faith to a paramount ideal, they do the same with intellect. While affirming the value of discipline, it affirms the value of imagination…While maintaining that absolute truth exists and is knowable, it also allows students to think broadly for themselves to pursue it.” (pg. 85)

Application: Examine your life and the people that are in your family or organization and see if/where you have compromised one value in pursuit of another. Then, raise the standard back to where it needs to be to develop “both-and” people, not “either-or” people.

Discipline 4: Cultivate team chemistry—how close relationships create a competitive advantage

While both teams pursue team chemistry in a variety of ways, my favorite part of this section talked about how one of the teams has what’s called Forced Family Fun nights. On these occasions, the players are required to get together and go to a movie, or have a game night, or participate in another team-oriented function. They don’t always like missing out on other events, but all of the players talk about how much this helps their relationships with each other. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, when we like someone we are more likely to work extra hard for them. As Zigarelli writes, part of team chemistry is “mutual feelings of loyalty and empathy for one another.” (pg. 113) This is more powerful than we realize. Says former coach Dave Brandt, “There is nothing more important than organizational culture. And it is 100 percent under your control.” (pg. 137)

Application: Have regular opportunities for relationship-building in your home and organization. As I wrote in my book, “If you take care of relationships, the results will take care of themselves.”

If you want to learn more about Mike Zigarelli and his book, listen to this great interview with him on the Way of Champions podcast, found on the Changing the Game Project website. There are also other amazing resources on this site, so be sure to check them out as well! https://changingthegameproject.com/mike-zigarelli/

Discipline 5: Link training to the match—what everyone knows but few can do

This may be the most soccer-specific principle, but it still applies elsewhere as well. In soccer, the idea here is to make every activity at practice useful and applicable to game situations. In life, the idea is to make sure that we are consciously training our audience using activities that are useful and applicable to their real lives. One example from our world is teaching our children to wash their own laundry and dishes and to cut the yard. These are life skills they will need when they move out on their own in just a few years. Often we hear about letting kids discover their own way, but often that’s simply an excuse for abdicating parental responsibility. As current women’s coach Scott Frey says, “Freedom becomes chaos without structure.” (pg. 141) Our job as leaders is to provide a framework in which freedom and creativity can be exercised safely.

Application: Honestly evaluate the training provided at your job, or the activities you do with your family to see if they are applicable in real life situations. If not, consider changing some of them to make them more relevant.

Discipline 6: Choreograph Game Day—Readiness by design

This is closely related to discipline 5 and again has to do with creating a structured environment. The purpose for choreographing certain things is to have an established, comfortable routine, and we all do this: think of your morning routine and how it often feels uncomfortable when that routine is upset by travel or other circumstances. As Dave Brandt said about preparing his players for games, “I’m anti-distraction. I try to eliminate these and set the team mindset.” (pg. 173)

Application: In our homes and at work, look for ways to eliminate distractions and set up helpful routines that allow your group to focus on the task at hand so that they are always ready for whatever may arise.

Discipline 7: Play to a standard—secret to sustaining success

Any successful person can tell you that what’s even harder than having success is sustaining it, often because complacency steps in. When we’ve set a goal and then reached it, our motivation wanes, and then we find ourselves having less success. Rather than focusing on just a goal, then, what we should focus on is reaching a standard of excellence every day. Pursue perfection, even if we’ll never reach it. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” (quoted on pg. 191). The idea is that “Playing to a standard means doing everything with utmost quality and distinction.” (pg. 191)

Application: Instead of being solely outcome-driven, we need to focus on doing the best we can in every situation, constantly seeking to improve. Coach Frey states it best: “When we play and train, it is so irrelevant what anybody else in the world is doing. I don’t care what this team or that program has done. It’s all about us and what we can achieve.” (pg. 190)

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, especially for soccer people but really for anyone interested in becoming a better leader. Give it a read and let me know how it helped you!

RLL 42: Lessons from the 'Worst Class in School'

Real Life Leading #42

Lessons from the 'Worst Class in School'

Happy Sunday, everyone! I'm excited this week to share with you a few things I've learned from what has been labeled 'the worst class in school' (I mentioned them in last week's blog post. You can find it here: https://reallifeleading.com/real-life-leading-blog/83ywznecpjax2f76fxktx8rkg6pzpy). Last week I mentioned the importance of setting high expectations early and to believe the best in people. This week I want to follow up with two others lessons associated with this group.

First, I find that it is vital to address the 'elephant in the room', the giant issue that everyone knows is there but most people refuse to acknowledge. The reason for this is simple: if you just ignore it, it continues to be an issue. For this class, the elephant in the room was their reputation and the things that have contributed to it: being disrespectful, constantly breaking rules (e.g. dresscode, gum-chewing, etc.), and generally being disinterested in their school work. So together we addressed these issues by discussing their importance, and once the students saw that there actually is a purpose for these things, their approach became somewhat more respectful. Keep in mind, though, that habits take time to break, and these are still kids after all. That's where it's important to have grace, and it also leads us to the second point.

The other important thing is to revisit the expectations daily or at least very regularly. Students shouldn't have to be reminded to follow the dress code; but neither should adults have to be reminded to follow the speed limit. And yet we need those reminders. Whether through simple forgetfulness (or, more likely, sinfulness), we tend to slack off. So in my class we revisited each issue once or twice during the week, reminding the students of the policies, but more importantly, reminding them of the progress they're already making in terms of changing their reputations.

I find that it's extremely important to "catch the students being good" (if I could remember who I heard that phrase from, I would gladly credit them!) and to show them that you saw what they were doing. Much of what I've shared this week has been strongly influenced by a book called 'The First Days of School' by Dr. Harry K. Wong. It's a must-read for every teacher, and I also believe the principles would be useful in any leadership setting.

So, this week in your world, be sure to address whatever 'elephants' are causing your group problems. Just remember to do so with patience, grace, and love, the same way we want people to address us when we're not doing what we should. Jesus has forgiven me for much bigger things than leaving my shirt untucked; therefore, I need to be willing to forgive students when they don't follow the rules in my classroom. Discipline still occurs, but it's done to teach and instruct, not to punish; again, in the same way God disciplines us. 

Thanks for your time, and feel free to share this article! Also, I'm still booking speaking engagements for the rest of 2018 and into 2019, so if you'd like to learn more or hear me in person, contact me via the form on the website, or email me at joel@speakerjoel.com. Thanks, and have an amazing rest of your day!