RLL 22: The Value of Values--Overcoming Adversity

RLL 22:  The Value of Values--Dealing With Adversity

This past week, my soccer team suffered its worst defeat in my five years in charge of the program, losing heavily to a cross-town rival. The very frustrating part was that we had just tied with this same team two weeks ago, and we thought we had a chance to actually beat them for the first time in years. Instead we lost 7-0, and it could have been worse. They outplayed us, outworked us, and it was clear that they had a lot more heart than we did on that particular night. So then the question became: what do we do to fix everything that went wrong? How do we deal with this adversity?

When things don't look so good, how does your group respond?

When things don't look so good, how does your group respond?

For any organization, the answer to those questions (How do we fix what is wrong? and How do we deal with adversity?) is in part already answered by the organization’s structure and values. But in part, the way an organization answers that question is also very much dependant upon how much the organization actually believes in and focuses on those values.

Let me illustrate: a couple of weeks ago, we had to do active shooter training at school, and one of the policemen in charge of the training made a great statement that I’d heard before but had not applied in this situation: people don’t rise to the occasion nearly as often as they fall to the level of their training, especially in high intensity and dangerous situations. Now, obviously, most of us are not going to be threatened with life or death situations on a daily basis (except people like policemen and firefighters, God bless and protect them). But I believe the statement is true for all of us: how we respond is in great part shaped by how well we have been trained and by the principles and values we stand for.

Human beings are creatures of habit, to the point where we often do not consciously think of what we are doing when responding to many given situations: we simply act in a way consistent with how we have responded to similar situations in the past until some new factor forces us to reevaluate our response. We brush our teeth the same way until we have too much sensitivity, then we change technique. We get gas at the same station until it’s unexpectedly closed on evening, and we have to ask ourselves where the next nearest station is. Thus, when real adversity arises, we will most likely respond however we have responded in the past, even if that response was not as helpful or productive as we would have liked.

How do we overcome this? By changing our habits to make them more consistent with our values, and by first making sure that our values are clear to our entire organization. With my soccer program, our motto is “Walk Worthy,” and it comes from a verse of Scripture that says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1-3 is the whole passage of our motto). This means that in every situation, we are to comport ourselves in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe: love others, value them above ourselves, and treat other people with respect no matter the circumstances.

How we respond is greatly shaped by what we stand for and what we see when we look around.

How we respond is greatly shaped by what we stand for and what we see when we look around.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often fail at this; yet it is our value system nonetheless, and so every new day is also a new opportunity to try to live up to these values better than I did the day before. And so it is with my soccer program and with whatever organization you are a part of. Whatever the values of your company, institution, family, or corporation, they will in large part shape how you respond to and try to overcome adversity.

One note of warning, however: often, what we say we believe and what we actually do in practice are different things. So if your organization is one in which backbiting or deception is common, then no amount of talking about your values is going to help until those problems are dealt with.

But back to the point: I mentioned at the beginning that part of how your group deals with adversity is already answered by the structure and values of your organization. This is what I meant: whatever you stand for, whatever you believe, these will greatly shape your response. The second part is how well you implement what you say you believe, and thus is is imperative that we as leaders do two things: 1) make sure that our values are clear and are understood by everyone within our influence; and 2) stand by our values, even when it would be easier not to. As the comedian Jon Stewart said, “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values; they’re hobbies.”

If you aren’t clear on what your group stands for, then make it a point to find out and educate your team on them before you face adversity. That way you have a starting point for dealing with the problem. Once you’re clear on your values, be sure to stand by them no matter the circumstances. Compromise is a great thing in terms of implementation of specific aspects of policy; but never compromise your values and beliefs.

Action Step:

Take a few moments this week to either figure out (if you don’t already know) or review (if you do know but have perhaps forgotten) your group’s core values and understand WHY they are your group’s values. Then make sure everyone on your team is clear about them as well. Be sure to email me and let me know how it goes and if I can help!

RLL 21: 'Pups Under the Bed: Consistency is Key'

'Pups Under the Bed: Consistency Is Key'

Last night, we had a pretty giant rainstorm. The noise of the rain woke both my wife and me in the dark hours of the early morning. The other noise that woke us, though, was of one of our dogs whining outside our bedroom door. This is not entirely unusual, because our newer dog (Bruiser) has a habit of waking us in the night to let him outside to go to the bathroom. However, when we heard the noise of the rain, we realized that 'outside' is the very last place this dog wanted to go right now. He wanted in our bedroom, where we were, because he was afraid of the storm.

The pups love getting to be on the couch at their grandparents' house!

The pups love getting to be on the couch at their grandparents' house!

Our other dog, Butterscotch, is also very afraid of storms: the noise, the lightning, all of it causes her to shudder and whine and find a place where she can bunker down until the weather improves. We don't know if our dogs are afraid of storms just as a part of their natural make-up--I know lots of pet owners have dogs with similar feelings about bad weather--or if it is more due to their background. What we do know is this: when there is bad weather, the dogs absolutely want to be wherever we are.

So when Bruiser woke us in the middle of the night, my wife got up and let Bruiser into our bedroom. Most nights he sleeps in my recliner in the den, in part because he likes it and in part because Bruiser is a bit of a loud sleeper most of the time: he's part bulldog and thus makes that snuffly-snoring noise a lot. But last night, after being allowed to come into our room, he was as quiet as a mouse. When I woke up this morning, both dogs came crawling out from under our bed (that's Butterscotch's usual sleep spot at night), ready to begin the day.

In that moment, I was struck by the dogs and how they operate like clockwork: when there is bad weather, they find us. They need to know that they are going to be protected and safe and dry. They need consistency, and they need to be reassured about it on a regular basis. And I find this is true in our positions of leadership as well. We need to provide models of consistency and stability for our audiences: our children, our employees, our players, whatever it may be.

They also love getting into the recliner whenever anyone sits down! 

They also love getting into the recliner whenever anyone sits down! 

This principle is true throughout life: we may not always like or agree with whatever the rules are, but as long as they are being enforced consistently we can live with them. On the other side of the coin, when there is a situation that needs to be reconciled, we appreciate knowing that whoever is in charge will take care of it, and that provides us with stability and confidence in our leaders. This is the type of leadership we should strive to exercise: consistent and stable.

When we are inconsistent with our leadership, when we only enforce the rules occasionally, there will almost always be problems. This is true in a home when a child never really knows the boundaries because the parents are permissive one day and ultra-strict the next (for more on this, read any of the amazing books by Dr. Kevin Leman). This is true in a town when the laws are applied unfairly, even seemingly small things such as who gets pulled over in a speed trap. This is true in a company when certain employees are allowed to get away with shirking their duties while others have to pick up the slack. Inconsistency always leads to confusion, and this almost inevitably turns into frustration and anger.

Remember how frustrating it was as a child when your sibling got away with something that you got in trouble for? Or as a student when some classmates got away with the same behavior that got you reprimanded? Or even as an adult when we see injustice in the news or in our own towns? These issues are all due to inconsistency in leadership, and it is up to us, the leaders, to provide the consistency and stability that can solve these problems.

So today, let's commit to being consistent leaders, leaders who can be depended upon for stability in our organizations. Let us provide our audiences with confidence, because they know that whatever happens, we will be there to help sort it out. This will require wisdom, and it will require humility, so also be sure to ask a few trusted advisers to point out to you any areas of inconsistency that they see, in order that you can improve in these areas.

Action Step: Look for areas of inconsistency in your life and leadership, and decide on one way in which you can address the issue and provide more consistency for those in your charge.