The Problem with Stars

Every team has its “star.” The naturally gifted athlete. The incredibly imaginative artist. The achingly effortless musician. The amazingly smart student.

One of the challenges for any leader is what to do with a star.

In many sports, they build teams around them. The Angels and Mike Trout. The New England Patriots and Tom Brady. The LA Lakers and Magic Johnson.

But still, on a day to day basis, what do you do with a star? Do you encourage them “be a good team member” (often meaning, share the time, resources, attention with everyone else)? Do you just let the star be the star?

When I was in high school, my best friend’s twin brother played basketball, so when the season ended and post-season, championship play began, we went to the games. His team won the Catholic league championship which was the ticket to the state finals against East Lansing High School.

During warm-ups, we noticed something sort of odd. This sort of short East Lansing player (like maybe 5’2″ or 5’3″) never took a shot. All he did was pass the ball to this other, much taller player whose every shot dropped perfectly through the hoop.

When the game got under way, it was clear that the short East Lansing player was running the show. With different numbered fingers in the air, he set up and ran the play. The odd thing was that during almost every play, the ball ended up in that same tall player’s hands — and in the basket.

By halftime, we sat their amazed, jaws dropping, eyes pealed, categorically amazed. During the break, we asked who that player was, and her older brother said, “Earvin Johnson.”

By the end of the game, Earvin “Magic” Johnson had scored 44 points (I recall) and single-handedly beat their opponent.

By the end of the game, I learned something about how to handle a star. Let them be one when the situation dictates it. For his high school team, the state championship led to college careers that some of their probably had never dreamed were possible. And they had ridden to the championship on his abilities.

When Magic became a pro (and I actually watched pro basketball because I was living in Chicago during the Michael Jordan years), I learned something else about how to handle a star. When you surround them with gifted players, those stars who have learned to be humble about who and what they are will play well with others and share the ball, sacrifice the body, make the other look better than they think they are.

Ministry stars are much the same. Sometimes you give them the stage and let them lead 20,000+ people in prayer, song, and praise (thank you, Jesse Manibusan.) Sometimes you give them silence and a piano, and let them inspire (thanks, Sarah Hart.) And sometimes you give them an idea and just let them go (thank you, Meredith and Mark.)

Other times, you surround them with other faith-filled leaders, and let them struggle to serve those who hunger for peace, justice, compassion, and knowledge.

The problem with stars isn’t that that they are stars. It’s that we sometimes don’t know how to direct their light and shine it on others as well as on them. That’s what Jesus did for us, now it’s our turn to do it for others.

 

What Inspires You?

One of our members, World Library Publications, is issuing 3 new recordings on vinyl this year. So, when I got word of these new recordings–one is Bing Crosby and the Christmas story–I got jazzed.

See, tucked away in a cabinet in our library is my stack of records ranging from “The Carpenters” to “Pebbles and Bam-Bam’s Christmas” (yes, really!), and a collection of 78s from the Big Band era.

Records were the soundtrack of my life growing up. They accompanied me in my low moments, sang me out of my doldrums, and celebrated the mountain experiences. Because I would listen to them from start to finish (never just one song), I lived through a whole range of emotions and experiences by the time the last song ended. My faith was formed by Ray Repp, “Joy Is Like the Rain,” and Followers of the Way.

Most people would say that music inspires them. Some music, somewhere. At least once in a lifetime.

What music inspires you?

Why?

I learned that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be (“Free to Be You and Me.”) This special and album spearheaded by Marlo Thomas inspired me to look beyond societal boundaries. It helped me believe that I was as capable as the next equally talented and skilled person in the room.

I learned to observe and experience with all of my senses through Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and then Ravel’s orchestration of it. It started as a college “Symphonic Appreciation” assignment, but it captivated my already-nerdy inclination toward museums. The original piano piece added an aural dimension to the visual that has never let me go. It challenges me look at decisions from different points of view, and stop and engage when something doesn’t immediately grab me.

I also learned how to be present in prayer before God. When I was about middle school age, a group of young adults recorded 2 albums as the Followers of the Way. I spent a lot of time listening to, singing with, and dancing to these songs. As I was growing into my faith, they helped me find God in the world, in my family, and in myself.

So, what 3 songs (or albums) have contributed to the score of your life and ministry, and why? How do you still see and hear them resonating in your work and ministry?

Three Steps Ahead

I am a terrible chess player.

When I was in middle school, my younger brother learned to play chess. Since it’s a paired activity, I also learned so that we could theoretically play with each other.

I know he isn’t a savant, but my brother was exceptionally good at chess within days. Really.

You might think, “well, big deal, that’s one thing.” It isn’t. I also learned to play tennis and golf with him. Within a few lessons or rounds, he had exceeded the skill of the teacher or best player in the vicinity. My brother is what you call a “natural athlete.” But more importantly, he has a naturally strategic eye.

Standing at the opposite end of a tennis court, I could see it at work, though I couldn’t catch up to it. The moment he had committed to serving the ball, he saw three steps ahead to where he was going to place the ball so I couldn’t return it. The worst part is that I could see him doing it, but was powerless to stop it because I couldn’t see three, let alone, four steps ahead.

Being able to envision the steps of a strategy multiple steps ahead of those with whom you interact is an incredible gift. This gift gives you the ability to anticipate, prepare, and respond (rather than react) using your best tools or offering your best response rather than just any tool or response.

But not all leaders have it. And in my lifetime, I haven’t come across many ways to gain it.

So, what do folks like you and me do? Three things.

We study. In chess, there are books written ad nauseam about the strategies for chess that one can research and memorize. The better we know the options in our field or about a situation, the more we can learn about all of the possible strategies ahead.

We practice. I have this same strategy problem with the game of bridge–especially knowing what card to lead when playing in no trump. I practice by watching and analyzing my husband’s play. He knows precisely what card to play when in order to make his bid. Same principle. Talk through scenarios with those you trust until you feel confident.

We get advice. The smartest people in the room are smartest when they acknowledge what they don’t know, and ask others for their advice. It’s surprising sometimes to find that the people around you are sometimes wiser than you think. Talk to the parents, participants, other staff about the situation. Listen to the stories of how they responded in a similar situation, and learn from those.

Three steps to getting ahead: study, practice, and advice. Do all three and you may increase your chances of returning a serve or expecting the unexpected challenge in your ministry.

“God Once Saw How Good It Was!”

Keynote presentation by Archbishop Wilton Gregory on the theme of the blessings of creation at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress.

“God saw how good it was” that special phrase appears five times in those opening passages of the Book of Genesis as the sacred text describes how the Lord God was obviously admiring His works of creation.  It is now our spiritual and moral obligation to “see how good it is” the created world that God has now entrusted to our care.  It’s not merely good because it is profitable or usable or exploitable.  First and foremost, it is good because it reflects God’s goodness itself.  In the very act of creation, God was bestowing upon all of nature an undeniable reflection of His own Divine Goodness.  The apex of that reflection is to be found in the women and men entrusted with God’s handiwork. Human beings are God’s creation that most perfectly reflects His Own Divinity.  If we are to begin to safeguard God’s creation, we must launch an increased reverence for every human life.  We must be so grateful for those whose concerns for the planet draw our attention to its fragility.  Yet we must first safeguard human life as the very starting point of environmental security. The life of human beings enjoys a priority of importance in the environmental concerns because those who have been entrusted with the care of creation must themselves be safeguarded in order to accomplish our Divine assignment of caring for His creation.

For the complete text

Why Should Someone Trust You?

How do we determine that someone should be trusted? Is there a definitive test that we subject others to that gets us to a reliable and defensible answer? Are there black-and-white criteria with boxes that we check off as we reach a pre-determined grade or score?

Would that trust were so easy.

We are seeing this question played out practically every day in the political environment. We watch and read bellicose statements that sound more authoritarian and bullying than collaborative and bridge-building.

On the other hand, Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, today included this statement in his remarks to the staff at State: “Hi. I’m the new guy.” With a bit of candor and humility, he may have gained a few points toward the trust that he will need to lead the country in its foreign policy.

We’ve seen the former in our Church, too. We are not exempt. And gratefully, we have heard the latter as well. For folks like me, we were fortunate enough to hear Cardinal Joseph Bernadin refer to himself as “our brother.”

But words are words. And we know it. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” we think, even if we don’t say it.

It’s our actions that speak loudly, and tend to be the building blocks of trust.

Within a few months of starting a new job, I realized that there was a great deal of mistrust between my committee and my position. My predecessor had not followed through on their decisions, and they were mad. With good reason. “Trust me” because I was new wasn’t going to cut it. So I chose actions–regular, detailed communication, opening the budget, as much transparency as possible. Slowly, we built trust between us.

Officials were suspicious of Jesus. His words were probably familiar since there had been others who claimed to be the prophet, the savior, the messiah during his time. It was his actions that distinguished him, and earned the trust of his followers–sitting next to a Samaritan woman at the well, touching the unclean, spending hours and days with the poor and dispossessed.

Let’s leave our words aside, and look at what actions we can take to build the bonds of trust that we need as a Catholic community.

Are You Ready for What Comes Next?

ornamentReadiness is the “value of the season” now that we have passed into Advent. In the lead-up to the season, it’s hard to miss what the “what” is — the Kingdom of God — but as often happens at this time of year, I find I’m, um, stuck.

In The Christmas Ornament, a Hallmark Channel movie (we are big fans even though they start Christmas movies right after Halloween), the main character struggles with her grief over the death of her husband during the last year. She meets someone who helps her to start seeing what might come next in her life. But she gets stuck. At the end of the movie, she realizes that the answer to what comes next is a great, big question mark, and she is ready to start the journey to discover what “next” is.

I find the dramatic arc of a 2 hour movie–beginning, middle, and end–very comforting. Even more hilarious because my husband accents each one with the exclamation, “I’m going to go out on a limb . . .” quickly followed by the obvious “that ___________ are going to fall in love” or whatever the obvious final scene might be.

Not so much Advent.

Just because Christmas comes doesn’t mean that the readying has been complete or that we have arrived at what comes next.

And, well, duh, that is the point, right?

While Advent and Christmas draw lines in the proverbial sand, the movement of each is endless and timeless. We are never fully ready nor is the Kingdom ever fully here. But we as humans would tire too easily and quickly if the journey extended to the end we know nothing about. Think of the Israelites who spent 40 years in the desert on a journey to a home that many never saw. They tired, grew weary, looked for short-cuts, and were steered back on the path by their prophets and leaders.

Our journey is unknowably long and tiring, too. But we need weigh stations along the way to celebrate the distance we have come before we face the distance that still lies ahead. Maybe we need to hear our contemporary prophets point out where the path is that cuts through the many “-isms” we face lies. Maybe we need to admit that all we’re ever going to experience is the journey, but others will arrive at the endpoint.

Maybe that is the point after all.

 

What Is Your Duty?

legalWhat is our “duty”?

We’ve been debating this question (whether we acknowledge it or not) in other arenas for quite some time. You needn’t look any farther than the TV in your living room on any given Sunday regardless of the season and see a baseball, basketball, hockey, or football player who has exhibited the kind of behavior that would have been considered disgraceful by icons like Vince Lombardi (look him up!)

Yelling “what would Vince Lombardi say” is one of my husband’s favorite activities. Very square, tie-tied-tightly, short-haired Vince Lombardi enforced a code of behavior that recognized the public character of the game and its players. And as a coach in Green Bay, the American “Mecca” of football (sorry, Dallas), Lombardi understood that his duty was clearly to the profession and the public, to be the model for good behavior and morals, to go beyond the rule book.

And today we face the question of where is our duty, to the rules and laws or to what is ethical and right.

Is our duty to ourselves as individuals? Or is it to the community at large with whom we interact on a daily basis? Are the rules for those interactions strict and limited, or should we expect ourselves to go beyond them and adhere to a higher standard?

While an action may be legal, the question is, is it ethical? And with that question, we must answer, what is our duty, to do what is in the best interest of our selves or the best interest of others?

4 Leadership Fit-Ness Tests

officeOn a somewhat regular basis, I receive notifications of open leadership positions which got me thinking about what are some of the key leadership questions I ask as an employer and a potential employee.

Here are 4 of them. A word of caution. They may overlap, but it is rare that any given individual possesses all of the qualities.

  1. Are you an “ambassador” or an “administrator?” My experience has been that most top leaders, especially those with decision-making authority, fall into one of these two categories. An “ambassador” is the type of leader that prefers to be outward facing, e.g., is good at being the face of the ministry or field, is in demand as a speaker, and wants to out in the field pushing the mission of the organization. An “administrator” tends to be the leader whose strengths are focused in-house, on staff, implementing vision and mission, and engaging members in the best possible way. They prefer that others are the face of the organization–perhaps the president or chair of the board or the admired “all-stars.”
  2. What part of the lifecycle of a ministry or organization is the most life-giving for you? Marketing people talk about lifecycles of products, e.g., it’s created new,  it hopefully rises in awareness and popularity, then steadies off when it is in its prime, and starts to level off or weaken as other products enter the category. Ministry and organizations are like this too. And use the number of years that the ministry in the parish or the organization has been around.Ministries and organizations have multiple lifecycles, especially if they are attentive to reinventing themselves as the field and marketplace changes. I work for a 26-year-old organization that is really in start-up mode. We have been in a 5-6 year process of reinventing what benefits we offer and how we want to support the Catholic publishing industry.Most importantly, though, know what part of that lifecycle gives you life. Do you like the challenge of making a dream reality or are you best at keeping the boat moving in the right direction?

    And this leads to the next question.

  3. Is your strength in creating things or implementing them? This question could be rewritten in a Myers-Briggs way (a personality inventory), and read, “Are you a P or a J?” We all possess some of both, but the question is where is your home base? Every aspect of the lifecycle requires each of this, but some require more of the other from the leader. In start-up mode, creativity may be key to taking a new vision and putting it into action.
  4. Lastly, what personal, professional, and emotional need will this leadership role fill for you? I admire veteran ministry leaders because most have chosen their field because it fulls something in each of these categories. But here’s the thing. I’ve seen people (and been one) who have moved from parish ministry to diocesan ministry who eventually felt like their new role didn’t really impact the lives of people like their old job did. I’ve been, and this is tough. That’s why the “emotional” part of it is key. It may be that you had a personal and professional goal to work at the diocesan level, but once you get there, you may find that it does not fill your emotional need. Watch out for that! And it you run into it, fix it. Trust me, you won’t be satisfied if you don’t.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

seniorIn the last year, there has been a veritable procession of departures at the top leadership levels among my member publishers. Based on the beautiful “good-bye” emails that I’ve received, I compiled a list of issues that were considered in answer to the question, “Should I stay or should I go now?”

  1. Age: For those who have retired, age is an obvious marker. When we reach our 60s and even 70s, retirement is definitely on the radar screen, and hopefully has been part of the plan for a while. But I’m seeing more and more people leave a job in their late 40s and 50s. There are personal and family reasons, and then there is the issue of . . .
  2. Tenure: And I’m not talking like in the academic world. Many companies and organizations have a “Rule of XX” for retirement which is usually a combination of age and years of service. I’ve met a number of people who started with the organization out of high school or in their early 20s, and are now in their mid- to late 50s and they meet that rule. For some, they may see a change in leadership or direction that is more than just a gentle bend in the road. For others, they may see that they have dedicated a significant portion of their professional career to one thing, and it’s time to find a new “thing.”
  3. Balance: We’ve been bombarded with work-life balance articles and how-to’s, but balance is a key criteria. Whether you want to spend more time with your grandchildren, children, spouse, or community, balance is a good lifetime practice. No minute of any day can ever be replayed, so making choices that make each moment rich and fulfilling is key.
  4. Goals: When you made your current choice, what did you set out to accomplish? Have you met those goals? Now, what else do you want to accomplish? And where? What other opportunities are there out there that interest me?
  5. Call: Have you been faithful to God’s call to you and generous in using the gifts He has bestowed on you? Is there something you have been unable to respond to for whatever reason? How and where can you respond, or is there a new call that is leading you in a different direction?

One Tip on Healthy Culture

Blessed SacramentIf there is one lesson to be learned from this political season, it is how silence can breed mistrust and transparency can feed trust.

Catholics have many positive experiences of silence. The pause between an intercession and the words, “We pray to the Lord . . .” Or the grander silences like the incensing of the altar and preparation of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday.

In our secular experience, we often keep silent and do not talk about those things we share in common–“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”–because we do share them.

However, this political year has shown us the high price for not talking about things.

On Sunday when my children’s choir led the music, one of the 6-year-olds looked up at me during the Eucharistic Prayer and asked me what the “round thing” in the priest’s hand was. I said, “It’s Jesus.” He mumbled, “It looks like a round thing.” I repeated it again, “It’s Jesus.” He looked away and the conversation ended.

But I stood there, looking at my eight 6-year-olds, knowing that they would be preparing for First Communion next year, thinking about how easy it was for me to just believe what was happening in the reverent silence, and how hard it was to explain it satisfactorily to a 6-year-old.

His understanding and trust in transubstantiation won’t come through osmosis by silently looking at the elevated host. It didn’t for me–or you. It will take lots of explanation, lots of tumbling around in his brain, lots of conversations and questions before he will be able to trust in our shared Catholic belief about the mystery of the Eucharist.

And if people like me and his parents and his teachers don’t take the time to talk with him about it over the years, he’ll make up his own mind . . . When that day comes (if it comes, please, no!), it will be near impossible for him to trust in any different understanding because those of us around him have been silent.

Bottom line: Information and transparency build trust. If we want to create a healthy culture, we must articulate what we know and believe first–and often–before we can settle into the silence of assumed agreement. And even then, we cannot be afraid to talk about them again and again and again.