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.

The Secret to Achieving the Awesome

By guest blogger, Terry Modica, Good News Ministries, gnm.org

BikeWhat’s the gold you’re pursuing? What treasure? What awesome goal? What new spiritual height? What overcoming of wounds or sin?

My husband and I recently began riding our bikes every morning. The gold we seek is weight loss and stronger knees and backs. For weeks we rode merrily around our neighborhood with only minor results.

Then I watched the Olympics. I listened to the interviews of winners. And one important message came through: True athletes don’t practice their skill so much that gradually their body improves enough to run farther or jump higher or swim faster than the competition. They don’t wait for that. I had been waiting on my legs muscles to improve enough to bike farther and faster. That’s a mistake. I was slowing down whenever my muscles cried out, “That’s enough pushing for now! You’ve reached the pain threshold.”

True progress is made only by reaching the pain threshold and pushing through it.

Keep going when it hurts; push harder — this is when you begin to make a difference.

Pain while exerting muscles comes from a buildup of lactic acid. If we choose not to focus on the pain but on the goal instead, and if we remain motivated by our passionate desire to reach that goal, lactic acid won’t stop us. Lactic acid is just a reminder that we’re succeeding: We’re getting closer to the gold. Hooray!

What’s the lactic acid that’s been keeping you from being all that you’re called by God to be? What do you wish you could accomplish but you’ve reached the threshold of pain and this has kept you from moving forward?

I’ve changed how I ride my bike for exercise. It’s no longer a question of, “How much longer can I ride today because I’ve built up my muscle strength?” Now it’s, “Go faster! Push harder! No pain, no gain.” My bike ride takes less time, but now I return home panting and aching and feeling awesome about the new, improved results.

The pain isn’t as noticeable when we keep our eyes on the goal. If I focus on the top of the hill, I get up the hill faster, because the lactic acid in my legs is not the center of my attention.

What’s the gold beyond your own pain threshold? Trust Jesus, work those faith muscles till they hurt, and keep your focus on the gold¬†that God wants to give to you. This will make you a winner every time!

Rule #2: Share All Relevant Information

When sharing information, I’m pretty much the queen of starting with A, then B, and then jumping to J, K, and L, and finishing right with T. With all of those gaps in between, no wonder I get blank stares or long, silent pauses once I stop speaking.

It isn’t intentional. At least, not consciously. The adage that “information is power” is frighteningly true, but many of us withhold information out of negligence rather than malice.

To break the habit, try these 4 things.Board's Role

  1. List out the information that you are trying to share. Then go back and ask yourself the journalist’s 5 “W’s”–who, what, where, when, why,–plus “how.” Anticipate the information that you may be excluding.
  2. Practice a conversational style where you encourage your colleague or partner to question you about the information you have shared. It’s important to realize that what you think is relevant might not be relevant to them, and vice versa.
  3. If you have newsprint or a board available, map out the information. Start with the central piece of information you are sharing, then draw lines extending outward. On each line walk through–as a group–what additional information is needed to fully understand the information. Keep adding sublines until you all agree that what you have is complete. (See “mindmaps” for a great illustration of this.”
  4. Practice a little humility, and confess straight out that you know you will forget to share something, and give your colleagues permission to ask questions as they need to.

 

Striving for What Could Be (Part 2)

objectsMy graduate strategies professor taught us his proprietary method that is based on three questions, the first of which is, “What do you got?”

Though intended for secular and for-profit industries, I find the question rivetingly helpful when thinking about strategy in a ministry or non-profit setting.

This question forces me to look at the resources in front of me — personnel, budget, physical materials. And to look at the reality of them. My budget is limited to what my budget is. Period. In my office, “personnel” is me, not the 2nd or 3rd person I wish I could hire. Just me.

Interesting thing. As soon as I started looking at “what I got,” I started to see things that I didn’t realize I had. Plus I could see how different pieces fit together in ways I hadn’t expected.

That’s when the “could be” started to emerge. And all because I looked deeply into what I already had.

Acknowledge What Is (Part 1)

stepsThere is a dialectic between what is (e.g., reality) and what could be.

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for everything, including a time to acknowledge what is, the reality, and recognize it for what it is — in all its messiness, creativity, craziness, lack, and fullness.

As leaders, we try to uphold our strategies and visions with every might of energy we have. But there is a time when it is important and necessary to acknowledge what is before us — the reality, what “is.”

The reality before us is the first step toward what could be. Until we see and accept what is, we have no hope of achieving what could be.