Advance or Protect?

Last week I tweeted something I've been thinking a lot about recently - not necessarily specifically related to anything on my radar, but also not removed from some of the questions and thoughts I am asking and thinking as a leader in my particular context.

"At some point as a leader you have to decide if your objective is to advance or hold ground. You can't normally do both."

Think back to your days playing Capture the Flag. You can't take ground and protect the fort at the same time. You have to decide your strategy, and it means one or the other.

Now certainly in the overall war we might be protecting and advancing at the same time; that's not my point. My point is that as a leader in a specific objective, you're going to have to choose.

A product cannot be "new and improved" and celebrate that it is "the same as it's always been."

A company can't explore something never before seen if they are committed to only going places they've always been.

It is impossible for something to be cutting-edge and tried-and-true at the same time.

The difference isn't between right and wrong. Advancing isn't always better than protecting, or vice versa. Clear Coke advanced when Coca-Cola should have been protecting Coke Classic. IBM protected its turf while Apple and Microsoft advanced an open architecture model. You can choose to advance or protect and either one can be the right (or wrong) decision. But you can't do both.

Whatever it is you're responsible for leading, a primary question to ask is whether or not you're advancing something or protecting something. Either one could get you killed,  but fail to choose and you're a sitting duck.

Processing Sundays on Mondays

Every pastor I know struggles with Sundays on Monday. I have a good friend whose habit I have adopted. He refuses to take Monday off. The letdown after Sunday is often so profound that he says, "if I'm going to feel this crummy, someone ought to be paying me to do it." 

Sundays are a little bit like Christmas, and a little bit like Halloween. They're like Christmas in that the anticipation and planning of several weeks comes together in a huge celebration. 

Sundays are like Halloween in that most people approach you wearing a mask, and it isn't until they begin talking that you know what's underneath. Since pastors are only able to engage with many members of their congregation one day a week, it's necessity that most of the kind words of people get saved for Sunday. The gripes do too. 

I'm certainly not complaining - it's what I signed up for. But the result of Sunday for any pastor can be a disorienting mixture of adrenaline, emotion, praise, and criticism. Most pastors I know spend a large part of Monday trying to catch their bearings and get back on the horse. 

I read the story below on a Monday morning, and it immediately connected with me when it comes to the roller coaster of Halloween that I find myself processing on Mondays. Really old guys have a tendency to say really smart things. 

(HT: Michael Hyatt)

"A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be [sanctified].’ So the old man said, ‘Go to the cemetery and insult the dead.’ The brother went there, hurled insults and stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, ‘Didn’t they say anything to you?’ He replied, ‘No.’

“The old man said, ‘Go back tomorrow and praise them.’ So the brother went away and praised them, calling them Apostles, saints and blessed people. He returned to the old man and said to him, ‘I have complimented them.’ And the old man said to him, ‘Did they not answer you?’ the brother said, ‘No.’

“The old man said to him, ‘You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you, too, if you wish to be [sanctified] must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of others or their praises, and you can be [sanctified].’”

Pastors and Political Endorsements

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas is in the news. Again. (Texas Pastor Stands Ground On "Cult" Comment Against Mormons)

I've met Dr. Jeffress on a couple of occasions. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy. I have some good friends who either are or have been members at churches he has pastored in the past and they love him. I have no reason to suspect that Dr. Jeffress is anything other than a wonderful man, but I'm disappointed to see him making headlines this way again.

First of all, pastors need to get out of the business of "personally endorsing" political candidates. The whole idea that this is a personal endorsement is hogwash in the first place. Unless your name is Joe the Plumber, the only reason anyone cares about your "personal endorsement" is that you have a position to be leveraged.

Second of all, to drop a bomb like saying "Mormonism is a cult" while introducing a candidate reeks of a disingenuous, selfish publicity stunt. Even if you agree with what Jeffress said (which I absolutely do, though the word "cult" carries some baggage and innuendo that doesn't paint the LDS church clearly or in a way that is helpful), to surprise a political candidate by handing his campaign this little "October Surprise" was either a foolish mistake or an intentional play to stir-up some controversy with Dr. Jeffress in the middle of it. I choose to believe the former, though it isn't much better than the latter.

Thirdly, if you're going to do something like this as a pastor, you might as well take the opportunity to tell people about Jesus. Jeffress mentioned that Mormonism started 1800 years after Christianity. Fine, but that doesn't make it a cult. People in Paul's day made the same claim about Christianity starting thousands of years after Judaism. How about some talk about the fact that Mormons believe in is a different Jesus; different salvation; different Gospel? Take the time to explain salvation by grace through faith through what Christ did on the cross. If you're going to use up the spotlight, at least go the distance. Let people know what you're for; not just what you're against.

When it comes down to it, I'm less worried about Dr. Jeffress being the "Jeremiah Wright of the right," and more worried about him being the "Pat Robertson of the right." When a pastor's message is that our hope for "push[ing] back against the evil that is engulfing our country" is found in a political candidate, we're in big trouble.

What I've Learned as a Leader From Steve Jobs

Not many people get to say they've changed the world. Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, could. If you've ever posted a picture to the internet, downloaded a song online, or done both of those things on the same device as you talk to your office on, you've benefited from Steve Jobs' leadership. Even if you've never used an Apple product, their presence and innovation pushed the market in a direction it might not have gone otherwise.

I'm not a CEO of a for-profit company. I'm not an Apple afficianado - I have an iPhone and an iPad because nobody else is doing what they're doing, but I don't have any brand loyalty. If someone else made something truly better, I'd buy it instead. And, I don't necessarily want to lead like Steve Jobs. His leadership style was legendary for being crass, condescending, and focused solely on the bottom line. We're trying to do vastly different things.  However, here are a few things I've learned from Steve Jobs.

1. Simplicity and focus can change the world. There were mp3 players on the market before the iPod, but they were nearly impossible to use. In a market where billions of things were technologically possible, he introduced a device with one button; a device that fulfilled one function. And sold gagillions. Jobs said, "That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

2. Presentation Matters. If you cut corners you can't be trusted, and you have to go all the way. I love this quote (that I read in the Wall Street Journal, not the magazine where it originally appeared). "When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” Function isn't the only thing that matters; form matters too.

3. Intuitive systems allow for passionate followers. My two-year old can use my iPhone, and I didn't have to teach him. That's why people are so passionate about Apple products... you don't need to be a rocket scientist to be a power-user and do incredible things. People don't want to spend all their time figuring out your systems; they want to do something, create something, change the world. If your products, services, messages, or organizations are so complex they take forever to figure out, they'll go the way of the IBM computer. If your systems accommodate functionality without getting in the way of it, people will fall all over themselves to be involved with whatever you're doing.