Articles about relationships with one another and our ability to be in relationship with God.

Every Chameleon Knows Its Color: Being Adaptable AND Authentic

When I was in college, I worked at a pet store in the mall, and I fell in love with a cute little chameleon. I wore my hair in a bun on top of my head at the time, and I would place him on my bun and he’d hold on while I walked around the store greeting customers (talk about your conversation starter).  I got a kick out of placing him near my brown apron and watching him change colors…sometimes. When he wasn’t clinging to my bun or my apron, I would observe him in his terrarium.  As I watched little “Charma Chameleon”, I wanted to know more about those fascinating creatures. As someone who moved around a lot as child and adapted to repeated change, I could relate to my tiny friend. And as I reflect, I see that we have some important characteristics in common. We both knew:

Being adaptable doesn’t mean not knowing who you are.  Chameleons change color only as needed. If they are on a leaf, they are green if they need to be green, and if they are on a branch, they are brown if they need to be brown. But when it’s not near anything it needs to adapt to, it knows what color to show. The chameleon was aware of his authentic self and comfortable with who he knew himself to be.

Adapting is a conscious choice – Chameleons change their color to reflect their moods and to camouflage themselves. It is both a communication tool and a defense mechanism that allows them to survive. When our communities, organizations and world undergo change, it is those who choose to adapt to the change that thrive in it. Ultimately, a chameleon knows why he must adapt and that understanding keeps him from making arbitrary change.

As leaders, we need to be adaptable AND authentic. Like chameleons, we know who we are, we know our values, we know our “true colors”. But we also recognize the value of adapting to changes in our environment.

We Honored His Wishes But Broke Their Hearts

When my boys were young, they loved to climb up and down each other…isn’t that just like boys? If they weren’t climbing, they were balancing or just rolling on the floor. With four of them, there was no shortage of playmates, and my husband and I enjoyed countless hours of watching (and participating in) their playfulness. It created a bond that could never be broken.

On January 11, 2014, that bond was tested. After 3 battles with cancer in 3 years, Malcolm received his wings at 21 years old. But they came at a cost to their bond, they came at the cost of trust. When Malcolm received confirmation that his cancer had returned and was inoperable, we began to brace ourselves for the worst. He had made it clear after his first bout with the deadly disease that he would never agree to chemotherapy again; so that left surgery. This saved his life when the cancer returned and was just centimeters from his heart, but when it came back “with a vengeance” in the fall of 2013, there was no knife made to stop it.

So we begged him to consider chemo. He refused for months, scouring the internet insisting there must be other options, but he knew there were none. Time went on and we felt the sands of time escaping every day, but we had to honor his wishes. My husband locked hands with me and prayed out to God, asking Him to comfort us, because as he said to the Father, “He was yours before he was ours”. Those words gave us both peace as we entered the holidays full of uncertainty but filled with faith.

In a sudden change of heart, Malcolm agreed to have chemo. But it was December, and the aggressive cancer that had been detected 3 months prior had been filling his lungs. We jumped into chemo mode, making schedules and getting him fed. But his doctors were clear, the chemo would just “buy him some time”, he was now considered terminal.  He signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and we prepared ourselves to prepare ourselves…one step at a time. We could barely process the information ourselves, and Malcolm didn’t want his little brothers to know, so we had to honor his wishes.

As Christmas neared, Malcolm began to experience even more discomfort (both from the cancer and the effects of the chemo). So to our surprise and amazement, he spent Christmas with his Dad, me, and his youngest brother, Matthew (while our 2 other boys went out of town with his mom…blended, remember!). He wanted to sleep on our sofa, because he said it was the most comfortable place to lay, and after losing so much weight again, he needed the extra padding. He was too weak to leave the sofa, so we had family over for Christmas Eve and played games  while cousins and aunts took turns curling up with him. But we never said it was his last Christmas, because we didn’t know for sure, and we had to honor his wishes. Being bound to the sofa wasn’t terrible because it kept him close to the kitchen, and I cooked all day, keeping his appetite stimulated by the smell of food. He began to regain some strength, and he eagerly awaited Christmas morning because he couldn’t wait to see the look on Matthew’s face. I have to imagine he thought it would look a lot like this picture, because Malcolm was surprising him with a new PlayStation! He was so excited, he could hardly sleep! That morning, he got the bright eyed screaming “Thank You!” he was hoping for, and Matthew spent the day playing his new game. Malcolm was too weak to leave the sofa, so I went to visit family that live a few blocks away to continue the Christmas tradition we had. When I got back home, I started to clean up, but he patted the sofa next to him, signaling for me to sit next to him and snuggle under the blanket, which I did because, despite a dirty kitchen, I had to honor his wishes.

He stayed at our house for a few more days and I cooked, cleaned, snuggled and laughed with him. He left our house the day after New Year’s (after spending NYE “babysitting” his youngest brothers). He was getting weaker and even needed a walker to get around the house. He went back to his mom’s house and we spoke with him daily. When we visited him after church the following Sunday, he was emaciated and frail. My heart shattered when I saw him, but I convinced myself that he would swing back from the chemo. Two days later, he had difficulty breathing and was rushed to the hospital (his only remaining lung had collapsed and he couldn’t breathe). He was in the ICU, clearly in pulmonary distress on Tuesday, but the next day he was up and laughing with the nurses. He took a turn for the worse and we gathered the boys to say good-bye, but none of us could use those words. While there was still a chance, we had to remain positive, leaving the hospital cheering for him and hoping for a turn-around. By late Friday, it didn’t look like he would return to us, and we braced ourselves to gather again and say good-bye for real. But Saturday morning came and he breathed his last breathe before we could get to him. We weren’t ready… his brothers were caught off guard… and our hearts were broken in pieces. Instead of having a “peaceful transition”, we were all kicked in the gut as if he’d died suddenly in a car accident. Years later, I’m  still tormented by the thought of having just one more day. I still hear the words of a tiny 10-year old boy in shock shouting “but I didn’t get to say good-bye!”  Malcolm didn’t want us mourning until he was gone, and he certainly didn’t want his baby brother to know so close to Christmas. So as hard as that was to do, we had to honor his wishes.

If You Want Something Done Right…

I was guilty of finishing this sentence incorrectly; the common way: If you want something done right, do it yourself!.  But that is a sure fire way to end up overwhelmed and frustrated, surrounded by demoralized people. I grumbled it in the kitchen to my children (and my husband) and I said it to more than one colleague at work. Ouch! Thankfully, I learned not only to not say this out loud, but to not believe it in my heart. You see, even if you don’t utter these words, they will ooze out of your pores like the venom from rare toads in the Amazon. It reflects a heart condition of pride, piousness, and perfectionism. The proper way to complete this phrase is “If you want something done right, teach someone how to do it”. Now there is an impactful statement. Consider the following points as you begin to impart into those in your charge:

  1. You’ll have to repeat what you said – I was looking at the cooking utensils in my kitchen one day, and I wanted to complain about the improper placement of them. But instead I gently called for my youngest son and offered a “refresher orientation”. I would like to think that he would remember all the details I had meticulously taught him before, but then I remembered that repetition is a key principle in education…so I repeated the lesson. And, as a result,  I continued to have a helpful kitchen aid. Teachers don’t just teach on the first day of school.
  2. Not all teachers use a chalkboard – When we hear the word teach, we often think lecture and instruction. But don’t underestimate the value of modeling what and how something should be done. It took me years to realize that I was scrambling eggs wrong (to my liking) and it took watching my husband without instruction to realize that consistently perfect eggs require low heat and constant stirring…who knew?! Apparently, he did, but instead of lecturing me on the proper way to scramble eggs, he simply did it the way it should be done, and I caught on. Our actions speak volumes in the “classroom”.
  3. Consider your “student” in the lesson plan – Whether your student is your child, your spouse, or a member of your project team, you will get the best return on investment (ROI) of your time if you include them in the lesson planning. Consider their learning style: are they auditory (learn by listening), visual (learn by seeing), or tactile (learn by doing). This will make a difference in how they respond to you and should dictate your delivery…because as animal trainers say, “it’s never the animal’s fault”. Taking ownership of how the lesson is personalized will inspire your pupils to learn.

 

You can’t do it all…right! – There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything yourself. You can try, and you may even succeed in some areas. Anyone adopting this attitude is going to find themselves burning the candle at both ends. They won’t be able to keep up with the demands on their time, and their own quality will suffer. At work and at home, you may be able to do it all…but you can’t do it all right! And isn’t that the point?

Are You Part of the Solution?

Growing up, my aunt would ask my cousins and me “Are you part of the problem, or are you part of the solution?” Have you ever been asked this question? Even as a child, I knew that if the answer to this wasn’t “SOLUTION”, then I was in trouble. We all knew what was next: the statement of the problem and how WE could solve it. This method of questioning was a long-standing family secret (and my aunt will tell you that she got it from my mother). And if I needed help with the solution, that was often followed with “Look it up”.

I didn’t realize it then, but this self-leadership tactic became a model for how I would lead and develop my own children and those on my team. While this is a parenting tip, it applies to people form 6 to 66. As leaders, we reap 3 key benefits from utilizing this strategy:

  1. It creates independent thinkers – Ask yourself, “Do I want a team of people who do what I tell them to, or a team that knows what to do?” Of course the answer is the latter, but that only comes when people are allowed the room to think independently. When you’re a leader, it’s not beneficial that you point out the problem, but that you encourage your team to frame the problem, and thereby develop a solution. That is, unless you enjoy being the smartest one in the room, encourage critical thinking.
  2. They will have much more buy-in – You don’t have to sell someone on an idea they came up with. Your team will have more buy-in to a solution they created, so they’ll put it into practice without “force”. Don’t make the mistake of thinking rebellion ends with the “terrible two’s” or teens; adults on your team want to create their own plan…and you can just make sure they don’t set anything on fire.
  3. They will feel empowered – Empowerment is the antidote to defiance.And empowered team (and family) members contribute more and with a positive attitude. Try going through massive change with unempowered people…it’s no fun!
I love having people on my team who are independent, buy into solutions THEY create, and feel empowered. Now I feel like there are more benefits, though, so why don’t you ask yourself “the question”, and see if you come up with some added benefits. If you do, post them here.

When to Communicate from the Heart

We’ve learned that effective communication should come from the heart, and I wholeheartedly believe that (no pun intended). When trying to motivate, inspire or even just relay a simple message, speaking with compassion is usually the best way to go. I still remember how profound it was when I heard a conference speaker say that our EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is just as important as our IQ (Intelligence Quotient), and some thought leaders say it’s even more important.  It wasn’t a new idea, but it was new to me, and a refreshing reminder that I wasn’t alone in my quest to bring compassionate leadership into the workplace. But I’ll admit, it took some more digging to understand that it’s more than just being a “heart talker”. After years of applying this with my clients (and even at home), I have found that there are times when communicating from the heart is mission critical, and times when it should be avoided.

Here are 5 examples of when to Communicate from the Heart:

  1. There is already emotional noise on the line. If the person you are communicating with is noticeably emotional, consider matching (not countering) their emotion. Once the feelings in the room have subsided, you can proceed with the topic. While you may not be able to (or want to) validate their feelings, responding with empathy will allow them to collect themselves without being forced into premature acceptance. Statements like “I understand where you’re coming from” go a long way in working together.
  2. What you need to convey may be difficult to hear. Mary Poppins said it best (or should I say sang it best) “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Speaking with warmth and compassion can help a team member receive some feedback that might not otherwise be heard. And the harder the message, the softer you want the heart that is delivering it. Yelling “You’re Fired” is good for TV ratings, but not so good for morale. Letting someone down easy is as much an art as it is a skill, and it takes practice. Delivery the news to yourself to prepare for the emotions the news may elicit.
  3. The problem is not clearly defined. Have you ever noticed that when people are trying to figure out WHAT caused a problem, they often skip to WHO caused the problem? This type of fact-finding-mission can get ugly quickly if those involved start off pointing fingers. If the analysis turns into a “witch hunt”, take a step back and interject some compassion and objectivity. Putting down the torch will not only calm the waters, it will help you and your team find a solution faster as cooler heads prevail.
  4.  Relationship AND results matter. It is an unfortunate reality that sometimes to get results, you may have to drive, scold, or correct people on your team. But this does not have to come at the cost of the relationship. When communicating that someone has done something you are in disagreement with, speaking from your heart can help preserve the relationship; using it is a teachable moment for everyone’s sake. Remind the person of things they have done well to reinforce the message that they matter, but don’t water down the problem so you can find an amicable solution.
  5.  Having casual conversation to set the tone. You don’t need to wait until you are engaged in “Crucial Conversations” to speak from your heart. In order to connect to those around you, find opportunities to have casual conversations that reveal and announce your humanity. Otherwise, speaking with compassion will be an indicator that something is wrong and will backfire on you. Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to bare your soul, but you should share your heart with those around you.
However,

if your heart is full of frustration, anger, or pain, you’ll want to revert to a matter-of-fact approach. Clouding a discussion with negative emotions is even more harmful than not interjecting positive ones into a neutral conversation. Be prepared to delay a conversation so your emotions won’t hijack it.

And in every case, check your heart BEFORE you speak from it. It is the spring from which all words flow! And as with all sound leadership advice, use this at home, too!

THE BASKETBALL GOAL

I had several errands to run today, but one of the most important of them was to buy another basketball goal for our backyard.  Yes, we have active boys (down to only 2 since our eldest 2 are “grown”) and they will both die if they can’t play.  Nevermind that it’s 100 degrees outside (we live in Houston).  But the reality is, I’m replacing the goal because our backyard basketball court is where we do ministry.  Youth ministry, marriage ministry, family ministry.  Over the past 11 years that we have been in our house, we have never not had a basketball goal.  It was a place that my husband and I would unwind and talk after a long day at work.  As the kids got older, it was a teaching ground for them.  Not just for dribbling, but for life.  Have you ever tried to get a teenage boy to open up about his feelings?  Well, put a basketball in his hand and offer to rebound for him and you can get instant conversation.  My husband has utilized this parenting technique with our boys, which has contributed to me spending more time watching them out the back window than actually playing with them.  Despite the fact that I’m no good at basketball (always been a runner, not too good with ball-sports), I enjoy playing with them.  I enoy the activity, but most importantly, I enjoy the time with my boys.  With their age differences, it is only in the past year or so that my husband and I can sit back and watch them play 2 on 2.  It is always fun watching our oldest (and most defiant) use the game to teach life lessons to his younger brothers.  And as I remind them often, God cares about basketball…it is sometimes just another way to bring His children together.

So, today I purchased our second goal in a year.  The previous one fell on it’s face because the water drained out of a leak in the base.  That goal sitting on the concrete slab like that looks like disaster has struck our house.  And in a way, it has.  The pasttime that has glued my family together for years is on hold until the assemblers come.  I hope they get here quick.