why focusing on ‘platform’ might be your worst move.

preaching

Image via Wikipedia

The retail buzzword is “brand”.  The health industry buzzword is “wellness”.  How about “postmodern and paradigm shift” for ethics or philosophy?  Or one of my personal favorites – “leverage” for business.

Relatively new to the scene is “platform” which by strict definition means “a raised floor or stage used by public speakers or performers so that they can be seen by their audience.”  Here’s the thesis: the greater your platform, the greater your influence.  According to this definition, the people interested in platform are public speakers and performers, but really it’s anyone who either has a voice or wants a voice.  I have this sneaky suspicion you’re one of the two.

I might compare ‘platform’ to “Search Engine Optimization“, the process of improving visibility of a website in search engines via “natural” search results.  SEO for websites and platform for speakers are increasingly synchronized in pursuit of that influential voice.  The difference (if there is one) is really only in your product, whether that’s a piece of plastic from China, a get-rich-quick scheme or some social justice.  My concern exists in the increasing dichotomy of platform and product.  The pendulum seems to be swinging from what we’re saying to how we’re saying it.

The potential danger intrinsic to this sudden and increased emphasis on platform is in exerting more energy and effort into the volume of our voice vs. what we’re actually saying.  Competition for your ear, your wallet and your vote is off the charts.  What we’ll see in this next presidential election is evolving socio-digital synchronization – where the candidate who stands on the most electronic soapbox wins.  Why not when you can actually pay for followers on Twitter?  It’s the new Direct Mail.  Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign proved it’s not what you say but how you say it.

So you want platform?  The first question to ask is “what are you actually trying to say” or “what are you contributing?”  This may sound like an old argument of chicken vs. egg or Jim Collins’ ‘get the right people on board before determining the destination.’  However you want to slice it, the bottom line is that our headlines are driving our business, not our content.  Do you want loyal customers and committed followers/fans?  Then build your platform on the content, not your content on the platform.

Your platform will grow and it will shrink with volatile markets.  Impulse will drive the consumer more than intent.  Is your product worth riding these storms?  Is your message changing lives?  Worry a little less about the size of your platform and focus a little more on quality product.  You’ll discover that this strategy delivers longer-term life-changing results.

5 reasons why you should blog.

William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portabl...

Image via Wikipedia

Exercise.  I’m just not good at the discipline of it.  However, I am good at exercising my mind.  Writing does just that.  It stretches my mind to put these thoughts down in a cohesive way.  It takes time and practice to be grammatically correct.

Catharsis.  These words represent me.  I’m a pretty serious person which explains why my blogs are pretty serious.  I’m not very good at journaling my daily activities.  I am good at letting things build up and then vomiting them back onto key and screen.

Invitation.  I’m not sure who reads these posts outside of those who respond in some way.  It is however an invitation to respond in any way you see fit.  It’s an invitation to laugh with me and cry with me.  To share in the good and the bad.  To love and to hate.

Practice.  The best way to write better is to write more.  With coffee in hand and music in play, I’m ready to go.

Connection.  Perhaps the most important.  You are important and your thoughts are important.  What you say is important.  You matter and we are all on this journey together.

If you like to blog or write, I would love to hear why.

leadership mistake #1: treat everyone equally.

A few years ago, I was asked by my direct boss (the administrative pastor) if I wanted to go play golf with him and another pastor on staff.  ‘This should be fun’, I thought, ‘hanging out with two cool dudes on the golf course.’  I reported to this guy so why not enjoy the moment with our guards down.  It was a Thursday morning and while we would have typically been in the office, here was a chance to bond with two people I respected and wanted to know better.  It was a great time too.  I’m horrible at golf, by the way.  I plan on losing a dozen balls each round.  In any case, the morning sped by as we shot the breeze (literally), chased balls and compared war stories.  I finished the day back at the office and left thinking this had a been a great day.

The surprise came on Tuesday morning at staff meeting when we were told that time sheets now had to be filled out for the work week.  Not just when we came in and when we left (which wouldn’t make sense on a salary anyways) but literally keeping a journal of everything we did during the week.  These reports had to be filled out and turned in at the end of each week, no exceptions.  Come to find out, the senior pastor was livid when he found out that three of his employees were on the golf course.  Now, I’m not saying we could or couldn’t play golf.  To top it off, I still don’t know the true impetus and intention of being made to fill out those sheets.  What I can say is that we now bore the brunt of the decision my boss made.  In other words, a knee jerk reaction translated into a blanket policy.

You know those policies right?  The crazy far out ones where anyone new to the scene can’t figure out why in the world this particular policy exists.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s when you’re asked to behave a certain way to avoid the mistakes of another.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes.  I’m not saying policies don’t have a place in every organization.  What I am saying is that treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone fairly.

There is a difference between fair and equal.  In fact, I’ll go so far to say that equality has nothing do with grace.  Equality is simply treating everyone they exact same way.  When a child points out that something’s not fair, it’s because that child doesn’t have a grasp of what they do and don’t deserve and grace will never be about what you do or do not deserve.  Thank God I’m not treated according to what I deserve.  Equal treatment denotes a sense of privilege.  Fairness, on the other hand, denotes a sense of grace.  You see, had I been treated fairly based on the anecdote from above, I probably wouldn’t have had to fill out those time sheets because technically I was doing what had been asked of me by my superior.

Unfortunately in this context, the need to treat us all equally came more or less from a sense of insecurity.  When I’m able to interact with my team or followers based on who they are individually, it’s because I’m secure about who I am.  I’m secure enough to let that illusion of control go.

This weekend, there were several challenges in our weekend services.  For each challenge, there was a situation.  For each situation, there was a leadership opportunity.  I came into this weekend knowing full well that a leader does not and should not pretend to know all the answers.  A leader should, however, be fully prepared to treat each individual fairly, with love and grace.  The only reason, and I sincerely mean the ‘only’ reason, that I have even a glimpse of what grace means is because it has been extended to me. That glimpse is but a drop of the ocean that is His love.

I’m not interested in blanket policies based on knee jerk reactions.  I know that quality is my M.O. but it will never be at the risk of losing a friend or follower, especially to produce a temporary result.  If you truly knew me you would know how hard it is for me to write these things.  However, I’ve learned (and am learning) that I’m far too in love with the One who is gracious and far too in love with those He has extended grace to, to ever risk equality for fairness.  Thank you God for loving me fairly.

it’s not you, it’s me.

The first time I got dumped was in the second grade.  Back in those days, relationships often began with the phrase, “I like you.  Do you like me?”  On the flip side of that, when someone declares they don’t like you anymore, there isn’t a question to follow.  It is more or less a statement of fact.  A crushing and painful statement of fact.  Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t the type to get real choosy either.  If I even caught a hint of the phrase “Do you like me” drifting from a girl’s mouth, whether it was intended for me or not, the word “Yes!” came gushing from my lips.  This first time I was “let go” came from wearing glasses to school one day (or at least that’s what I think).  She liked me before the ocular handicap, why not after?  Anyways, when I heard she hit up a New Kids on the Block concert with the new beau, I was done.  All this before the 3rd grade.  Who’s bitter anyways, right?  Definitely, not me.

Rejection has been and will continue to play a role in our lives.  It’s part of being human.  Recently, I’ve ended up courting these strange emotions once again in trying to rent out our home.  Since Amy wants to go back to school, we’ve negotiated several ways to be fiscally tighter, deciding to reap the rewards down the road instead.  This has led to putting our home up for rent.  It seems like a good idea in this market and if all plays out well, we’ll eventually move into a place that’s much less expensive while retaining a good financial asset.  The thing is, when you put your home out there for rent or for sale, you really kind of put yourself out there.  Your home represents a lot about yourself: how it’s decorated can speak volumes about subconscious desires of comfort and hope.  The work we do to afford that home is another testament.  How we spend money speaks to our values, beliefs and priorities.  Our home is our kingdom and opening that kingdom up to complete strangers can be intimidating.

So when I let this young interested couple enter that kingdom, I was initially hesitant.  Their good looks and convincing back-story was appealing but I knew from all the internet literature I had just started reading that this was business, and business means business, you know what I mean?  How then did this risk of rejection come in?  Why wasn’t I more stone-faced?  Honestly, I didn’t see it sneak up on me.  I was supposed to be the one doing the rejecting, writing the denial letters (not that I derive some joy from that) but there was a sense of power in having that choice to make.  Having bought their story, we crossed the emotional border and went out on a limb to declare our intent to rent to this couple.  I had crossed that sacred line where my emotions painted a picture of financial utopia.  Why didn’t I see it coming…the back and forth via e-mails, the quick calls from references, the urgency to make a decision.  Then, the hammer dropped: “We’ve decided to go with the other home.”

I thought I had prepared myself for this moment…I hadn’t.  I knew these people for all of 48 hours and yet they had affected me!  I was angry at myself for allowing the power of the moment to sweep me up.  Here was that familiar feeling, that old bitter enemy of ‘rejection’ dictating how I’m supposed to feel or not feel.  You know what I mean, right?  Where you retrace your steps and ask, “What did I do wrong” or “What could I have said differently?”  We’ve all been there.  In fact, the more you lead and the more you open up to others, the more you deal with rejection.  It comes in all shapes and sizes and for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky.  So how do I deal with it?  By not stopping!  Stopping would be too easy.  I still want to rent this house and that means rejection is a possible but potential risk.  In my calling, I still want to lead people and that means rejection is an imminent but necessary risk.  It’s because the goals are worth it…you are worth it.  What I’m learning is that rejection doesn’t necessarily lead to the second choice, it can lead to the better choice.

Some folks won’t like your product.  Some folks won’t like your message.  Maybe they shouldn’t like it.  Then again, maybe they should.  We all have the power to walk away from something.  It’s how we walk away that counts.  The temptation is to detach yourself, to minimize the risk of rejection.  Instead, try the opposite: put yourself out there because if no one else likes your product, you still do.  If no one else believes your message, you still do.

Just for the sake of perspective, here is the story of the One who knew rejection for you and I.  His is the most compelling of all:

Isaiah 53:2-6 The Message

 The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

don’t make me angry.

The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). Cover art b...

Image via Wikipedia

I have a counselor and mentor who spent a lot of time working in a maximum security prison as well as treatment facilities for sex offenders.  Almost two years ago now, he once asked me, “Do you know what the common theme is for all the inmates I’ve worked with?  Guys in prison for pedophilia, rape and other sexual deviance’s?”  I thought for a few seconds about what it might be.

My first thought was that these guys all had daddy issues.  They must have grown up in dysfunctional homes, been exposed to abuse themselves, emasculated by a distorted gender identity or some other term from the DSM IV and then never appropriately coped.

What the counselor said next took me by surprise.  He said, “Anger.  They are all very angry and don’t know how to deal with it.”

Now, he wasn’t for one second saying that anger was a justifiable excuse for the atrocities that imprisoned these men.  He was, however, saying that anger became a framework for expressing all the crap that had built up over time.  Was anger in and of itself the culprit?  Hardly.  Was it always the healthiest expression?  Nope.  Then this counselor/mentor, with his Charles Xavier-like mental probe, poked my heart and asked, “How’s your anger?”

My mouth was frozen and I started to numb a little.  I literally felt the weight of the past bearing down on my chest.  Have you ever been in those situations?  Where the air in the room suddenly gets hot and thick.  I know for a fact that God uses men and women like this to call a ‘time-out’, where all the other stuff you’re doing, working on, creating suddenly becomes distant and less important.  I wanted to get out of there and fast.  Here’s why…

I’m not a crier.  It’s not how I typically navigate my emotions.  Frustration for me doesn’t lead to tears or a pouting lip.  That’s not to say I haven’t in the past but as I’ve changed over the years, crying is less and less of an emotional response for me.  If you do see me cry it’s usually from one of two things: 1) I’ve just watched the closing scene of Braveheart (it get’s me every time) or 2) because I’m hurting pretty deeply.  Since I don’t cry easily it leaves me with another emotional response that does come easy: anger.

Not just angry in a loud annoying way but in an intentionally mean way.  Almost like the “where is this coming from” kind of way.  It really does make me think of when Ted Cassidy narrated the opening scene of the TV version Incredible HulkDavid Banner would say “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”  That is me!  You seriously would not, will not like me when I’m angry, specifically in my self-righteous exertion to be right all the time.  It takes so much energy to be right all the time, doesn’t it?

So is anger wrong then?  Of course not!  There is legitimate anger at the injustices of the world.  That dead Somali children are lining the refugee trail to Kenya enrages me.  That almost 1 million people die every year from Malaria is heart breaking.  This is where we hear the Psalmist most acutely, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  However, the expression of anger that I’ve struggled with over the years and discuss in this blog is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

It’s the kind of anger that doesn’t produce the righteousness of God.  Thinking of my past and perhaps that of the inmates my counselor mentioned, I discern one summation: that hurt begets hurt and what I do with that hurt is what defines the outcome.  My challenge is to surrender the need to be right, the need to be justified, the need to hurt another just to make myself feel better.  Want to strip the Incredible Hulk of his power?  Ask yourself, “Why am I hurting…?”

Let me finish with this true story: A few years ago we built our first house in Cleveland, TN.  A proud moment for a young newlywed couple.  In this new neighborhood were more empty lots, including the two on either side of ours.  One Sunday, coming home from church I found two guys randomly mowing my grass.  Looking at my yard, I realized they had driven their truck through our front lawn to drop off cinder blocks in the next lot.

Not only had they damaged my fresh grass, they were trying to cover it up!  I proceeded to stop and ask one of them what was going on and who they work for.  Through broken English, I got a sarcastic response and that’s all it took to set me off.  The green monster had awoke.  I proceeded to curse, yell, threaten deportation and other very non-Christ-like things.  I was on the border of calling the police and having a heart attack at the same time.  It was a bad day.

What’s funny is that here we are a few years later and lo-and-behold, the lot next to ours is under construction.  Mowing my grass yesterday, I watched as one of the workers drove his Bobcat through my yard.  The green monster was itching,clawing and growling to come out…but I remembered something called mercy.  I remembered that I had surrendered my right to hurt another just to feel better.  I remembered that it’s only grass.

I once told a cabin full of boys on the first day of camp, “You don’t want to see me angry.”  One of the bolder campers immediately spoke up and said, “Yeah, he turns into a big hairy butt!”  Thank you, Jeremiah.  It’s still true.