a Penn State of mind.

The Penn State Scandal.

Doesn’t this all feel so episodic?  The media dishes these dirty stories out like an American soap opera – quick & ruthless.  The roving eye of justice has once again settled on the next big celebrity.  As a society we’re not quite so interested in the injustice of young boys being molested as we are in who got fired, how and why.  If America lay dying in a hospital room, her IV would be connected to a poisonous concoction of celebrity blood and Reachemol.

It’s almost as if we are all walking in a haze and occasionally slapped back into reality by our own missteps.  Even then, we were more concerned with the legal or moral aspect of Joe Paterno’s obligations than that he was just plain obligated.

I can’t help but wonder how many other staff of Jerry Sandusky‘s organization or Penn State knew of these heinous acts.  Am I to believe that only 3 men were cognizant of Sandusky’s crimes?  America is in a “soul-searching” mode now.  The basic question is, “How could evil be so institutionalized?”  Why didn’t someone speak up before?

I was sitting at a Caribou Coffee to study recently when, in an unexpected way, my blood began to boil.  I had forgotten to bring my headphones and was at the mercy of the banter surrounding me.  I couldn’t help overhearing the two men sitting right next to me.  As I was sitting down, they touched on Penn State but spent the majority of 20 minutes degrading women with stereotypes and tales of debauchery.

They were older, looking to be in their late 40’s and late 50’s.  I can’t remember another time recently where I felt such righteous indignation toward others.  Perhaps it was a combination of my own story and that I work with children which served to stoke my anger toward two strangers.  They traded rants and raves of sexual misadventures and derogatory assumptions of manhood.  While I never heard them say anything explicitly illegal, I recognized something innate to the human soul.

It was sitting beside these two men that I found the answer to the question, “How can men have turned a blind eye to the rape of young boys?”

It’s because Penn State is more than a state university.  It’s a state of being.  It’s that place where secrets are locked away, quiet whispers are indigenous and furtive glances betray guilt.  If you’ve ever watched the show COPS you have seen someone handcuffed and yelling, “What did I do?”  That’s the state of mind that Penn State represents.  It’s where you’re so drunk or high that you don’t know you’re handcuffed to begin with.  The Penn State mind is institutional because it’s innate in human nature.

I won’t say that these two men at Caribou were guilty of something illegal or that they would be quiet if confronted with the horror’s of Jerry Sandusky.  I will say that they, along with the rest of us, can be far more interested in image management and ‘reputation relief’ than the rescue and redemption of young boys or a lost generation at that.  The Penn State of mind manifest.

Somewhere, a guilty coach is breathing a sigh of relief.  On November 5th, JoePa was sacrificed on the altar of “justice”.  The unknown deviant can stay hidden.  We demand the blood of giants for our sense of justice when the simple fact is, it’s the blood of our sons and daughters that are being sacrificed.  The Penn State of mind persists.  We have been shocked back to reality for a moment but will we slowly roll back into our slumber?

I recently heard the angelic voice of Sandra McCracken singing a hymn titled “Justice Will Roll Down.”  Here are the lyrics to that hymn.  Here is to the truth that justice isn’t institutional but it’s personified in the person of Jesus Christ:

Oh my love, you have grown so cold

To the world outside, to the house next door

She who has been loved much, has so much to give

Mercy is the fragrance, of the broken

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down

From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound

It will roll down

It will roll down

Oh my child, I will be your light

In your secret pain, in the dark of night

No enemy, no conqueror, will steal your life from me

I am your salvation, and your victory.

Soon oh soon, when the trumpet sounds

every knee shall bend, every heart will pound

I have made a new world, where the servant is the King

oppression will be over, and the slave set free


how to know when your employee is about to quit.

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

Image by Sybren A. Stüvel via Flickr

Working at and managing a department in a major retail store has it’s lessons.  One of those lessons is keeping an eye out for the folks who might be on the verge of quitting.  While turnover is high in occupations like ‘retail sales’ it doesn’t necessarily have to be.  In fact, I’m convinced that if you watch out for these ‘conversational’ red flags you might head off a potential break down on the sales floor or in the office.

Flag #1 – “No one cares but me”  When you hear someone say this, what they mean is “I feel alone.”  I know this may sound too Freudian but it’s true.  Most of the time a salesperson doesn’t care entirely too much about one specific product or aspect of the job.  What they thrive on is the sense of community that comes from others caring at the same time.  This flag usually shows up in random and unsolicited conversation.

Respond by asking why they feel that way and then just listen.  While this will always be an appropriate response, in this case, most people just want to be heard.  By giving them space to vent, they may realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them or what they are doing.  It’s always good to be reminded that we’re on a team, each person needing the other.

Flag #2 – “I won’t be here forever” This is often said by that high school student bagging groceries.  It’s justified and worthy of saying at this stage.  However, the 26-year-old with a degree should hopefully be saying, “I could see myself here a long time.”  This certainly isn’t the case always.  I’m not advocating that someone stick it out when a truly horrible work environment exists.  What I am saying is that one bad day won’t justify quitting.

Whenever you hear this on the sales floor or by the water cooler, ask the person, “Where do you see yourself in the next few years?”  It’s amazing how much intrinsic insight we have when we verbalize our thoughts.  Stepping stones to another job are not necessarily wrong.  Lagging performance due to frustration is.  Help the person find a niche in the company or help them find another company.

Flag #3 – “I hate my boss” No brainer, right?  Unfortunately, people stick it out in these situations despite having psychotic dreams of violence toward their superiors.  While not every relationship with a manager or leader is going to be peachy keen, it should be professional.  The number one reason most people leave their job positively is for higher pay somewhere else.  The number one reason most people leave their job negatively is because they couldn’t get along with their boss.

This is probably the trickiest red flag to navigate.  While “hating my boss” might not be the exact words, some derivation of it betrays a big problem.  A potential rescue does exist:  If the employee/volunteer is a tremendously talented asset to your organization AND they haven’t shared this with others, try negotiating new terms for work and communication.  Find out where the break down is.

Unfortunately though, if this venom is being spewed by the employee lockers and you’re getting it third hand, it’s time to cut the cord and move on no matter how talented the person is.

Flag #4 – “I don’t care”  This flag is at the opposite end of Flag #1.  When someone is truly invested in a company, an idea or a vision they usually have some form of opinion on almost everything.  Whether that’s what color the walls will be, what product will go up for sale next or who wins the “employee of the month” plaque.  Sure, it’s not normal to have an opinion on literally everything…you just don’t have time for it.  However, when not caring about anything becomes a motif, it’s time for change.

While you can never make someone care about something, you can always show care for someone.  A simple thank you card, some time off or a  new project are all ways to show that you care about someone.  Hopefully, that caring will be contagious.

These flags are just some things to listen out for but the real key is to always have your ear to the ground.  To be a good leader, you have to be a good listener.  The best is yet to come for most people, we just have to know how to look for it.  If you are thinking about quitting, quit well.  It’s not that a good leader doesn’t quit, it’s just that they know how and when to.

the roaring twenties.

As the third decade of my life rapidly comes to a close, I’m faced with the same question I had at the end of my second decade: “What was I supposed to be doing again?”

Should I feel guilty that my twenties haven’t produced some meteoric trajectory for my life?  I mean, I haven’t found a cure for cancer, solved the economic quandaries of our age or ended world hunger.

I’m not talking about a discontentment with my job.  I’m talking about this notion that something was supposed to happen in my twenties.  This American ideal that pretentiousness is deserved for those who earned it.

As my friend, John Zimmer reminded us recently at a parenting workshop, there does come a time where our children must accept responsibility for their own choices.  My teenage years were racked with some pretty dumb choices but my license to fail didn’t make me an Einstein by 19 either.

In fact, my twenties became a seed-bed for testing how far I could stretch my ideologies and actions.  The result…well, just call me King Solomon.  He said vanity, I say selfishness and narcissism.  The last 10 years have been called “A Lost Decade“.  I can concur.

In the mix of all this forming and norming, I can no longer hide behind my adolescence.  My teenage years bred this false sense of security as I entered the twenties.  I told myself that life was in the doing – harder, better, faster, and stronger.  That if I worked hard enough at anything, I could see it accomplished, even something like a cure for cancer.

Now, these roaring twenties have brought a new level of reality.  That I’m frail.  I’m sensitive.  I’m imperfect.  I’m broken.

Now, these roaring twenties have bred another sense of purpose for me.  That life is in the being, the abiding, the loving, the obeying.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have visions of grandeur: the Riviera, the grand canyon, exploring space and all those boyhood dreams.  In fact, I’m confident the best is yet ahead.  I won’t let the mistakes of the last decade skew my optimism for the next.

What I will do is wrap my confidence, calling and vocation around the hope of the Cross.  Here’s to the next decade and here’s to more stretching.

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


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.

beavers, prodigal brothers and hope.

Line art drawing of a beaver.

Image via Wikipedia

Aren’t personality tests fun?  I’ve been an INTJ, explored the Big 5, and discovered my strengths include ‘learning’.  I’m an introspective, rationalizing, coordinating mastermind which kind of doesn’t sound good.  According to Ezekiel, I’m an eagle; according to Galen, I’m melancholic; according to Kretschmer, I’m insensitive.  Finally, according to Renovatus, I’m…a beaver.  This is definitely a first.  The leadership team here took a personality test that divided us into four different animals: lions, otters, golden retrievers and beavers.  You’ll have to ask each of the leaders what they came out to be but I will say this, there were some surprises.

I ran my results by Amy to discern the legitimacy of the outcome.  Sure enough, she said it mostly hit the nail on the head.  So here are some general highlights of a beaver:

  • Following procedures are a way of ensuring quality and orderly work; we can be depended upon to follow rules.
  • Beavers want to know the “rules” to follow them; they may become upset when others continually break the rules.
  • We follow policies (hence my frustration from the last post).
  • Objective and realistic.
  • Beavers prefer an environment dictated by logic rather than emotion.
  • Finally, beavers may have a low trust level of others.

The evening of the test, I picked up Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son“.  I’ve been slowly making my way through the book and it’s been a fantastic study of the parable.  However, it was when I came to the part on the elder son that it hit too close for comfort.  Here are some of Nouwen’s keen observations into the elder son’s life:

  • As the first born, he wanted to live up to the expectations of his parents and be considered obedient and dutiful.
  • He wanted to please his father.
  • He was obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, and hard-working.  But on the inside…
  • When confronted by his father’s joy at the return of his younger brother, a dark power erupts in him and boils to the surface.
  • Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself…

After some reading and contemplation I concluded that the elder son would probably have been a beaver.  It feels a little corny to compare my personality to that of a biblical character, especially one who was figurative.  Yet, this figurative character has somehow found a literal home in my life.  Nouwen brilliantly points out that this parable could just have aptly been titled, “The Prodigal Brothers.”  He says, “Not only did the younger son, who left home to look for freedom and happiness in a distant country, get lost, but the one who stayed home also became a lost man.”  What do beavers and prodigal brothers have in common?  They can build walls of resentment and unforgiveness.

So how does hope and redemption fit in to this narrative?  The parable is left open-ended for the listener and the rest of the family’s life is left for our interpretation and imagination; kind of like our own lives.  For us, the answer lies in the True Elder Son and the Father.  All we like sheep have gone astray; all we like the younger son have tasted lack and empty promise.  Nouwen finishes his observation of this ultimate predicament with these words: “…the disciplines of trust and gratitude reveal the God who searches for me, burning with desire to take away all my resentments and complaints and to let me sit at his side at the heavenly banquet.”  Hope for both the younger son and the elder son rests on the Beloved Son “on whom God’s favor resides.”

So what does all this mean?  I can be a happy beaver after all.