finding your voice in the new year.

Although it’s probably just my ambitious ego, I like to think I have a third ear for music.  I was sitting in a friends living room recently while his iTune’s Genius was mixing us some tunes.  There were some songs playing that I had never heard before and the occasional beat would steal my attention from the conversation.  Although some of the music was unfamiliar, I was able to pin the artist(s) within just a few seconds once they started singing.

Michael Stipe, REM, Voice, Spit and Mud, New Years

Michael Stipe - Image Courtesy Wikimedia

Whether his Genius mix played Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine, The Avett Brothers, U2 or REM, I really didn’t need to know their whole catalog to identify who the band was.  It’s because their lead singer uses an instrument unlike any other: their voice.

It’s been about 3 months since the news first broke on their website, that REM is calling it quits.   Even for the non-fan, this group has been prolific enough to have several recognizable (if commercial) hits, from “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” to “Losing My Religion”.  However, more than just the tune itself, their songs are lent that same unclear, (some say mumbling) yet distinguishable voice of Michael Stipe.

Be it Bono, Robert Plant, Joe Cocker or John Fogerty, Janis Joplin, Annie Lenox and Karin Bergquist the voices of each define a unique experience for the song.

It’s been said that cover bands don’t change the world.  There’s a lot of things about a song that can be imitated, from the guitar solo to the cadence of the snare drum.  The one element that will never be completely duplicated are the voices.  There is just too much nuance, too much subtlety embedded in their vocal chords.  Their isn’t a voice like it in the past and their will not be one in the future.

Maybe singing isn’t your thing.  Simon Cowell has helped a lot of people discover that about themselves.  He’s also done a favor to many by encouraging them to find their own voice.  If someone was trying to sound too much like Britney, he would let them know.  Who would want to anyway?

In your context or vocation, there may not be a Cowell to steer you in another direction if you’re trying to sound too much like someone else.

No, you may never paint a masterpiece, write a bestseller or compete in the Olympics.  Maybe you teach kids to swim.  Maybe you direct social media for a small start-up.  Perhaps you preach every weekend to a congregation or write blog posts as a hobby.  No matter what you do, you have a voice that is inimitable.  No one accentuates words like you.  No one gives expression to their thoughts in the same way you do.  No one articulates their passions in the same manner.

I used to spend inordinate amounts of time looking at the kids ministries of other churches.  I would peruse their websites, go to their conferences and follow the blogs of their leaders.  I’m glad for their influence and their individuality but I am learning to find and celebrate my voice too.  Sometimes it’s raspier than theirs, sometimes not as refined or amplified but that’s ok.

The world already has its Michael Stipe and Robert Plant.  It already had its Shakespeare and it’s da Vinci.  We’ve heard from Billy Graham and Gandhi.  Now we need to hear from you and you need to hear from us.


5 social media schedulers and why you need one.

Small businesses, large corporations and now churches are engaging the world through social media.  If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s third largest country.  Social media has forever changed how you broadcast your message.  The question is no longer “if or why you should utilize social media” but “how most effectively and efficiently can you?”

Consider that from the combined 1 billion+ Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn users, a majority of your congregation, classroom, denomination or audience is jacked in.  This is where social media schedulers come in.

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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 you should visit your local used bookstore.

Recently, Amy and I visited TN and went to a favorite haunt of ours: McKay’s Used Books, CD’s and Movies.  There are three of them in TN and we went to both the Chattanooga AND Knoxville stores (if that tells you something of our fanaticism).  Their business model resembles a pawn shop – bring in your used media and receive cash or credit, which will always be the bigger return.  We planned for the trip and took a box of old books only to return with a new stash.  After our credit, we only spent about $20 for all of them!  Aside from Hedges and Watterson, this will all be new territory.  My reading queue grows…  I’ve linked them all to Amazon only because McKay’s doesn’t have an online store.  Otherwise, support your local used bookstore.

Here they are in no particular order:


leadership mistake #2: holding resentment.

Walter Gramatte: "Confession" 1920

Image via Wikipedia

I just had a conversation today with someone I would consider a dear friend after a silence of 6 months.  This quiet period bred two things in me: a wandering mind and the idea of bitterness.  Without even realizing it, I was building a quiet cynicism towards this persons intentions and even their abilities.

Amazingly after talking, we both admitted to harboring almost the exact same resentment toward each other.  The context’s were slightly different but the theme remained the exact same: injustice.  Essentially, we felt that what happened to one of us should have happened to both of us.

It occurred to me that resentment typically comes from a sense of injustice.  The notion that fairness should be an overarching theme to my life has rapidly revealed itself to be an illusion.  Just like the illusion of control this myth of fairness seems to offer a system of false hope.  Real injustice breeds social change whereas perceived injustice potentially breeds resentment.

I know I’m being somewhat cryptic here regarding my own situation but would feel it a betrayal to reveal our conversation completely.  Still, he made an astoundingly discerning statement: “I guess resentment crept in because our relationship never got beyond the surface.”  This saddened me…I’ve known him for 10 years.

How could someone I’ve known for so long so easily resent me?  I think it’s because we didn’t practice that most difficult of tasks: accountability.  In our professional and personal lives we never held each other to a level of accountability that would sustain our relationship through the rough times.

The fact is, all long-term relationships have good times and bad times.  It’s in those bad times that we have to polish our ‘confessional’ skills.  It’s hard to bear resentment toward your brother and sister when we’re accountable enough to confess those seeds of indignation.

The irony is that I think God is capable of handling our resentments toward him, justified or not.  I don’t think you or I are capable of holding resentments toward each other though.  It’s like trying to breathe through a straw when you are around someone who causes a subtle anger in you.

What are some triggers for resentment?  Recurring thoughts of injustice, unfairness, failed expectations and frustrations.  What is the answer?  Confession.  I use ancient and liturgical terms but their remedy is no less effectual.  From the CEO to the cleaning crew, the executive to the cashier, find relief from resentment.  Find healing and hope in your honesty.

Maybe your expectations were wrong.  Maybe you got passed on the raise or the position.  Or maybe, just maybe, you did do everything right and everything you possibly could.

My hope for you?  Don’t be resentful, be free.