This is an exceptional time in history.  The COVID-19 virus has entire countries paralyzed, borders shut, flights cancelled, businesses closed, people confined to their homes.  I spoke with a friend from Germany this morning and he told me 650 people died in their neighboring country, Italy, just yesterday.  I don’t know how many usually die in Italy each day. But just hearing a statement like that along with all the other 24-7 “breaking news” bulletins about the Coronavirus outbreak, spreads the most contagious virus of all—fear.  Fear brings worry. And worry is like a plague to our body. It attacks our mind, then our heart, and over time, it can consume our overall health. Continuous worry leads to a state of anxiety, where you rarely have periods of the day when you aren’t worried.  A lot of people in our world, our community, our families—are worried right now.

One of my long-time mentors, Dr. John C. Maxwell, said it so well.  “The Pessimist complains about the wind.  The Optimist expects it to change.  The Leader adjusts the sails.”  You may not see yourself as a leader.  Your title may not be boss, supervisor, owner, president, pastor, doctor, sergeant, chief or CEO.  But anyone who influences anyone else is a leader.  Teachers are leaders.  Parents are leaders. Cops are leaders. Store clerks are leaders. Older siblings are leaders to the younger ones in the family.  Leadership is influence.  How are you doing at leading right now?

The wind is blowing.  It may not be in the direction we would like it to be. Truthfully, it’s rather stormy in our world right now.  We can complain.  We can do nothing except hope maybe something will change soon.  Or, we can adjust the sails.  What does adjusting the sails look like for you in your situation?  Here are four things that can help.

FLEXIBILITY – those who are willing to break out of their routines and habits will see the best results at a time like this.  The old saying is, “those who are flexible won’t get bent out of shape.”  The sails on a boat are not fixed and rigid for a reason.  They are meant to be adjusted to maximize the performance of the sailboat.  Whether it’s dealing with the kids who are home from school for an indefinite period of time, a job that is now uncertain, closed beaches, a shortage of toilet paper, travel bans or who knows what, flexibility will definitely help.

FUN – Don’t forget to have fun during this season.  There’s a time to be serious but laughter, exercise, and pleasurable activities release the “happiness” chemicals (Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin & Oxytocin) into our brains and bodies.  For sure, stress will release plenty of cortisol and adrenaline into your body.  This become a vicious cycle: your hormones cause anxiety, the anxiety causes more hormones to be released, and so on.  Fun will counteract and offset the stress.

FORGIVENESS – Remember that being anxious, afraid, worried and stressed can create extra frustrations with others.  Be patient.  Be kind.  Forgive frequently.  Scripture reminds us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if an any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).  Forgiveness also releases the happiness chemicals into your body.

FAITH – We are more than just physical and emotional beings.  We are designed with a spiritual component of that is designed to link up with the Creator of the Universe.  Trusting in God is key in reducing fear and worry.  “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) Apostle Paul wrote.  He also added, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7).  As in any relationship, the closer we are to God, the more we are assured we can trust him.  This pandemic didn’t catch God by surprise.  What does He want you and me to learn from it?  I think if we will ask and then listen, He will give us some answers. 

So, how will you adjust your sails today?  Next week?  Who in your sphere of influence needs to see or hear your calm example in the middle of the storm they (and we) are in?  What is one way you could be more flexible?  Who needs to have some fun right now? Is there anyone you need to forgive?  Are there any areas you need more faith and trust in God?  What will you do first to build more faith and trust in God?  I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below.  Blessings!  ~Dennis

When my sons were young, I would always ask them to hold my ladder if I was changing a battery in one of the smoke detectors or a light bulb on one of our two cathedral ceilings. Now days, if my adult sons in their 40’s are visiting and something needs to be reached up high, I hold the ladder and they climb up to switch out the battery or the bulb.  And that all seems pretty normal.

In leadership, I’ve noticed it’s not so ordinary.  Instead, I see business leaders, pastors, non-profit leaders in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond still climbing the ladder and expecting all the younger people around to hold their ladder.  I don’t get it. Just look at history. Two of my favorite characters of Torah-fame, are Moses and Joshua.

For many decades during their long journey, Moses had invested in Joshua. Moses entrusted him to build an army (Exodus 17:8–13); he spoke the word of God to Joshua (Exodus 17:14–16); Moses leaned on Joshua as a servant (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; Numbers 11:28); and Joshua was always nearby whenever Moses spoke with God face-to-face (Exodus 33:7–11).  So when it came time for the Israelites to enter Canaan, Joshua was the obvious and prepared choice as the new leader for God’s mission. 

Dr. John C. Maxwell wrote in a Leadershift devotional“In a world that tells you to ‘get ahead’, it’s tempting to believe that advancing yourself is the best way to become a leader. Climbing the corporate ladder is just the price you pay—and people will understand if you have to step on a few fingers as you make your way to the top.  Except the question leaders should ask isn’t “How far can I go?”, but ‘How far can I help others go?’  Or—even better—’How far can I take the mission, and then how can I help others take the mission beyond my best work?’

These days, when I pause to reflect on my last 40 years in leadership, I sincerely believe that the best leadership decision I have ever made was to start developing a succession plan in my late 40’s and to implement it in my mid-50’s. While “climbing the ladder” may help you prove yourself in order to gain influence, I would counter that you take your leadership to a whole new level when you hold other people’s ladders as they begin their climb. In the organization I founded, others are taking Cape Christian far beyond my best work.

What about you? Are you holding the ladder for others? Are you actively working to invest in the leaders who will come after you?  Nothing is more tragic for a leader than to get to the top of the ladder and realize you’re there… all alone. Invest in others. 

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:

Who held your ladder for you as you climbed it to where you are now? How did their help encourage and better prepare you for what lay ahead?

Who in your life stands out as someone specific to invest in helping to climb their ladder? How will doing so help your overall mission? 

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

A couple months ago, a former youth group member from two decades ago moved back to Florida from Colorado and showed up at church with her family.  She now has children that are ready for the youth group.  What a surprise!  I have a 30-year history with her family. I did her parents wedding, baptized and buried her grandmother, baptized her father and stepmom, two of her uncles and more.  After tight hugs and introductions to her children and husband, my wife and I entered into a “catching up on life” conversation with them. 

During the subsequent conversation, the husband of this former teen now turned to a mature adult mom, asked questions about my current role in the church and the succession plan that I had implemented a decade ago.  Then he summarized the whole conversation with a short statement I had never heard or even thought of before.  He said, “So, you stepped up by stepping back.”  My wife and I talked about that statement on our way to and during lunch.  I wrote it down on my “Potential Blog” list.  It was profound.  I’ve pondered that line repeatedly the past two months.  No one had previously used that language. It was a new thought to me.

As I’ve mulled over the statement, I realized most everyone else has talked about me “stepping down” over the last 10 years since I executed the succession plan I formulated about 15 years ago at Cape Christian.  No one ever mentioned “stepping up.”  I had heard and used the phrase “stepping back.”  But not “stepping up.”  Now for two months I’ve been contemplating.  Why did that statement, “So, you stepped up by stepping back” grip me the way it did?

Here are two reflections from the past two months:

1).  Stepping Up is More Noble Than Stepping Down.  In our culture, leaders often “step down” because they are overwhelmed, have health issues, family challenges, or just want a change of scenery.  Or worse, they “step down” because they made poor moral choices.  None of the above describes the reason I implemented a succession plan and moved to a different seat on the bus.  It was all focused toward the long-term health of the organization I birthed.  It wasn’t to make my life easier.  In fact, it would have been much easier to stay in the lead role beyond age 55.  It would have meant more financial security.  It would have been a whole lot simpler in so many ways.  (see my recent blog “Two Words That Made Me Angry”).  Bottom line, I really do love stepping up more than I love stepping down.  That phrase will always stick with me. 

By John Maxwell

By Jim Collins

2).  Stepping Up has been My Leadership Goal.  Ever since hearing John Maxwell and Jim Collins describe Level Five Leadership (see above graphs with descriptions), that became my preferred future.  A very long time ago, I stepped up from Level 1 to Level 2, Level 2 to Level 3, etc.  Maybe my Type 3 (Achiever) scoring on the Enneagram personality assessment has kept me climbing toward the top of the pyramid.  But that’s not really it.  Actually, seeking to be more like Jesus has been my biggest motivation.  Jesus stepped back to step up.  Jesus taught and modeled the upside down leadership lifestyle.  Jesus calls me to descend into greatness.  (Read Matthew 20:20-28 or Philippians 2:3-11).  I want to be more like Jesus.

So for you.  I have a few questions.  Where are you in your leadership development journey?  Which Level are you on?  What will it take for you to get to the next level?  What are you learning from other leaders who are further along on the journey?  What could you teach me or others about leadership?  I’d love to hear more in the comment section below.  Thank you!


This blog was originally posted as “Which is Most Important?” at Successful Successions on September 6, 2019. It seems appropriate for this blog as well. ~ Dennis

Recently I read something that got my attention:  “Team leadership requires an understanding that impact is more important than ego. In American Christianity, especially in the megachurch, the ego needs of the senior pastor are off the charts, including me. Pastors have to let God lower their need for attention. The minute that impact becomes more important than ego, amazing things begin to happen” (Ray Johnston of Bayside Church in CA).  I had to ask myself, which is more important to me?  Impact or ego?  What would your answer be for you?  Impact or ego?  What would others say about me or you?  Impact or ego?

I’m hopeful that most would say that my life reflects a higher value on impact than ego.  In my mid-60’s, it is easier to measure than when you are in your mid-30’s.  For me, there is more of a track record.  More to measure.  Patterns can be noticed.  In other words, I’ve left a trail behind me.  What will people see when you have a long history behind you?  Impact or ego?

I have lost track of the number of times that leaders in business, church and non-profits have said something like this to me, “What you’ve done with your succession plan is so unusual.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”  And, I guess it is.  I didn’t do it to be unique or different.  I didn’t do it because I wanted someone to think I was extraordinary or special. I did it because it just seemed the right thing to do if I wanted to leave the maximum impact through my leadership in the organization that I started. 

I remember well the story that John Ortberg tells about playing Monopoly with his grandmother.  After working super hard to finally beat her and win the game, she said to young John, “It all goes back in the box.  All the cash.  All the properties.  All the accumulations of success.  It all goes back in the box” (here’s a 3 min. video version).  That’s the approach of someone who understands impact over ego.  It all goes back in the box.  

What are you doing in your leadership to maximize your impact?  Let me just suggest.  The greater you hope your impact to be, the more you will have to fight against your ego.  Those two are almost mutually exclusive. You can have great impact and a great ego.  But I would contend, your impact will soar upward in almost direct proportion to your ego going downward.  Humility is the doorway to maximum impact. Think about.  Better yet, work on increasing your impact by decreasing your ego.

Have a great weekend!  

QUESTION: As you reflect on your life, what are your biggest challenges in leaving an impact? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Up until a few weeks ago, two words have ignited angry emotions inside of me.  This has been going on for the last ten years.  It all peaked at a recent funeral for a long-time pastor/friend of mine.  At least three times that day, long-time acquaintances asked a variation of those two words, “How’s retirement?”  Earlier that week, a local business leader asked the same question at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.  It’s been a regular question for years.  But, four times in one week?  I was internally seething with anger by the week’s end!  As I was reflecting, I became aware of all the red flashing lights and the dangerously peaked gauges on my emotional dashboard. Getting ready for church on Sunday morning, I made a decision.

That next week, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist friend who leads a counseling and consulting team connected to our church.  I needed to explore why those two words kept on detonating an emotional bomb inside of me?  Two words that were most likely intended by the questioner to show an interest in my life, were causing me deep distress.  Why this internal over-reaction to another person’s innocent interest in my well-being?  For a few decades, I’ve known that I should always question a disproportionate reaction to an event, activity or words.  That’s true when observing the reaction of others and it’s also true of myself. 

Unpacking this volatile internal emotional response to a simple inquiry of “How’s retirement?” has led me to five observations about myself and my inner values:

  • I dislike assumptions.  While I did carefully plan and orchestrate a leadership succession plan, I’ve never retired. I’m still working full time.  People assumed that changing my role from Senior Pastor to Founding Pastor and calling a young successor to be the Lead Pastor at Cape Christian ten years ago meant I had retired.  Few asked me for clarity on my current role.  They assumed.  A mentor told me years ago to just divide the word assume into three parts:  Ass-U-Me.  That’s what happens when you or I assume.  It makes both of us look like donkeys. 

  • I dislike gossip.  I’ve spent the last decade responding to the hated two-word question with, “Where did you hear that I retired?”  In most cases, the response was “someone told me you did.”  No one asked me.  No one checked out the facts.  They just passed on an untruth.  That was a part of my anger. 

  • I dislike mediocrity.  I have always been drawn to visionary out-of-the-box leadership. Long-sighted leadership that plans for a preferred future is one of my strengths.  Not thinking ahead and defaulting to “whatever happens” is less than what God has designed us for.  Middle-of-the-road average leadership always disappoints me.  In my way of thinking, developing a succession plan for the organization that you birthed should just be a normal part of growing toward level five leadership.    

  • I devalue retirement.  I have come to realize my thoughts are counter-cultural.  Most every working American looks forward to the day they can sit and do nothing.  Not me.  Fishing, boating or golfing doesn’t appeal to me.  Even my hobby of photography doesn’t look good as a full-time option.  I guess I’ve watched too many retirees move to Florida and get super depressed.  In fact, as a police chaplain, I know the inside story.  Every year, dozens of retirees in our city commit suicide.  No purpose.  No meaning.  No hope.  Nothing to get out of bed for in the morning.  In contrast, I love what I do.  I love seeing the transformation of lives.  I love helping the team take new territory.  When someone thinks I’ve retired, that isn’t a positive step for me.  I’ve watched as people obsess about their retirement date—count it down on their smartphones; talk about it every single day to every person they meet; and they let up on the accelerator, put it in neutral and slowly coast to a stop.  Now, I plan to slow down and decrease the amount of time I spend in the office a few years from now.  But for someone to think that I retired at age 55 when I implemented the succession plan by moving out of the driver’s seat and taking another seat on the bus, goes completely against my values—because I don’t value retirement as my ultimate goal.

  • I discovered that few understand the cost.  As I reflected with my counselor, I realized that a significant part of my internal anger at the “How’s retirement?” question had to do with something I hadn’t verbalized publically.  I was angry that people potentially thought that I was so well-positioned with my financial resources that I could just choose not to work anymore and be set for the rest of my life.  That bothered me more than I was aware.  Quite the opposite.  By giving up the highest-paid position in the organization, I’ve significantly sacrificed financial security.  And there have been plenty of other less measurable costs to my ego by giving up control and taking a much less visible role in the organization I founded.  But I’m still convinced it was the right decision.  I have absolutely no regrets.  And the organization has prospered greatly because of the implementation of a succession plan.  

So, I’m doing better these days.  People continue to ask about “my retirement.”  But now, I don’t feel the rage rising up in the way that it use to.  In fact, I smile (I put on a fake smile before) and ask them where they heard that I retired?  I joke that “you can’t believe everything you hear.”  And I share that I’ve never retired and the truth is I’m still working full-time and I’m loving my role at this season of life.  I explain to them that I intentionally developed a succession plan for the well-being of the church that I started and it’s one of the very best leadership decisions that I’ve ever made.  And I encourage them to go to my Successful Successions blog and read more about it if they want to know the Why behind the What.  And some have.

Here’s my reminders for the holidays:  Life is too short to be angry.  Pay attention to your inner self.  Self-awareness is a treasured leadership skill.  Seek the counsel of professionals.  Have fun.  Humility is necessary for emotional health.  Let the Prince of Peace give you His peace.  Merry Christmas!

What areas of your emotional health do you need to be in tune with these days? What is your next step in getting healthier? I’d love to hear more!

Last year, when I was preparing to hit my “sign up for Medicare” birthday, my wife and I spent several months meeting with our financial planner for a very thorough financial review.  Those meetings included an analysis of our retirement accounts, our current financial situation, our goals for the future, and testing all kinds of scenarios and variables to be able to project what the next 20-30 years might look like.  This year, we met with our long-time friend, an estate attorney, to thoroughly review and update our will, medical decision-making documents and much more.  The last two weeks, we met with our funeral-director friend to make all of our end-of-life plans and to get everything prepaid to make things much easier for our children when it’s our time to change our addresses from our earthly home to our heavenly home.  On top of it, this morning, I attended a long-time pastor friend’s memorial service.  He was two years younger than me. 

All of the above has me thinking about inheritance and legacy. Are they the same?  Are they different?  Which one is more important? And then, just this week, I got a very timely short video from Sam Chand on this topic.  Chand says, “We tend to equate inheritance with legacy. The truth is that the two are very different. Inheritance is WHAT you will leave behind; legacy is WHO you will leave behind. It’s important to plan for both.” 

Have I planned for both inheritance and legacy?  Which one will I leave behind?  Over the last 18 months, I’ve been planning primarily for inheritance.  We’ve made sure all of our “stuff” will be appropriately handled and disbursed. Our children will have no difficult decisions to make when we leave this world.  We have made the decisions so they won’t have to be burdened with them. The WHAT is taken care of.  

Our 8-yr old granddaughter expressing spontaneous praise on the Oregon Coast.

For the last several decades, we’ve been planning for legacy. We birthed and raised three children to adulthood who now have spouses and children of their own.  We founded a church which has changed the eternal destinations of thousands and redirected and transformed multiple generations for hundreds of families.  We designed, developed and executed a successful succession plan that has strategically placed top-shelf leaders in a place that will take this transformissional movement to increasing levels of impact and fruitfulness.  The WHO is handled.

It’s a great feeling to be at a juncture of life where I can look forward to the years ahead without any unfinished business.  Both the what and the who is planned for.  Both inheritance and legacy are solid.  For certain, I wish for a few more decades to enjoy my fruit growing on the trees of others.  But if something happened suddenly to me tomorrow, it’s all good!  

Now, how about you? Are you planning or already prepared for both inheritance and legacy?  It’s never really too early to plan and prepare.  In fact, legacy is best started when you are at the front end of life.  The sooner the better.  Who are you investing in?  Who or what kind of people do you want to leave behind?  In your family?  In your work world?  Through your faith influence?

Don’t forget this.  Inheritance will go away.  The house, the cars, the business, the retirement accounts, will all depreciate, deplete or decay.  Legacy will last.  The impact of the people you have left behind will have an ever-increasing ripple effect.  Generations to come will be strengthened and fortified because you have invested yourself in the people God has entrusted to your influence.  Are you being intentional about both the what and the who?  If not, then why not start today?

QUESTION:  What additional thoughts has this conversation sparked in you? I’d love to hear what is on your mind right now.

This week marks 40 years of serving in the role of a leader.  I became a pastor of a small church in Elmira, NY in August 1979.   I then moved to Cape Coral, FL in 1986 to start a church. 33 years later, I’ve remained in SW Florida, still serving on the staff of that church. While, I had spent 7 years in college and seminary preparing for my role as a leader, I had only a slight understanding of what I was in for.

From four decades of experience, here are four leadership lessons. 

1 – God will use anyone. God doesn’t use just superstars.  Mostly, he uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I’m a pretty average guy.  Grew up on an Oregon grass-seed farm. Was average in sports.  Got mostly A and B grades with a couple C’s thrown in. Liz Bohannon, a speaker at the 2019 Global Leadership Summit, pretty much described my life when she said, “Most everyone is average, but you can live an above average life by consistent focus on the little things.”  By most measurements of church leadership, I’ve experienced an above average life the past four decades.  But then, God is a master at using shepherd boys as extraordinary kings, terrorists as radical apostles, and fishermen as church movement leaders.

2 – God can do more than you can imagine.  One of my favorite prayers in the Bible ends with this powerful line… Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.(See Ephesians 3:14-21).  As a young 25 year-old pastor, I never imagined being a pastor in a church that is now averaging 3,000 people in weekend worship attendance.  I grew up in a church of 75 and had never been a part of a church more than 150.  But God enabled me to catch a vision of making a larger impact.  I saw examples of it being done.  By his grace, I was able to lead leaders to remove the common obstacles that hinder growth and keep the average church in America under 90. I feel privileged to have started a church that joined the 2% of churches in America which grow beyond a 1000. God can do more than you can imagine.

3 – Change should be embraced, not resisted.  One of the four pillars that guided Cape Christian at our launch 33 years ago was that we would be “Change-Oriented.”  One of the lines in that original document stated, “We will not fear and resist change but see it as important and necessary for effective ministry.”  I cannot count the number of times that I’ve had to point leaders and followers back to that statement.  I often joke that the only thing you can count on to be consistent… is change.  We have become an impactful church because we’ve adjusted, modified, reformed, revised, customized, corrected, altered, transitioned, and “bent the curve” over and over again.  And it has been at so many levels:  changing bylaws to be more nimble, repeatedly tweaking worship times, developing and implementing a leadership succession plan when some thought it was too soon and my successor was too young, building a park for the families of the city rather than an auditorium for ourselves, and more.  Change has been embraced, not resisted.  For those who couldn’t handle the changes, they made a change. They found another church that was closer to the way “we use to do it.”

4 – Leadership is both sweet and sour.  When I visit my six year-old grand twins, I love to beg a couple pieces of Sour Patch Kids candy from their stash. There is something about that mixture of sour and sweet that is delightful.  It’s addictive.  Leadership is similar. There are sour moments.  But there are many sweet rewards.  Often, they are in the very same bite.  A painful staff change can bring new movement forward.  Constraints drive creativity.  Shortage of funds motivate greater resourcefulness. Criticism and attack can provoke new self-insight. Heavy opposition builds leadership muscle.  Impossibilities can activate a mountain-moving God.

A Greek proverb says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” That’s both sour (no fruit and no shade now) but it’s sweet for the next generation. Leadership is the same.  Some things that were difficult and sour several decades ago, are now bearing sweet fruit and providing shade for my successor.  I wouldn’t choose any other way.

40 years is a long time.  But, I know I have some years of leadership left.  I know my calling still exists.  I’m in a different “seat on the bus” than I once was.  And I’m grateful.  Filled to overflowing with gratitude and contentment.  I’ve led with success and lived with significance.  Now I’ve got a craving. It’s time to go buy a bag of Sour Patch Kids.    

QUESTION: What are you learning about leadership these days? Do you resonate with any of these four? I’d love to hear your comments below.

In 1986, I gained a new insight when I heard Dr. John Maxwell say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  At the time, that new understanding both encouraged me and discouraged me.  It encouraged me because I was making a fresh leadership start. I was preparing to launch a new church. It discouraged me when I reflected on the previous seven years of leading another church.  That church was struggling and ready to disband.  Did it flounder because of my leadership? Believe me, I could think of quite a few other glaring reasons why it was failing.  I certainly did some personal inventory and tried to own my part in the deterioration of that church, but I determined I was going to spend most of my time looking forward out the windshield rather than spend all my time looking in the rearview mirror.  

So fast forward another 33 years and I recently read the phrase by James Emery White“Everything rises and falls on integrity.” He used an example of a friend of his (who was also a leadership mentor of mine).  It was this man’s leadership gifts that caused him to rise to incredible influence and impact.  But ultimately, it was his lack of integrity that caused him to crash and burn. Many have been disappointed, damaged and disillusioned.

I am reminded of something my successor, Cory Demmel, often tells our staff at Cape Christian: “Your gifts and talents can gain you a large following and bring you high regard.  But your character is the only thing that will keep you there over the long haul.”  Truth. Definitely.  For certain.  I’ve watched it so many times during my four decades of leadership.  Talent and gifting take leaders upward and many follow their leadership.  But then. Pride, arrogance, entitlement, facades and more lead to a shadow life.  And that shadow life may lurk behind the curtain for a real long time while the stage persona accelerates upward.  But pretty much always, sooner or later, the lack of integrity is revealed.  The person isn’t who most everyone thought they were.  And it all starts crumbling.

Business, politics, church, wherever.  White’s phrase should be burned into our psyche,“Everything rises and falls on integrity.”  Our integrity is probably the biggest gauge of the kind of legacy we will leave.  In the dark recesses of our private life lurks the microbes for horrific failure.  That’s sobering to me.  I know enough about my ability to deceive myself that I find this almost downright scary. Do I have the accountability needed? Do I have enough fences built around my life to protect me from falling into the snare of temptation?  Am I leaning into God’s strength and resources in such a way that I able to stand up against any distortions of truth and honorable living as I learned from my father?

One of the best models of integrity was my father, Thurlowe F. Gingerich, who died last year.

Yes, this is my new phrase for the next 30 years: “Everything rises and falls on integrity.” No longer will I settle for “Everything rises and falls on leadership.  The new phrase doesn’t negate the old phrase I’ve used hundreds of times while training younger leaders.  But I am keenly aware that integrity is much more of a hinge point for how I’ll be remembered, not just my leadership.  I want to make sure young leaders know that truth. Their leadership gifts and talents may build their leadership influence platform. But the lack of integrity, in the end, will destroy that influence.  Every leader is remembered by how they ended, not how they started or even their greatest successes. Everything rises and falls on integrity.  That’s what I hope I never have to learn… the hard way.

QUESTION:  What helps you maintain integrity in your life?  (I’d love to hear it in the comment section below).

A while back, I read about a phenomenon called the “tall poppy syndrome.” Evidently, it is a common Australian farming practice to cut down any poppy that grows above the rest. Regrettably, this practice is not limited to just poppy farms in Australia. It’s a common practice most everywhere.  I’ve seen it in workplaces, politics, families, communities and churches.  

It seems to me, our shifting cultural climate toward boldly posting our unabashed opinions and rants on about any topic, has increased this phenomenon. I see a growing trend to attack, criticize, and resent anyone who has talent or achievements that sets them apart from others. This tendency extends to those who resent the efforts of leaders who challenge the status quo. Opponents of change initiatives often attempt to marginalize leaders by attacking their character and questioning their motives. If the messenger is flawed, then the message and vision they offer cannot be trusted. As disappointing as it is, these challenges come with the territory of leadership.

To be totally fair, this isn’t a brand new practice.  Apostle Paul of the first century was very familiar with this kind of character assault. He frequently encountered mean-spirited opposition from those who questioned his motive and his methods. We get a sense of the content and the intensity of these attacks from his response to those accusations in a letter he wrote to the Jesus-followers in the Greek city of Thessaloniki:  “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.  For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.”(1 Thessalonians 2:3-6).

The list against Paul was quite extensive and severe: error, sexual impurity, deceit, flattery, and greed. Now, that’s a catalogue of culpabilities. I don’t have room here to go into these allegations and how the Apostle responded to each one.  But a careful study of the scriptural text reveals that Paul persevered amidst these attacks and demonstrated the purity of the motives that guided his leadership.

Let’s bring it home.  Have you ever been “the tall poppy” at school, on a team, in the community, in your family, or at work? Did others try to “cut you down” because of your talent, idea, vision or position?  How did you respond? I wrote about one of my “tall poppy” experiences in a previous blog. It was very uncomfortable.  It still makes me think twice before taking risks because I wonder how I’ll be perceived by my peers and colleagues.  At the very least, I’m still sometimes hesitant to share with others any of my bold ideas or plans.  How about you?  How have you responded?  How have those experiences tempered your audacious decisions and actions?

And finally, be brutally honest.  Have you ever been so filled with jealousy that you tried to cut the tallest poppy in your field? Maybe you pointed out that person’s flaws and failings to others.  Maybe you derided their idea or decision as ill-advised or just plain ridiculous.  Maybe you dug your heels in and refused to join the vision.  I’ve been there and done that. I’ve learned you don’t make the world brighter by blowing out someone else’s candle.  And, I am also learning that the more I grow in my emotional and spiritual health, the easier I can celebrate the successes of others. 

A pivotal part of my leadership journey toward leaving a lasting legacy was to develop and implement a succession plan in the organization I founded. I can now look back and see that the five years during the planning process and the ten years since the implementation of that succession plan has been a proving-ground experience for me to make significant progress in weeding out the tallest-poppy syndrome from my first and foremost reaction reservoir.  I’m much more grateful these days for the beauty of tall poppies.  It adds such dimension and splendor to the field. 

QUESTION:  As you consider either your response to being the target of others attacks or your own resentment of others achievements, what is God nudging you about in your attitudes and motives?  What adjustments is He prompting you to make?

“Every dream is created twice.” I can’t remember who to give credit to for that phrase but it stuck with me when I first heard it. The idea is this. The first creation is mental. Every invention, every business, every building, every art piece is conceived in the imagination first—our right brain. It’s just an idea at that point. The second creation is physical. You make it happen by doing something.  

Growing up, I pretty much always heard a particular scripture verse interpreted in negative terms.  2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  I understood it this way. Take sinful thoughts captive and keep them out of your mind. And that is very important.  But I love the flip-side.  The other half of a very important truth. How about capturing creative thoughts and keeping them in our minds? Why not focus on stewarding every idea inspired by the Holy Spirit?

  • If your dream is to write a book, you make it obedient with a keyboard.
  • If your dream is playing a professional sport, you make it obedient at the gym.
  • If your dream is starting a business, you make it obedient through one action at a time.

“Stairway to Heaven” – a recent capture by Dennis of the Milky Way and the Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, UT (See www.GingerichPhotoArt.com)

Your dreams will never exceed your imagination. You can’t achieve what you don’t believe. So idea generation is important. But idea execution is where the rubber meets the road.  I like dreamers. I love to hear visions of new and exciting possibilities. They make me think outside the box. And I applaud the dreamer’s ability to plot. But I love doers even more. They inspire me to action. And it’s the plodders, not the plotters, who make things happen.  It’s the doers who leave a legacy to be experienced by the next generations.

God isn’t going to say, “Well planned, good and faithful servant.” He won’t say, “Well thought, well said, or well strategized my child.” There is one commendation spoken of by Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant”(Matthew 25:21).

Dreaming is great.  Setting goals is good. Carrying them out is another story. Without perspiration to match your inspiration, your dream imagined will turn into a dream delayed.

What do you need to start?

What are you waiting for?

Maybe it’s a healthier lifestyle. Maybe it’s a graduate program. Maybe it’s a business or a new ministry?  Maybe it’s to write a succession plan?  Whatever it is, the hardest part of finishing is starting.  John Rampton gives 5 Ways Dreamers Can Become Doers in Entrepreneur magazine.  Start by reading and implementing these practical steps.

Going after a dream is like riding a bike—you’ve got to get a little momentum to really get going.  Consider this your push.

QUESTION:  What God-given idea do you have that needs to be acted on? Maybe your first step toward execution is sharing it with others in the comment section below. 
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