Everywhere I Go, There They Are

I was standing in line at one of my favorite places (Starbucks) and a guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you Dr. David Foster?”  And I turned around and said, “Yes, I am THE Dr. David Foster.”  And this big smile comes across his face and he says, “I know you.  And I need to tell you something.”

Those things put together scared me just a little.  But here’s the story he told.  He and his wife had been part of a church start that I had led, and he had been a part of the years when we met in a school – 10 years worth.

He related how much they had enjoyed the church, especially working with children. That my wife who was our children’s director, had really made a big impression on them, and that both of them serve as children’s pastors in a great, growing church.

He said, “I’ve never taken the time to thank you for changing my life, for leading and inspiring, and making us believe we could do something important with our lives.”

It’s always a great day when you hear that kind of story, but I have to tell you that I hear it all the time.  So here is my learning.  Give your life away. Write a mission statement that begins with these two words, “to help.”  Live it.  Believe in it.  Don’t let skeptics and small-minded people keep you from it.  Love people.  Take a challenge.  Pour your life out. Be generous. And it will continuously come back to you. And the people with big smiles and “thank you’s” will find you in every Starbucks you go.

As You End the Work Week, Consider the Iron Law of Organizational Demise Because it Might Not Be the Economy

One of the most popular trends in a down economy is to blame everything on the economy. If business is bad, the future looks bleak, we can sit around and comfort ourselves knowing that everyone else is sucking wind because, of course, it’s the economy.

But the problem with that is, some of the greatest innovative companies have arisen over history during the bleakest of economic times. Even today new start-ups are gaining traction, and innovation and service are going to new levels in some sectors of course, not all.

As you end your work week and you’ve had conversations about how bad the economy is and when things might turn around, I have something for you to think about.  And I call it the Iron Law of Organizational Demise.

Here it is.  There are two groups of people in every organization, at least initially.  The first group are those who thought the whole thing up. They are the ones who had the dream, who wrote the vision on the back of a napkin, who dared to launch when everyone thought they were crazy.  And against all odds, their church, their organization, their business caught on.  And all of a sudden people and money start flocking in like there is no tomorrow.

And what do these visionaries do?  These people who have worked their butts off to get this thing off the ground.  They want to keep the growth going, so what do they do?  They seek out and hire organization experts, whatever they are.  And before long, the organization is populated by two groups of people: those who are passionate about what the organization exists to do, provide, create, or innovate; and the second group of people who are passionate about the organization itself.

Over time – and listen to me, I know what I’m talking about – over time, the group late to the organization wins.  Why?  Because in part, those who started the organization stopped trusting the genius of the mission, the vision, and the passion that created the thing in the first place.

This is what I’ve learned the second time around, starting a brand new church: a church with about a thousand-plus people in it, with a very small staff.  Years ago I started another church that had thousands of people in it and a big staff.  And here’s what I’ve learned.  Those who come late, those who populate the organization, those who write their procedures, and policies, those who administer the whole thing will eventually win.  They will throw the visionaries out and seize the assets, and slowly, but surely, over time, that group, that thing, that company that existed on the cutting edge becomes the same old, same old as everything else, and everyone else.

If you are starting a company, a church, anything, trust the genius of your initial passion.
Be careful who you allow in the inner circle.  Are they vision/passion people who are willing to do whatever it takes? Or are they organizational people who only would sit in a beautiful leather chair, in a nicely-appointed office?

Why Tony Dungy Shouldn’t be Taking On Rex Ryan

Let me say right out of the blocks, I love Tony Dungy.  I admire him as a brother, as a coach, and as a great human being.

I love his books.  Anything he says, I listen to.  So you need to understand that this comes from a Tony Dungy fan.  But for the first time I have ever experienced, Tony has made a super blunder.

You may wonder what it is, so let me explain.  Tony has made not only one, but several comments over time about coaches using bad language, cursing in the process of coaching.  On theory, I happen to agree with him that cursing, particularly the kind that uses high-octane words is non-productive.  It really has no place in business, coaching, or almost any place else it seems to me.

As expected, Rex Ryan has shot back in response to Tony’s criticism of his language.  So in several days they’ve gone back and forth leading ultimately to the speech that Rex Ryan gave the other day.  It goes something like this: “Yes, I cuss in the process of coaching.  But let me be clear on saying I am a good person, because cussing doesn’t make you a bad person any more than not cussing makes you a good person.”  And with that one statement, the battle was won.

Here is my point.  You don’t change people, increase your influence, or get more listeners by attacking other people’s morals.  Because the truth of the matter is, we’re all vulnerable when it comes to our moral integrity.  None of us are completely perfect and sinless in how we’ve used language, influence, or relationships unethically, or at least unadvisedly.

You get nowhere worth going by detracting from another person’s behavior.  If you have a point of view, set it forth with your own behavior rather than criticizing someone else’s.

Those of us who believe that being a Christian is a good thing and helping other people understand the true nature of the good news is a mission thing, need to understand that we do not influence people by condemning them. Jesus said, “I’ve come not to condemn the world.”  Remember that.

Not All Mistakes are Created Equal

You hear it often in conversation.  People are talking, relating the story of the latest disaster.  Somewhere within it, you’ll hear this phrase, “Well, we all make mistakes.”

And that would be true, but not all mistakes weigh the same.  For example, adultery is not a mistake.  It’s a sin.  It’s a breach of trust.  It is something that you did that’s contrary to everything you’re supposed to be.  It is like throwing a nuclear bomb into your marriage.  Addressing adultery as a mistake is crude and shows that you have no idea of the new normal you have just created.

Putting your GPS up in your window, typing in your destination, following it to the letter, you can wind up almost driving into a river; that’s a mistake.  Investing in something you thought would go up, buying a house you thought would appreciate but didn’t; that’s a mistake.

So mistakes come in two kinds: mistakes of competence, and mistakes of character
.  Competency mistakes do help us if we indeed learn from them.  I’ve learned how to ride a motorcycle by making mistakes.  I’ve learned how to be a cyclist by making mistakes.  The day I bought my cycle the salesman said, “You do know there are only two kinds of cyclists.”  I said, “No, what are they?.”  He said, “Those who have fallen, and those who will.”

I thought about that and for a moment and dared I would be the exception to the rule, but I wasn’t.  I didn’t have the competency to ride a road bike with its thin tires, multiple gears, and most importantly, pedals in which your feet are semi-permanently fastened.  I have fallen.  I have fallen more than once.  It hurts.  Most of all, it’s embarrassing because there is no graceful way to fall.  But guess what, I don’t fall near as often a I used to, because I am getting used to the bike, to my weight, and how to balance it, how to anticipate and respond to certain situations.  I am falling less. My mistakes not only are painful enough that I don’t want to repeat them, but have given me valuable feedback and information in order to make course corrections.

Mistakes of character are about 50/50
.  About 50% never learn from them and never recover from them.  The other 50% learn and recover, but is a long, expensive, and painful process.

So ask yourself when you are about ready to do something in which you might fail.  Will I fail because of character?  That’s unacceptable because you are doing something that goes against your belief system, your values.  Stop, turn around, and go back home.  Can I make the mistake because I lack the information or the skill, but it’s worth doing anyway because the pay-off is off the charts?  Then by all means, don’t be afraid to make a mistake of competency. You can learn from your mistakes and get smarter and try again at a better place.

The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do Today to Improve Your Leadership

With so much written about leadership, with so many theories about what it is and what it isn’t, let me just give you one single, simple, singular idea that you can make application with right now, where you are.

The very best thing you can do today to improve your leadership certainly by a factor of two or three, is become interested in people.
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Contrary to What You Believe, Money Won’t Fix What’s Wrong With Your Life

The name Albert Haynesworth strikes a familiar chord for those of us who live in Nashville and love rooting for the Tennessee Titans.  Albert was a standout on our team in his performance both on the field and off.   Known for his bursts of anger, Albert seems to be a troubled young man.

A year ago Albert left the Titans to join the Washington Redskins, where he would be paid over $100 million for his services. His year by all estimations was spotty at best.  His behavior: borderline.

Now we see in the news that Albert is at odds with his new team and he’s gaining the reputation as someone who can’t be relied upon.

I’ve heard people say, “If I got paid that much money, I’d show up and do what I’m told.”  But the truth is, if you’re wounded inside, or if there’s something broken, something that drives you to misbehave, to self-destruct, money won’t fix it. It will only make it worse.

Money is an enabler, and it empowers.  It doesn’t create what’s on the inside, it only allows it to come out and be demonstrated more publicly.

So instead of praying, and asking, and seeking, and killing yourself for more money because you think that’s your real problem, work on the thing you can.  And that’s you: your character, your integrity, your generosity, your enthusiasm, your ability to envision a new future, your ability to exercise your God-given uniqueness to create whatever you want.

We live in a great nation that can give you everything but fill up the whole that’s in your heart.

You Tell Stories for a Living, Did You Know That?

No matter what you do in life, whether you are a professional, in the service industry, or a teacher, your level of success will be determined by your ability to tell interesting stories really well.

Life is about story, adventure, journey.  It’s about not only experiencing for yourself, but interfacing with other people who help you along that journey and give you better ways to experience your life.

So ask yourself: Am I telling really interesting stories; stories about my product, my service?  And am I doing it really really well?  It takes both.

If your career is stuck, maybe it’s not the work itself. Maybe it’s that you’ve lost the joy and the passion of telling the story of what it is you do, the help you offer, the solution you believe in.  Or maybe you still believe in it but you’re not taking the time to tell your story really well.  Is it compelling?  Does it incite, inspire, encourage, even outrage at times?

Your life might be improved, your career even saved if you realize that your job is to tell interesting stories really, really well.

LeBron James, The Cleveland Cavaliers, and a Study in Integrity

I, like you, have listened to the saga of the LeBron James free-agent dance.

As it turns out, LeBron and some of his friends turned the system in on itself and beat the owners at their own game.  And now they are very, very angry.

James is criticized for making his decision public on ESPN, when exactly what he did was use the sports-crazed nation against itself in order to raise millions of dollars for the Big Brothers organization.   That’s being smart.

That night, the owner of the Cavaliers came out with an emotionally scathing, slanderous attack against James.  But let’s talk about what’s fair here.  If James hadn’t played up to the Cavaliers’ standards they would be the first to send him on the road.  And trust me, having lived in Music City, I’ve seen more than a few famous people dropped by their record label and they never heard a word form them until they saw it on CNN.  This happens all the time.  That doesn’t mean it should, it just means this is an issue of integrity.

Integrity resides on both sides of the working equation.
That’s why I am such an advocate of entrepreneurial efforts to build your own businesses, work for yourself, and then if you work for a jerk, you’re the problem.

Big companies employing tens of thousands of people in the public arena who don’t give the support, the resources, who even force them into dishonest practices are sowing the seeds of their own demise. As are workers who cheat on their time-cards, who play around on the internet instead of being focused on the work at hand.

Integrity extends in the lives of our families; husbands flirting with their secretaries, women at home on Facebook rekindling old flames.  It is a matter of integrity.

What we need, I’m convinced, is a conviction that doing the right thing is not just the right thing, it will yield the right results. We’re not honest because it’s the policy; we’re honest because it’s right.  And when you do what’s right, ultimately it comes back to you.

It’s called the law of reciprocity. It’s what Jesus taught when he said, “Give and it shall be given unto you.”  Give and you shall be given.  Give what you give and you’ll get it back. It applies to the amount as well.  It also applies to integrity.  So whether you’re LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers, AT&T, BP, McDonalds, or a Mom & Pop store down the street, integrity on both sides of the fence, is the most profitable strategy you could ever commit to.

Dare to be Excellent at Everything You Do

You would think that with all the technology available to us, all the systems that allow for cheap entry into different spaces, that excellence would be on the rise.  But oddly enough, it seems the opposite is true.  How many times have you gone to a restaurant that claims to be excellent at least according the to the prices they charge,  and yet the food and service is barely mediocre?  Mediocrity reigns in corporate board rooms, in church leadership, and in families.  And we all suffer because of it.

I want to dare you to be excellent by giving you a workable definition.  I think we’ve mistaken excellence for something unattainable, more like perfection than what might reside within the reach of the average man or woman.

You can define excellence this way, and it’s achievable to anyone who wants it.  Here it is.  Excellence is doing the best I can with what I have where I am in the time allotted. When I realized that, everything began to change.

Twenty years ago my family and I moved to Nashville to start a church directed toward people who didn’t want to go to church.  No money, no support, a rented, run-down school building: not much about what we looked like or sounded like when we started was excellent.

As we began to persevere and grow, I realized that there were a lot of things that people would put up with if they knew and were convinced that we were doing the best we could do with what we had, where we were, in the time allotted.  That definition makes excellence available to anyone who wants it badly enough.

At the end of the day, you won’t be remembered for how much you earned, or how much you bought, or how many people attended your church.  You’ll be remembered by the quality of your life and the service you offered.  Let it be excellence and nothing less.

Where have all the innovative leaders gone? Someone please tell me.

Today I have a question I’d love to have your answer to, or your input, or your take, whichever.  Where have all the innovative leaders gone?

Some would say, “Well, they’re in the tech world.”  Well, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with that because there’s a tremendous amount of innovation going on, particularly in the mobile space.  Almost all tech blogs today are consumed with talking about iPhones, SmartPhones, Androids, and the like.

But I’m talking about innovative leadership as it relates to government, industry, and most of all, to the American Church.

I am a pastor.  And I can say for the first time in my life, I love it.  I am a part of the second church Paula and I have started in the last 20 years.  And I am having a ball.  I love every minute of it.  I’m engaged, I’m reading books, going to conferences, and seeing what there is to offer out there in terms of innovation.  Here is a guy who started back in the John R. Rice and Jack Hyles days.  And if you don’t know who those guys are, you don’t need to know.

Here’s what I’m seeing in the American Church: a lot of imitations by posing personalities.  I see it in how cool their blogs are, and their Twitter posts and all the rest.  And I’m not impressed.  Good guys, great ladies, absolutely.  Innovation: where is it? Have I missed it?

So here’s my question, “Where have all the innovative leaders gone?  Are they out there?  Are you one of them?”  Maybe I’m just old, and deaf, and can’t see.  Help me out.  Give me some suggestions on where we can find some truly innovative leaders.

You’re Not Having a Bad Day; You Just Have Expectations That Are All Screwed Up

Let me say right up front, I would qualify as an Apple fan boy.  One of my best buddies, Dave Seldon, loves aggravating me about this fact.  And I think that’s why I love him so much, and why I’m praying that one day he’ll get “saved.”  Ha ha!

The Apple iPhone 4 was announced last week to be released in a few weeks.  And the litany of things it can do boggles the mind.  From the display, to the HD movie camera, to iBooks, on and on and on the list can go.  And yet what do I hear in all the reviews and blogs?  Not what was put in and how well it was done, but about what was left out.  Complaining, moaning, and I can even say the word that begins with “B”, but you get the point.

You may say, “Why are you wasting my time talking about this?” because the iPhone, even if you don’t have one, is ruining your life along with Apple and Google, and IBM, and Honda, Toyota, and every other company that creates remarkable products, seemingly out of thin air.  Our expectation for technology, what it can do, and maybe more importantly, what it should do is unreasonable, irrational, and off the charts.

Unreasonable, irrational, out of the ballpark expectations when applied to our lives make us miserable. We think that the same thing that works with my iPhone – turn it on and it just works – can be applied to my life. I just get up, do the right things, and all the right things will happen.  Add to that religion, which says that if I do the right things God will open the gates of heaven.  And you can see the evidence in the money, the blessing, and the help, and you get my point.

The problem with technology and religion is they always disappoint. But the great thing with religion that technology doesn’t share is that when you’re disappointed with religion, it’s always your fault.  Ain’t that cute.

Let’s forget that for a minute and talk about your marriage.  Marriage is hard.  I’ve done a video blog about that just the other day.  Go back and find it: “Why is Marriage so Hard?” Relationships are hard.  Life is hard. Even Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.”  But we act as though it shouldn’t be that way, and that there is a magic formula.

Here is my point: you’re not having a bad life; you’ve just got weird expectations. Take those expectations down and align them with reality.  You will have good, you will have bad, and if you do the right things you’ll have more good than bad.  But life is worth it.  Get up every day and face life as it is, not as you think it ought to be. Do that with joy, enthusiasm, and fun, and some amazing things can happen.  But make sure your expectations are reasonable; high, but reasonable.

How to Start Something Big: The Final and Most Exciting Step 4

For the past several days I’ve been talking about a change in mindset from a “work for the man” mentality to a “mind my own business” mentality.

It’s more important than ever to realize that whatever you do, wherever you go, wherever you show up to practice what it is you do in the world, you’re in business for yourself.

Some of you will even want to start a business. The question is, “How do you do it?”  I’ve talked about the four steps.

You start with a set of core values and beliefs; things that you know to be true about how the world ought to be.  Then you compare that to how the world really is.  And the gap between how the world really should be according to your core values and beliefs and how it is according to reality around you, is where your cause will arise.

So with core beliefs and values, you add to that a sense of calling to step into the gap to do something about what’s not right about the world.  To help, to lift, to create, to make something of your life: that would be your cause.

The final stage in starting your own business is conduit.  In other words you need a way – services, products – to deliver to the people you’re trying to help, the help you’re trying to deliver.

For example if your calling is to be a songwriter, then your conduit is words; actually writing songs and finding ways to get those songs published, recorded, and then out the the public.

Let’s say that your cause and calling is to make widgets.  Then you need a conduit; maybe a factory, a vendor, wholesalers, salespeople, marketing.

Maybe you’re calling and cause is to help the banjo replace the guitar.  You’ll need a conduit for that.  On and on this concept can go.

A conduit can be anything that helps you deliver your solution, your product, to as many people as possible who desperately want and need the solution you’re offering.

So think about it.  If you’re sick and tired of sitting in the rush hour traffic, and would rather spend those hours in the day, week, and year investing in something important and productive, then just maybe you need to stop “working for the man” and start “minding your own business.”

People often ask me, “How do you do that when you’re already engaged in a job?”  And I respond, “Everybody needs at least two jobs; the job they have, and the job they’re going to have.”  And the job you’re going to have can be created while you’re engaged in the job you have. And one day there will be a moment of truth when your second job will begin to dominate and overtake your first job.  And then you can make the leap into a new world and career.

But here is my warning: Everything great begins small, obscure, ignored, and under-funded.  The challenge is to bootstrap your dream when no one else wants to be involved.

How to Start Something Big: Step 3

The past several installments I’ve been talking about switching from a work for the man mentality to a mind my own business attitude.

In the brave new world that’s being constructed around us we must become, like it or not, more responsible for our own lives.  Attendance-based employment which simply means, show up and we’ll give you a paycheck, is on its way out.  Performance-based, need-meeting reward is now taking its place.

So far I’ve talked about to start a business, to develop a mind my own business mentality, you need a core set of beliefs about how the world ought to be.  You need a calling, which gives you a sense of internal motivation as to what you care about.  And that gets further extended into the third thing you need, and that’s a cause.

A cause is something that matters to you. It gets your blood pumping.  It will get you up and get you moving every Monday morning for the next 40 years.  A cause is something that’s wrong or lacking that you care enough about to move into, to dedicate your life to try to plug up that hole.

Your cause may be justice, it may be healing, it may be making life easier for someone.  Your calling may push you to be a songwriter, a poet, a doctor, a professional, even a ditch-digger, because we do need ditches and somebody has to dig them.  Or, like my father, a road-maker.

Cause is something that you’re willing to dedicate yourself to the education, preparation, and dedication to be great at.  It’s as Malcolm Gladwell said in his latest book, Outliers, it’s the area you’re willing to spend 10,000 hours to become great.

So ask yourself, “What wrong needs to be righted, what load needs to be lifted, what gaping need needs to be met?”

For me and Paula, our passion since the day we got married at 18,  has always been to help people connect to God in a real way.  We set about giving real hope to real people in the real world, helping people grow great relationships over time, helping people find ways to get in on what God’s doing in our world. It’s been a constant, ongoing passion.  It’s moved us several times, we started two churches, and after having been in the people-helping business, we’re as passionate today as we were the first day we started over 38 years ago.

This decision on what your cause in life is going to be is important because it needs to match up and come into alignment with your calling.  This is important because if your calling and your cause are in alignment, firmly founded on your core beliefs, then you will never, ever, (get this, this is the good news, listen, write this down) ever have to retire.  You’ll never have to move to South Florida, buy a small condo, and wander around the mall looking for the latest soft-serve yogurt.

You want to be employed the rest of your life with something meaningful, important, and most of all, rewarding.

How to Start Something Big: Step 2

The very first thing you need to start a great company is a set of core beliefs and values.  These are the never-changing part of your life that equip you to face the ever-changing realities of the 21st Century world.

The second thing you absolutely need to start a great business is a calling.  This is what makes these core beliefs personal.  There are core beliefs everywhere; in the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran.  There are rule books, books on best practices that all of us can access.  There are true statements floating around everywhere.  And just because they are true doesn’t mean that they do anything to change the world. It’s when beliefs get down in your soul and you sense a calling to those beliefs; to that little part of the world that has a gaping need, injustice, or wrong that what you believe and what you are can change.

A calling will help you prevail through the adversities that always come in any start-up business,  because life likes to kill great companies in the infant stage.  And usually the first attack is not on the mission, but on the missionary; not on a vision, but on a visionary.  That’s why you need a calling down deep inside; an inner conviction that you have been called to this, that you are here for this purpose on the planet: a core and a calling fused together in a mighty force of self-determination, emotional initiative, and intellectual focus to create a fire that burns bright within you.  And until that fire burns bright in you, you can’t expect it to burn bright in anyone else.

Here’s what we’re looking for in our world; not more executives, not more information, we need to be inspired.  We yearn for it. We go to church for it, we read the Bible to gain it, we buy books to receive it.  And the man or woman with a core set of beliefs and a calling is unstoppable.

How to Start Your Own Business: Step 1

Alright, for the past couple of days I’ve been advocating a “mind your own business” mentality rather than a “work for the man” attitude.

Why is this important?  It’s because we need people just like you, with talent, faith, and heart to create more businesses that meet the gaping needs that we see in our society.  And they are growing every single day.  They are everywhere, all around you.

So, here’s the first thing you need to start a great business: you need a core.  And here is why a core is important.

  • A set of beliefs and values help define for you the way life ought to be.
  • These beliefs and values give you a starting point or an anchor from which to view the world as it is.
  • The gap that exists between the world as it should be according to your beliefs and values, and how it really is as you look out at it every day, becomes the market into which your new company can thrive.
  • A core helps your business know what is ever-changing as opposed to what is never-changing.  Beliefs and values endure.  Technologies and strategies morph and evolve.
  • Your core and how you relate it to the real world is your unique perspective. It’s how you see how things can be, as opposed to how they are.  So at the very heart of every great enterprise are a set of core beliefs and values.  These beliefs and values represent the foundation, the fundamentals, the big “why.”

Remember, people don’t pay premium prices for Apple products just because they’re shiny. They’re attracted to them because there’s a very well-defined set of core beliefs and values that the people who own and use those products care about and are willing to pay for.