Leadership and Mediocrity

November 7th, 2012 § Comments § permalink

Several years ago, I accidentally watched an episode of Survivor. I’ve never been a fan of “reality” TV, and I’ve always been fairly selective of what I watch. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch a gritty crime series, or enjoy a good, hokie western now and then – but for the most part, I look for media that stimulates my mind. Anyway, I set the VCR to record one show, but apparently missed the cues and recorded Survivor instead.

A couple of days later, I sat down to watch the show I thought I recorded. Instead, the third episode of Survivor: Marquesas came on. I watched it and was amazed at the dynamics I saw being played out. (Try not to judge me, and listen to what I learned) I was immediately taken by one contestant, Hunter Ellisa former Naval aviator. In my ignorance at how this “game” is played, it seemed to me this is the guy you’d want on your team. If anyone knows anything about survival, it would be this military-trained pilot. But before I could say, sensationalism, Ellis was voted off the island.

Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve always been a quiet student of human nature and political science. I was curious to figure this out. Why would a group of people vote off the most qualified person on the island. Over the course of the next 12 episodes, I developed a fairly strong theory.

  • First, Ellis was the biggest threat.
  • Second, he was good, but not stellar, when it came to interpersonal leadership skills.
  • and finally, because of the game, the others didn’t see him as a necessary resource.

The main reason I found this show so fascinating was because of the situation I found myself in at the time. Fresh from graduate school, my wife and I found ourselves pastoring two churches – both small, rural (blue collar), and very traditional. Neither of us are traditional, and though we come from blue-collar backgrounds, we are both well educated. In addition, small churches don’t fit well within our background. In fact, fresh from the seminary, and new to professional ministry, we were all set to change the world.

(As a side note, there may be many reasons to send new, young pastors to small, rural churches – but for the life of me, I don’t believe any of those ideas outweigh the damage this does to the individuals and the organization.)

But, back to my fascinating theory on what happened during this episode of Survivor.

Not only was Ellis smart, well educated, and proficient in survival/outdoor skills, but he was handsome and articulate. Unfortunately, the game is about wilderness survival, it is about political survival.  Knowing how to start a fire without matches, or building a shelter without tools, while nice skills to have, neither are the primary objective. Though those skills can be leveraged towards the primary objective, they are merely currency.

As a new pastor, coming into a church where the Head Elder has held his position since I was six years old, I was completely unprepared for the “game.” I (wrongly) believed the purpose of doing church was to help people know that God loves them. I somehow believe that my ideas, vision, and education would be welcomed with enthusiasm and affirmation. For some strange reason, I thought the people in the church were just waiting to be empowered an mobilized. I was so wrong.

I was so wrong.

Interestingly, we got out of that first situation with our lives relatively intact – just as Hunter Ellis went on to capitalize on his 15 minutes of fame. My entire professional career, I relied upon my expertise and skills to succeed. I was a good paramedic, a good instructor, and a good public speaker. I learned to be a good administrator and a good project manager. Somehow, naively, I was able to avoid the pitfalls of the political subcultures I found myself in. I expected a meritocracy, but after watching this one season of Survivor, I learned that merit is seldom the purpose of most organizations.

Relationships matter. One can use their skills and merit a return on investment, but in a political organization, skills, talent, and experience are merely the currency of membership. Without continuing to build the relationships, and the bartering of give and take, they will soon find themselves bankrupt and without merit.

Unfortunately for me, I tend to build relationships with the underdogs and the disempowered. My compassion and empathy tends to overlook the powerful – for I tend to think the powerful would automatically want to help those less fortunate then themselves. I’m not quite cynical enough to think this isn’t true, but I’m pretty close to believing that if one focuses on the underdogs, they will never have a future amongst the powerful.

According to Wikipedia, Ellis was voted one of the worst Survivor players ever. He was deemed to be too cocky and, ironically, not paying close enough attention to his own standing. As I review my previous political errors, this could be said of me also. I’ve often been labeled cocky, or arrogant. I’ll own that. I do think there is a certain amount of self-confidence involved in that – plus, INTJs struggle with this perception. But still, I’ll own that fact that I’m often perceived as too cocky.

I also own the idea that I don’t pay enough attention to my own political standing. I’m opposed to currying favor, bartering with compromise, and using political standing to gain traction. Of course, this has not gone well in many situations. More than once I’ve had a boss call me onto the carpet to let me know I just made him look bad, or wasn’t supporting his vision of how things should progress. And more than once I’ve explained that I will follow my conscience and do the “right” thing, regardless of what is best for the organization’s survival.

My motive is never the survival of the organization, and always what is best for the individuals affected. As a paramedic and EMS manager, I was motivated by quality patient care. As a pastor, my motivation was to serve the disadvantaged and disempowered. As a voter, I am motivated to support those who cannot support themselves – not myself, or those well above the poverty line.

This is what gets me in trouble. I suppose some would suggest I take a more passionate interest in my own career – but I can’t. It’s would be immoral for me to do so. I could never put my own career, or the standing of any organization above what’s right.

Ellis was good. As I said, he was bright, articulate, skilled, charismatic, and attractive. But not stellar. From my observations, he is a leader and he has good ideas, but not stellar leadership, and not superior ideas. The biggest lesson I learned from watching this season of Survivor is that being a mediocre leader is one of the surest paths to political demise.

If one cannot rise up and be the leader, it would probably be best to blend into the background. Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill I’ve mastered either. Coming into this small, rural, traditional church, with a very established power structure, I thought my position, education, and enthusiasm would trump the inertia – it didn’t. In fact, all of my strengths were actually liabilities.

“I was too focused on doing the right thing.”

We were able to escape Rock Springs and serve in an area that was more akin to our passion and vision, but barely. If we had stayed much longer, we might have faced the same fate we experienced in Scappoose. Although I had an intellectual understanding of the dynamics, I never really applied them. Now, in retrospect, I realize this is what led to my demise in Scappoose and later at AMR. I was too focused on doing the right thing (whether my perspective of the “right thing” is correct, or not, is irrelevant to this discussion).

In Scappoose, I was all about reclaiming the marginalized members, looking out for those who didn’t feel comfortable in traditional church settings, and building connections within the community. What I didn’t realize is that none of those tasks should have been at the top of my list of priorities. Oops.

At AMR, I was focused on better supporting the paramedics and EMTs – knowing this is the surest way to achieve quality, and compassionate, patient care. My focus was on patient care and caring for our employees. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that AMRs goal was profit.

Ellis appeared to focus on survival, but because of his superior skills he was deemed a threat. I now realize that some deemed me a threat also. Whether the threat was to their power and control, or to the status quo, it really doesn’t matter.

I wonder what would have happened had Ellis bartered his skillset for position and standing within the game. What would have happened if I had taken the time to establish my position and standing, rather than pursuing the vision within me?

Or here’s a better question: What if society valued ideas and creative vision, rather than pretentious political gaming?

“As you begin to interpret your failures correctly, you will take your first giant step toward maturity.” ~Chuck Swindoll

One Thing at a Time: an example from EMS (part 2)

August 26th, 2012 § Comments § permalink

(Continued from here: For years we have been trying to do more with less. We, as employees, entrepreneurs, and parents seek to multitask and get more done in less time. The Great American Dream was to increase productivity and leisure time – but that hasn’t worked out so well. We thought we could systematize industry and agriculture, and allow ourselves shorter work weeks and more time to pursue self actualization.)

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Being a paramedic has helped me in this area:

Fire Department paramedics, 2000As an emergency services responder, I often have to multi-task. I’ve found however, that I can not multi-think. There’s a difference and I believe it applies to other professions and to parenting.
When I’m treating a critical patient, I will often try to be as efficient and quick as possible. This may mean simultaneously setting up an IV, applying EKG leads, and directing my partner in tasks. Yet when it comes to assessment, I have to narrow my focus. When I listen to lungs, I have to concentrate on that. When I’m reading a 12-Lead EKG, I have to focus on a systematic method of interpretation. If I try to listen to lungs, while calculating a drug dosage and reading an EKG, I’m likely to do one of these very poorly – with very negative outcomes.

If I don’t arrive, I’m not doing anyone any good”

It’s the same when I’m responding to a call. From the time the call first comes in, my first task is to determine the address, map it (whether on paper, the computer, or in my head), then to respond to that address safely and quickly. Certain calls will compete for my attention and distract me from arriving safely and quickly. If I don’t arrive, I’m not doing anyone any good. I have to arrive – which translates into safety – and the quicker the better. But distractions reduce my odds of arriving.

When the dispatcher tells us there is a baby not breathing, or another terrible event, it is easy to let one’s mind get ahead of itself. I start thinking about the tragedy unfolding, the parents, the child, the crying, the pain – and suddenly, I’m not watching traffic like I should, I make navigation errors, and I’m not being safe, or quick. I have disciplined myself to think instead about the task right before me – responding safely and quickly. Then, once we are on the road, and the traffic and geography allow, I will think about treatment options, review drug dosages, and plan for rapid assessment and treatment of my patient. But until I arrive on scene, I always make safe and rapid response my priority.

Here’s how this applies to parenting:Vader geeft baby de fles / Father feeding the baby

You work so you can provide for your family, not the other way around. Your family does not exist so you can have a career. You do chores around the house for the sake of your family – your family is not the cause of your chores. Everything you do is for you and/or your family. Your family is not a distraction from those things – you do those things for your family.

your kids are the reason you’re running these errands…”

So, if you’re at a soccer game, be at the soccer game. A Quick call from a coworker is to be expected – but keep it quick. Set good boundaries with your colleagues and don’t let them dominate your time with your family. The same with evenings and weekends.

When you’re in the car and running errands, remember, your kids are why you’re running these errands – they are not making your life harder – they are the reason you are here. Don’t subordinate your kids to your tasks, prioritize your kids above your tasks. Be available for them as you run your errands, drive around, and take care of household tasks. There may be times of silence, but you will be amazed at how the quality of your times together improves.

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(to be continued…)

Part 1 – Multitasking

Part 2 – An example from a paramedic

Part 3 – Don’t say, “I’m just too busy.

Part 4 – What we did

What Now?

August 24th, 2012 § Comments § permalink

This blog was originally started to chronicle my journey into fatherhood. I intended to show my failures, thoughts, lessons learned, and tips I’ve picked up on the way – hence, the original title, “Confessions of a not-so-perfect Dad.” And then life took a little sidetrack and my writing slipped into a pall of whining, bitterness, fear, and discouragement. In one sense, I’m ok with that – some of it needed to be said. On the other hand, we were building a pretty good audience here, and we’ve lost a lot of readers since.

Over the course of the past year or two, I’ve been exploring many paths and I’ve started new blogs and social media platforms to explore these. These are best reflected on my curated Scoop.it profile. I have blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages that reflect these interests. It has been interesting to explore these topics – if for no other reason than it has helped me to see which avenue I should pursue and which I should walk away from.

The topics are as follows (in case you haven’t already clicked the Scoop.it link above): fatherhood, emergency medical services, leadership, social media, and post-denominational spirituality. More specifically, I want to help men become better fathers by becoming better men; I desire to see EMS move to the next level and get beyond its adolescence; I hope to build a community of leaders who are willing to share, collaborate, and grow/learn together; I also am a bit of a social media maven and I believe I could help people improve their online presence; and finally, like EMS, I see the Church stuck in a phase that is stifling growth, creativity, and usefulness – I would like to enable true spiritual seekers to find freedom from the constraints of bureaucracy.

As I’ve explored these ideologies, some with vigor and some with passivity. However, this process has enabled me to discover where the interests are, and, more importantly, where my passions lie.

Two months ago on Father’s Day, I was struck with an epiphany. As it often happens, these epiphanies come while I’m in the shower. I’m certain it has to do with the isolation, sensory deprivation, and lack of media distractions – but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, as I stepped out of the shower and donned my new “I’ve Got Daddytude” t-shirt (which you can buy!), I realized this is where my passion lies. More than anything, I want to be a great Dad, a great husband, a good man, and a good person. I also want to help other men attain this. Holistic Daddytude – mental, spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical health that will enable men to be the kind of men their kids need, the kind of husband their partners want, and the kind of person that benefits society.

I also realize that I have a lot of little tips, advice, and wisdom tucked up my sleeve – little common things, but significant in ways that are uncommon. As you know, the problem with common sense is that it isn’t very common. I believe I can continue to curate on Scoop.it, Facebook, and Twitter, while also creating content and sharing practical common wisdom. While I may never bring in enough revenue to pay the bills, I’m not concerned about that – my gifts, my passion, and my talents are all screaming for an outlet – and I need to bring this together and make it a reality.

Stay tuned…  to be continued.

 

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