working against the tide

Do you ever feel like you are “swimming up-stream”? Have you sensed that the door you hold open has a strong tension-spring that will slam it shut as soon as you let go? Have you ever felt like your hard work and passions are like a sand castle that is completely washed away when the tide comes in?

I have been struggling a lot with those kind of feelings the last few weeks. In a past leadership position, I gave my best effort to bring about a culture change that I believed in strongly. Some of what we encouraged was team leadership, women valued and developed equally with the men, integrity in character and finances, and a willingness to honestly evaluate results.

Together with my husband, I tried to lead by example; brought in resources and training; honored those co-workers who demonstrated the values we cherished, and celebrated the environment and growth that resulted from our efforts. It was hard work, there was resistance and personal attack, and we paid a price physically, emotionally, and relationally.

We were also incredibly blessed with encouragement and support from partners, mentors, and the thrill of changed lives. At the time, I thought the dream of healthy relationships and a healthy organization was worth the pain.

Sadly, today looking back on that time, I question more… so much of what we “built” is gone. Many things are different; environment, people, results… I wonder, did my hard work really accomplish anything? Was the up-hill climb good for only short-term, superficial change?

I have learned a lot about working as a leader. Now I need to learn about letting go. I need to live with the tension between desire for a legacy… and contentment with having given my best when it was my turn.

Do you have any tips for me? What do you do when your hard work is washed away?

what about results?

Some people claim that results are “cold” or devalue people or are too hard to measure, but I think differently. Especially in ministry, our results are people and results mean changed lives… often for all eternity. At home, I definitely work toward positive results in my marriage and my children. It can be difficult to measure those results, but it matters to me to do well.

Henry Cloud, in his book Integrityrecognizes that there are some results that we cannot control, but claims that in most cases, character affects fruitfulness. He says that many people know the “what”or “how” of the work, but still do not produce good results. He claims that the missing ingredient is in “who” they are.

What I do… is intimately connected… to who I am.

In the 9th chapter of Integrity, Cloud mentions five important character elements for achieving results:

1. understand who I am and what I do well  Successful, effective people do better because they know what they like and don’t like, what they are good at and where they are weak… and they set up healthy boundaries based on their values. They don’t chase an idealized picture of themselves, practice a false humility, or fold to pressure from others… but rather they work well in teams with others who can complement their weak areas.

Am I pretending that I am someone I’m not? Am I trying to do what I am not created for in order to please someone else? Do I work alone?

2. prepare and focus before I act – Cloud describes this as “ready, aim… and then fire”.  Being ready involves discipline, evaluative thought, and delayed gratification. It means avoiding rash decisions, “winging it” and impulsive actions. To aim is to live within reality and limits… not be “all over the place” with ideas and dreams. And fire means actually getting things done.

Do I have a plan… for my marriage, my family, my job? Do I know where I want to go? Am I doing the prep work to get me to my goals?

3. willing to make the hard calls  I already wrote about this is my “no more mr. nice guy” post, but there are a few challenging quotes from this chapter that I want to remember.

      “Past being mean and uncaring, virtually nothing erodes respect in a person                       more than his or her inability to make the hard call.”

“The patient, the company, and the family will be better in the end…” 

Do I have the courage and the ability to make the difficult decisions that some people won’t like, but are for the best?

4. find a way – To achieve results, people often have to persevere through hard times, make changes, accept failures, overcome obstacles. Cloud states that, “perseverance takes courage, stamina, emotional reserves, judgment, creativity…”

Do I quit easily or do I have what it takes to keep going? 

5. learn to lose well – Most breakthrough inventions and ideas have numerous “well, that didn’t work” projects behind them. The keys to losing well are facing the reality of failure, accepting responsibility, and learning from the experience. Sometimes losing is just giving up something good for something better.

Do I take time to grieve and evaluate the loss? Do I blame others or do I consider my contribution to the error? Am I afraid to let go of something that is not the best?

Fruitfulness depends on focusing on who I am and what I do. I don’t want to sacrifice dreams, goals, or mission purposes because of my personal immaturity. I want to grow in character. What do you think about results?