The past few years have brought a lot of change to my life, some great, some heartbreaking, a lot somewhere in between. There’s been marriage, new job, cancer, and my wife’s joy at getting rid of the van. There has been new gadgets, learning, traveling, and helping people take steps forward. Going through chemo this summer has brought about new challenges, chief of which is tinnitus, and while there is a strong likelihood it will clear up for me, who knows how long that might take. As if easily getting tired and the slowly improving shortness of breath aren’t bad enough, tinnitus can complicate the enjoyment of music, movies, and even hanging out with people. Nevertheless, last night Tiah and I ventured out to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, and I’m so glad we did.
First, it’s been very hard on my wife that we haven’t been able to do a proper date for some time. When I am up to doing something together with her, out of the house, it’s extra special for her right now. Second, it’s just an excellent movie. Despite the expected rock shows, my ears handled it well until the very end, and who doesn’t enjoy Queen’s music? Third, it offered a lot of moments that triggered personal reflection. Sometimes we don’t realize things about ourselves until we’ve been through some stuff. Other times someone steps up and brings some honesty to you that goes against everything people have been telling you for years. On rare occasion, a true friend bluntly calls you on something you need to change. I’d like to share several things I have come to understand about myself and the world around me, good and bad.
- I can be very demanding. While I’ve always been a hard worker, I haven’t always brought my best. A number of years ago, my boss sat me down in his office and made it clear I wasn’t meeting the expectations of either the position or organization. It was clearly stated on paper what was wrong, what I had to do, and how long I had to get my act together. It was an incredibly difficult conversation, but one that took me from merely being a hard worker, to one who consistently brings his A game, and expects it from those around him.
- A Players are exceedingly rare. They find a way to get things done, and it will likely bring some conflict to the status quo. When my previously mentioned boss arrived on the scene it quickly became apparent that he had an expected standard. It made for some long nights as he worked to bring the team up to that standard. In the time he’s been gone, I have heard many complaints about him, though they’re always rooted in the high bar he set. If as much energy would have been expended by some to reach the bar as has been to proclaim how difficult he was to work with, so much more could have been achieved.
- I really love performing. At one time that mostly meant playing drums with the pep band. The past 15 years it’s more often meant artistry in a technical capacity. While pep band has always been fun, being part of a worship team has always been more special. There have been so many moments where you can feel a shift in the room. When you’re in sync with everyone in front, and the people gathered settle into the vibe and fully engage, it’s like you can feel the Holy Spirit wraps His arms around the place. That may sound a little churchy to some, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Those are incredible moments, and I cherish them.
- Leaders always deflect praise. I have wrestled with this for a number of years. Everyone needs some positive feedback, even leaders. This past year it clicked that even when redirecting praise to someone else, a leader still hears it. If there is no one for me to shift praise to, it probably means I was trying to do way too much on my own.
- I should never be the smartest person in the room. It’s often seemed like I have been, but that really puts a limit on what there is for me to learn from others. The internet has been an incredible tool for me over the years in this regard. There are so many groups full of people I have been able to ask questions or get advice from that know more than me, have already made that mistake, or can question something being planned that helped avert a problem. I have a great friend that is constantly bouncing ideas off me, and vice versa. What piece of gear is most essential to what we need to do? If something is bought, will it get paid for, and how long will it take? Will it blow up in my face if we do it this way? We help each other avoid dumb decisions.
- Things aren’t fixed overnight. I spent 7 years diligently working to bring things up to a modern standard at a place. Often times that meant something was sacrificed in the short term, so that a long term fix can be implemented elsewhere. To make that shift takes patience, but the payoff is huge. I’m a big advocate for selling off gear not being actively used, raising funds to address needs. Something that gets used two or three times a year is likely better to be rented.
- Some things can be fixed overnight. I once proposed implementing software that, despite a learning curve, would improve productivity and efficiency for a 15 person staff. I was told, “We can’t just make a change like that, we’re steering a ship of 800 people here.” That is missing the forest for the trees. Just as bad as repeatedly patching a problem needing a long term fix, is not improving what is easy to tackle now. A newspaper once asked for my help updating some computers. The $10,000 spent on upgrading two machines enhanced their productivity and enabled them to save $10,000 annually on printing costs. Sometimes things work out that nicely.
- A stagnant environment is stifling. I thrive on variety and change of scenery. Being in the same place at the same times day after day is distracting in how mundane it is. With the advances in technology, it is so easy to work from anywhere, and as people increasingly prefer conversation via email or face to face, not the phone, static working hours mean less. Many places have embraced the enhanced productivity employees get with that flexibility, though the decreased office space needs don’t hurt either. It’s important that some businesses still have set hours, but not everyone needs to be in the office to get work done, and those that do can have offset hours.
- Not getting credit is a struggle. Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” I really believe that. But when I pitch something and it gets shot down, for whatever reason, only to see someone else suggest it years later and it’s suddenly a fantastic idea, it bothers me. It’s even worse if there were any adjectives used as to why my suggestion was a bad idea. I have a really hard time letting go, and there are some moments that have stuck with me for years.
- People have unrealistic expectations. It should be more surprising how often someone wants to do something they saw elsewhere. They’ll expect it to look or work a certain way, but not commit the funds to achieve it. Maybe it’s a projector that’s neither bright enough nor high enough resolution. It could be expecting theater or concert quality looks of a $1200 lighting fixture from a $400 DJ light. Making it worse, places often spend the money several times over on lower quality gear than if they’d just done it right the first time. Sometimes you just have to make a decision, like schools that suddenly find their budget has been slashed. Other times, people are just trying to save a buck now, not fully accounting for a longer term outlook. Further more, trying to squeeze everything you can out of gear not made for the task at hand always results in more man hours, one of the hidden costs few people plan for.
- Fresh eyes are invaluable. Sometimes you have to deal with people or places that are settled into the way they’ve done things for years. If they aren’t actively listening to the people who have just walked in and find a better or more cost effective way to do something, they’ll never get progress. A decision may have been made 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s long since become outdated. I remember when Steve Jobs came back to Apple and immediately gutted the product line. It was a painful time during a period there was active speculation as to when they would go bankrupt, but it brought clarity and focus to the tasks needed to survive and thrive. Clutching to existing methods and processes will not help you move forward.
- Conferences help us gain understanding. Conferences and trade shows provide opportunity to get hands on with products, interact with a diverse collection of peers, and learn new things. Spending a few days at a large trade show I’ve been able to adjust course on plans for 5 figure upgrades, learn invaluable skills, and understand the trade offs between competing products. If you ever worked with a salesman or integrator that understands a product and how it fits your situation, as opposed to one who can just talk about the product, you’ll likely wind up working with the former. It’s essential to get out of the office as attendee at multiple conferences a year.
- Real leaders understand their subordinates are not the problem. Mistakes are often made by a subordinate, but why? Should there have been more training? Was an issue raised but not properly addressed? Has needed and timely follow up not happened? Endless discussion has been had as to the poor work of millennials, yet, the military doesn’t seem to have this problem. It starts with Drill Sergeants, who are tasked with properly preparing and equipping you for the job at hand, and do not set you up for failure. When things go sideways, people too often look at the who, and never get deep enough to discover the why. There are a couple of Navy Seals who addressed this entire topic in a phenomenal book.
Thanks for reading all the way through. Please visit the comments below to share your thoughts, good, bad, or otherwise.
I enjoyed your insights, Shawn! Life is such an interesting journey, isn’t it? I completely agree with (and can relate) to your ideas about the worship when the Holy Spirit–for lack of better wording–gives a BIG HUG to those in the room. It is so REAL. The other ‘big one’ that stands out is your last point. There are not enough leaders in the world who understand that their subordinates are not the problem…it is a problem (usually) with their leadership! Thanks for sharing your insights! 🙂