Category: Leadership

A mom for all seasons

If many of you were to write a blog about your mom and titled it ” A mom for all seasons” I suspect your story might be about one special woman who showered you with unconditional love, who was your rock, your inspiration and a guiding light in your life. Still others of you might write a story of two or maybe three such ladies. In this world of moms, stepmoms, adopted moms and biological moms there is no end to the variety of moms in our lives. All of them have such a profound impact. There may be yet another segment of you out there that will feel like they have no mom or mom figure to write about. If that is you, I am so sorry and I hope this story helps you realize that, out in the world, are so many special people who want to love you like a mom, whether you are their kid or not, no matter what age you are.

The last subset of folks out there reading this may be more like me, perplexed on Mother’s Day about who to thank first? Challenged with so many incredible mom figures in their lives that raising them one above another would be a disservice to the season in which they were there for me in that way that is only describable to those who have known that kind of unconditional “mom love” that might prompt one to write a blog post like the one I described above.

As I have wrestled with this dilemma through the years I have written Facebook posts, built collages, reached out to each one separately, you name the tactic I have tried it! This is the first time I am going to try to write in more depth about a sample of these ladies in the framework of my 50 years of life so far and the many seasons that these ladies have played a part in. I need to start by prefacing that I am probably going to mess some things up, I’m probably going to forget something or someone critical, but my prayer is that this will be read in the spirit it is written in- as a tribute and as a small glimpse into the wonder of moms and how people can be there for each other at the most critical and pivotal moments in their lives.

Catherine-The Birth of Belonging

I am convinced that the woman who was kind enough to give me life and so many other incredible gifts had every intention of my never needing any other mom figure in my life. Circumstances, in hindsight, some of my very own making, proved that was not to be the case. Thanks to my dad’s early adoption of home movie equipment, I am very lucky to have actual footage of this unbridled joy and affection she had for me in the video above.

I think it is easy to see that my mom wanted nothing but joy and happiness for me from my earliest days toddling around this planet. She provided my fledgling brain, heart, and spirit with everything she could to give me the right start in life and I am forever grateful for that. My mom and I were very close from early on and into my childhood. She taught me to love music, she taught me to love art and explore my creative side. My mom and I watched a lot of the same TV shows and talked philosophically about life, even at a young age. My mom, sisters and I relied on each other to navigate the life of a single mom with four kids. It wasn’t always sunshine and roses, but she stood up for me when I was picked on at school, she laughed at my terrible impressions and she encouraged my love of learning. She taught me many lessons about life, survival and finding joy in the midst of struggle.

Josephine-A Firm Foundation in We Need Each Other and a Glimpse at Servant Leadership

Right alongside my mom, I was lavished with the kind of love and attention, that only the first-born grandson of a New York Italian American Italian family can understand, from my grandmother. This next mom figure was the strongest family figure for all of us through the first part of my life until her passing. For me and my triplet sisters, the lines blurred between our Grandma and our mom as they co-parented us through some challenging years. This mom was beautiful in so many ways and she taught me so much about life that I am still uncovering today. She literally risked jail for us as she wrote bad checks to feed us. She made our clothes sometimes when we had no money. She let each of us live with her at various times in our tumultuous lives. She worked to manage the more chaotic elements of our lives as much as she could. She helped me get my first job, my first car, get in contact with my estranged father and family in New York. She was an amazing woman and one day I’ll write a special, proper post about her, but for now, I’ll keep it short and simple: she taught me grit. She taught me how to manage my way through untenable situations to the other side. She taught me how to make family a priority. Mostly she showed me what servant leadership was all about before I ever had words for that. I wish my wife and kids and my younger and newer family and friends could have known her, she was truly one of a kind and will always be in a pinnacle spot in the hall of JJ’s moms.

Margaret-The Loyal Laughter of Childhood

The next mom-like figure I’d like to feature is my Aunt Margaret. This is a bit weird because I could just as easily share that she was more like a big sister to me. We shared a room for part of my childhood. We shared many laughs. She took me with her to her high school football games. She celebrated me and cheered me on through childhood and young adult trials alike. She and I were, at various times, each others’ “person” as they call it nowadays, well before that term was ever coined. So perhaps it is a bit off the mark to include her here, except for the fact that before she had kids of her own and even at certain times thereafter, she watched out for me as if I were her kid and showered me with that level of self-sacrificial love and attention that was more about me and less about her that only moms can exhibit.

Jo-The Sparks of Esteem and Possibility

When I was a teenager before I started working, I was poor: food stamp poor, no quarter for the Dig Dug video game poor. There is more about that in other blog posts, but the next mom figure in my journey is my Aunt Jo. Aunt Jo was responsible for teaching me so many things about being both a kid and an adult I can never repay her. During a very pivotal time in my life, when my self-esteem was at an all-time low, my Aunt was a like a mom to me. Under the guise of me coming up to help her and her husband care for their new baby girl, she arranged for me to live in New York City with them for more than one summer. There I learned about life in the city, caring for a young family, going out to eat at restaurants. I had my first restaurant beer, my first true tourist experiences at places like Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. I was (at first forced) and then allowed to go out and buy vegetables and groceries on my own at the corner market. I had some of my first ever clothing and haircuts that were not from a thrift store or my grandmother’s seamstress scissors. As we drove down the bustling streets of New York she noticed I couldn’t see the signs as crisply as I should be seeing them and helped me get my first pair of glasses. She opened up the world for me, expanding it from black and white to technicolor both literally and figuratively. More than anything, she built me up. She told me I was going to be OK. She refused to let me wallow or be down on myself, she built me up and tried to make me as ready as she could for my next steps in life. She helped me see there could be more for me than the life I was living and that I was capable of achieving it. I had been told that before, but I didn’t believe it until my time with her.

Pat-The Power of Potential and Unconditional Love

I’ll never forget a certain walk that was both just like and not like any other walk around the McDonald’s restaurant where Pat and I were managers. She was not only my boss, but she was also my mom and we had ourselves a little family there at the restaurant. I had come back from my time with Aunt Jo in New York and started working at McDonald’s, a couple of years later I was managing at said McDonald’s with Pat as my boss. Shortly after that she and I “got our own store” where she was THE manager and I was the assistant. It was an amazing time and I learned a great deal about managing people while also serving and loving them from her. An opportunity came up for me to leave and try something different, but it was an opportunity fraught with challenges and potential burning of bridges. I essentially had to leave everything I been building to go try and build something else somewhere else. One of the things I dreaded about this decision was letting down my champion and letting down my latest mom in the hall of JJ moms. So we went for that walk and I told her. She probably held back all her instincts to tell me this was a potentially disastrous move and instead simply told me she loved me, unconditionally and would support me no matter what I did or where I went. Mind you at that time, she and I were critical players in an incredibly busy business and this move meant professional pain and challenge for her on top of worrying about me leaving town, yet she chose to support me over self-preservation. A mom’s love if I’ve ever known it. PS: When I returned with my tail tucked between my legs, some years later, I received a judgment-free welcome as if I were the Prodigal son returning home.

Evelyn-Adoption without the Paperwork

It is weird even typing the word “Evelyn” as Mom Galloway will always and forever be Mom Galloway to me. Mom Galloway is the biological mom of my best friend’s family. A family who practically adopted me in my teenage years I described above while I worked at McDonald’s and forever after. The man in the picture is her husband Duke, who passed away suddenly one Christmas. That Christmas stands out in my mind for many reasons, but for one, the reason I was there as it was the most Christmas like dwelling to be, at the time, for me. Her boys were helping me with work on one of my beater cars that Christmas. She was cooking incredible meals and asking about my day like any mom would, just accepting my presence at her house by day, overnight, just any time I wanted or needed to be there, as a given. There was no drama to the adoption. No papers. I was just always introduced as the adopted child of this family and I still feel like their son, decades after I held her hand on the kitchen table after Duke’s passing. I still receive handwritten notes asking after my family. I still get giddy smiles when I make an all too infrequent phone call to her and an “oohhh John I’m sooo haappy you called.” Her voice and written cards sound and look like home to me and she will forever represent that as well. Mom G will forever be my adopted mom without papers.

Gail- My Momma @ Work

When you are new to your career and you start leading people you don’t expect that you’ll end up calling one Mom, but that is what happened to me. I was also new to my marriage and a young father at the time and there I found myself at work with this woman who wanted nothing more than to reassure me and build me up every day. Gail is not super mushy or gushy despite my depiction, in fact, she is quite matter of fact in her declarations. The kind of momma I needed at that season was exactly what God brought me, a no-nonsense, unconditionally loving, straight-talk wielding lady who wouldn’t put up with my crap but wouldn’t let me beat myself up either. You make a lot of mistakes as a young career person and a young dad and I was blessed to have this kind of support both at home with the next lady you’ll hear about and at work with Momma Gail. She will forever be the Lovey Howell on the Gilligan’s Island of my mom’s.

Diane-A Refuge of Calm Counsel

A lot of folks get confused when I call my mother in law Mom instead of Diane. The same is true for my father in law, and I hope part of their confusion is the affection they hear in my voice for each of them. I hope another part of the confusion is because I hit some sort of strange jackpot when I married into my family that included this woman who provides me a place to go that so many of the best mothers do- a grace-filled refuge and place of confidence to share both my triumphs and tribulations. This has been the case since the earliest days of my marriage and it is simply who this woman is to so many of us. A world-class listener and wise counselor, she has a way of providing thoughtful feedback and setting me back on track without damaging my all too fragile ego. Like so many of these ladies that came before her, she builds me up when I need it and now that I need the opposite, more often than I did in my younger years, she brings me down to earth just as effortlessly. My life is imminently blessed because I get her counsel nearly full time as we live under the same roof.

Thank You

If I haven’t made it clear by now, this blog post is simply a thank you to all these women I have called mom over the years. The collage was just not enough, and who knows I may yet write a true long-form post on each and every one of them. The truth is I could write a book about each and it would be a wholly inadequate tribute to these women and their impact on me. At my work we have a saying #womenmakeusbetter . Each year we are prompted to write our affirmations and pledge what we will do to help women in our workplace. This is not something I need to be convinced of doing. This is not something I can fail to do. You see, women have made me better, each and every day of my life and these women are just the moms! I also have sisters, co-workers, friends, family and of course my amazing wife. I can’t help but want to see them all soar! If you are one of them and you are reading this I want to see YOU Soar!

If you are a dude, I want to see you soar too, but I encourage you to lean on the mom or moms in your life for guidance and inspiration as I have. I also encourage you to do everything you can to support, encourage and advocate for those ladies.

Because : #momsmakeusbetter and #womenmakeusbetter .


Surviving change without going ape

How many times have we left for work, fully intending to play the part of the ever-composed, quietly observant, always benevolent Jane Goodhall, only to find ourselves at the end of the day, flinging feces at our teammates in a primitive display of dominance and one-upmanship?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall

Continue reading “Surviving change without going ape”

What are you choosing to take with you?

Do you need all that junk you are carrying around?

How much of what you encounter every day is because of what you choose to take with you everywhere you go?

4:24 Yoda and Luke Cave Scene from The Empire Strikes Back

Luke Skywalker: What’s in there? (Motioning toward a cave)

Yoda: Only what you take with you. (Luke grabs his belt with lightsaber and blaster). Your weapons…you will not need them.

(Luke finds his Father, Darth Vader, fights and defeats him, only to reveal his own face under his father’s mask)

Instead of going in free of his burdens and anger, he goes in armed for combat and darkness and that is exactly what he finds there. The dark side of him. What he is destined to become… if he gives in to it.

In the end, he is only truly free when he chooses to let go. Chooses peace over struggle. Chooses love over hate. Chooses light over dark.

2:59 Finale-Return of the Jedi
I have no rights to this film

How many of us are taking our baggage powered weapons into every encounter or every “dark forbidding cave” of our life?

Maybe you should go into the cave with nothing material at all …maybe no emotional baggage or hardware either ? … or better yet, maybe you should be armed with the only Everything that really matters, God?

I appreciate that this is easier said than done. I struggle with this every day myself. I’ve been much better at it since I stopped trying to do it on my own.

If taking God with you, is not your choice right now, please don’t dismiss this advice. For too long each of us has decided to carry baggage and weight we should have released long ago.

What do you have to lose by taking a step and trying to leave your weapons’ belt of hurt, pain, grievances and regrets sitting on the swamp floor where it belongs?

Try it. Let me know how it goes. I want to see you soar!

If you enjoyed this post and you haven’t yet subscribed, please do so today and share with a friend!

Please consider supporting me on Patreon where you can get audio versions of the podcast.

Pepop: A Decorated Veteran of the Game of Life | Four For Soaring

Pepop: A Decorated Veteran of the Game of Life | Four For Soaring
— Read on

Pushing people into the chasm of tension as an act of service.

Tension. This is a word I used to view very differently.

Once, I thought all tension was “bad” or “negative.” I was under the assumption that making others uncomfortable (or my making a mistake) was always a “mark against me on the scoreboard of life.” This could be because I am innately, at least according to many of the personality inventories I’ve taken the last 40 years, a so-called “Helper.” What the Ennegram folks term a type 2:

The Helper

The Caring, Interpersonal Type
Generous, Demonstrative, People-Pleasing, and Possessive

Type Two in Brief

Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.

Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved

Basic Desire: To feel loved

Enneagram Two with a One-Wing: “Servant”

That’s the “pretty part” – here’s the not so pretty part:

However, Twos’ inner development may be limited by their “shadow side”—pride, self-deception, the tendency to become over-involved in the lives of others, and the tendency to manipulate others to get their own emotional needs met. Transformational work entails going into dark places in ourselves, and this very much goes against the grain of the Two’s personality structure, which prefers to see itself in only the most positive, glowing terms.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Twos, Threes, and Fours in their inner work is having to face their underlying Center fear of worthlessness. Beneath the surface, all three types of fear that they are without value in themselves, and so they must be or do something extraordinary in order to win love and acceptance from others. In the average to unhealthy Levels, Twos present a false image of being completely generous and unselfish and of not wanting any kind of pay-off for themselves, when in fact, they can have enormous expectations and unacknowledged emotional needs.

I know what you may be thinking, “thanks” for pasting all that stuff in this blog about you, but what does that have to do with creating tension in others?

It is this simple, when you are built like this, especially when you have not forced yourself into all those dark places and come out on the other side, you can avoid creating tension in a desire to be loved by everyone.

However, that is not real love. That is not “The Helper” at their best. The Helper at their best is about unconditional love. Luckily for me, as a Jesus Follower, breaking these natural tendencies, is one great way to live out my faith. In fact, as I learned more and more about following this Jesus dude, it became clear to me that he was continually creating tension everywhere he went.

However, He didn’t do it to create tension for tension’s sake. He did it to do exactly what so many of my mentors remind me of all the time, push situations and people out of a state of idle, downward spiral, rest, or complacency and into movement toward something Greater than themselves. You don’t have to share my faith to believe that we are all better off when we are moving in a more productive, healthy or loving direction.

I don’t think thought leader Seth Godin shares my faith, but he says it this way:

Seth Godin: This is Marketing

He is not alone of course. I first learned the lesson of being “ok with” and leveraging tension from both my pastor Jenn Williams and another pastor named Andy Stanley who talks about leveraging and managing through tension this way:

On a swing-set, you must do two things simultaneously in order for you to swing: kick-forward while leaning back. On the upswing, you then must reverse, kick-back while leaning forward. It is this tension between those two opposites that allow you to swing. The same is true for (our) ideas and practices. We must be able to do both well, and never really resolve them. In addition, perhaps it is wise for us to reverse our opinions once in while (or more frequent than that), so we can continue to move the conversation forward.

I’ve had too many conversations with people who only want one side, who only see the truth through their interpretive lens, and you can just feel in the conversation, we’re not getting anywhere.

Excerpted from Vialogue

In my “Helper” mode I had been guilty of letting the swing lay idle too often. When you want to be loved by everyone, you will avoid conflict, not out of maturity, but out of fear.

As Exhibit B, here is what another personality inventory I took several years ago said about me:

Even-tempered and tolerant, John constantly tries to be the diplomat. He excels in promoting
harmony around him. John is very co-operative and articulate, communicating sympathy, concern and a willingness to become involved. Usually verbal and persuasive, he will seek or wish to withdraw quickly from confrontation unless provoked to the extreme, when he may go “off the deep end” verbally.

(yet another pretty picture with an “ugly side”-right? Chillingly accurate-especially in my younger years)

Don’t get me wrong, there is no need to create conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to build or evoke tension in others or in a team, simply to “watch the fallout” or “light a fire in people.” No, the kind of tension I am talking about is the kind of healthy tension that helps people move toward the chasm of change and then take a leap. I am not simply hoping they’ll leap, ultimately I am hoping they will soar! (see what I did there? …Oops, am I seeking love and acceptance again? Dang it! 🙂 )

These days, I get to use the ‘verbal and persuasive” aspect to leverage and create opportunities to prompt people “over the other side of the chasm.” I have leadership roles in every aspect of my life. Most of them are pretty informal and “unofficial” just like the one I have as the “CEO” and “COO” of this blog. (I try to extend the “verbal” to written in this case 🙂 ) At work, I coach over a hundred people who have opportunities every day to create tension to move projects forward. In my church roles, I run into the very literal tension Andy is talking about above, with the challenge of balancing tensions like Grace and Truth, building relationships and organizing people, loving unconditionally and loving some people who are “hard to love.” Nonetheless, each arena provides openings, they provide playgrounds full of idle swings that are begging to be ridden, or people on swing sets asking me to swing alongside them, or in some cases, a swing rider, sitting idle, waiting to be pushed.

The communities we find ourselves in, the workplaces, the social spaces are filled with this opportunity for each of us. I know we are not all “Helpers” according to the Enneagram folks or “Motivating Inspirers” as my Insights profile calls me (I’m sure ultra positive labels like that sell a lot of profiles to many companies). The reality is we are each a messy mixture of personality aspects. Some of us are achievement-oriented, others are creatives, still others may be interested only in facts and data. Regardless of your type, we all have one thing in common, we are in this thing called life together. We have to interact with one another. If you believe as I do, we are called to (as my (unofficial) mentor Andy says) One Another, One Another.

That means not only loving one another, it also means unconditionally loving someone enough to get in the middle of some tension with them. It means creating or leveraging tension to help them grow. Not all the time. It is not a steamroller of tension for a reason, we are not mean to barrel in, pushing our viewpoint on others, no matter how well-intentioned we are. It is a swing… kick forward, lean back, lean forward, kick back, repeat.

Where are the idle swings in the playgrounds you frequent? Who needs you to swing beside them? Who needs a push? Who can you help leap the chasm and soar?

The “Colonel” Of Truth and our bias in the war against him.

Why do I write this blog? What is this whole #four4soaring thing about anyway? As I ponder this question I am assaulted by what Steven Furtick calls the Chatterbox in my own head:

You are writing this blog out of ego.

You want to be liked.

You crave attention.

You don’t really care about anyone but yourself.

The only one you want to see soar-is you.

I’m not very fond of that Chatterbox guy.

He is the one that I have fought with my whole life.

He has been my adversary since I was a young man. He has been the primary rival working against me all these years as I desperately sought to free the “Colonel Of Truth” from the prison of my insecurities.

In the action-packed screenplay of my life, the good Colonel was captured many decades ago by Comrade Chatterbox. I can’t even recall when Colonel O. Truth was initially caught behind enemy lines and tied up? My loose reckoning is that his capture occurred some time in my early childhood when I knew the unbridled joy of just being loved and cared for, playing in the woods near my house or with my toys, a time when Comrade Chatterbox had not yet begun broadcasting yet?

In those heady days, all was right with the world, I didn’t compare myself to others, I thought I could do anything and be anything, I felt that the love I received from my family was pure, unadulterated, and unconditional. I didn’t know abandonment or hurt. I didn’t know envy for what others had materially or otherwise. I was, in my Faith’s vernacular, a child of God- innocent, accepted, watched over by a heavenly guardian.

One day, who knows what day or what year that was, the broadcasts started. They were intermittent at first, but they were relentless and over time they drowned out a good deal of the unbridled joy and freedom I felt. Year after year, the broadcast of Comrade Chatterbox told me I was not loved by anyone, let alone this Heavenly Father person. Through the years, Colonel O.Truth was brought to lower and lower levels of the dungeon where the light had a difficult time getting in. Before I knew it Comrade Chatterbox had filled my head with things like:

You’ll never get married.

You’ll never have a girlfriend, let alone a wife.

You’ll never get a good job.

You’ll always be poor.

You are ugly.

You don’t deserve to be loved by anyone.

You should give up any creative or artistic feelings that stir in you to write or speak or lead, you are kidding yourself.

At some point, I went to war with Comrade Chatterbox. It was a bit of a Cold War. It was a war of umbrage and one-upsmanship. I started to prove Comrade Chatterbox wrong, or so I thought, because I fought and won so many of the things he said I would never get. I took the hills of work, the plains of romantic love and the battlements of (a modest) austerity. (I never did get very good looking but I got rid of my warts and outgrew some of my pre-teen gangliness 🙂 .)

There I stood having won all those battles, but I was stuck on the ground. I wasn’t flying or soaring overhead, surveying any of the “good work” I (almost spitefully) did to get where I was. I was tricked into thinking all those hills were on my side of the combat zone!

Instead, one day, I woke up to find I was stuck behind enemy lines, behaving just like Comrade Chatterbox- cynical, pessimistic, tribal and petulant. To make matters worst, the Colonel was still locked in the dungeon and the Comrade was broadcasting louder than ever!

Until I found these friends and they had a map. A map that led to connections and those connections led to others who soon started to light the path to freeing the Colonel. Along the way the good Comrade got quieter as I made my treacherous trek toward the Colonel. One day, after a momentous struggle with the Comrade, I found Truth and he was set free (with quite a bit of help from Above.)

The initial price I paid was to shut down my Sherman tank-sized ego and realize I could not fight this battle all by myself. The later price I paid was letting people in, beyond the close circle I held tight. Even later, I started believing in something greater than myself. In many ways the old me died saving Colonel Truth from that dungeon, but, I was brought back to a whole different life.

I locked away my guns and stopped warring with the Comrade. Today, when I hear the broadcast seeping in, I have learned to turn up the volume on another broadcast. I hang out with the Colonel now. I learned that Colonel O. Truth, or Kernel O. Truth as he is known by his civilian moniker, is all about mentoring me and telling me that I do have something to share and I shouldn’t hide that. When I meet up with him, he encourages me to let others see what I have stored inside of me. He says some people need to hear what I have to say, some people just need me to listen and yet others need me to show up for them.

That said, this story is not about me…

…it is about you.

It is not even about asking you to find the Faith I’ve found, although I will always pray you would. This is a story about the Colonel locked away in your dungeon. You see Colonel O. Truth is the kernel of truth that you spend a great deal of time denying and locking away. The kernel of truth is who you really are. I refer to it as a kernel, not because it is only part of the truth, it is the whole truth about you, it is a kernel because you have made it so small.

When you lock the truth of who you are created to be away, it shrinks to the size of a kernel, a morsel that is ever-present, calling from its captivity, for you to be who you were always meant to be.

The kernel of truth was probably well known to that kid you used to be when you believed anything was possible before Comrade Chatterbox and the traps of comparison and ego got in your own way.

Just like when you were young and it was more like a Bountiful Bushel Of Truth, the kernel of truth, once he is set free, will help you realize you are loved and forgiven. When that happens, and you accept it, the kernel will begin to grow back toward its original size.

We avoid letting the kernel have his say and that is where bias comes in. We all have a strong tendency toward confirmation bias. That is when you tend to migrate toward information that confirms what you “already know.” The trouble is, much of the time, what we already think we know about ourselves, is wrong. In fact, most of it is derived from Comrade Chatterbox’ version of the truth.

The Comrade’s propaganda gets overwhelming and a snowball effect occurs where we push the good Colonel deeper and deeper down into the dungeon until we can’t find him anymore. We get lost behind enemy lines, with no map, few connections and no ability to free him (or ourselves) on our own.

When I am listening to my Colonel, he tells me the reason I write this blog is that I have been you. He reminds me that, despite any human failings or need for validation, the overriding kernel of truth is that I want something FOR you, not from you. I believe you can defeat Comrade Chatterbox and you can soar on the wings of Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter.

This blog and the quotes and jokes I share are offered to help you find your way to free your Colonel. They are intended to be clues and a map to set him free.

You may find you need help getting there and turning the key as I did. My help came from above. Maybe you won’t want to make that choice? I would never try to compel you to do that. In any case, I can advise you to start with connections. Start with the community. Surround yourself with people who are FOR you.

I’m not advocating you join up in some sort of tribal fallacy with people who share the same anti-xyz cause or who follow the same hockey team. (although those can be fun.) I’m talking about taking a step and spending time with people in settings where you can talk to them about what’s really going on in your life, knowing they want nothing from you and everything FOR you. I’m talking about finding the places you can go where people will see you for who you really are and help you see it too.

I’m talking about serving alongside others and working on things bigger than yourself. I’m talking about a place you can soar!

I’m glad you are reading this because I want you to know this is one of those places. Thank you for reading and let me know anything I can do to help you. For the record, in my movie version of your life, Comrade Chatterbox always goes down in flames.

You, my friend, will always Soar.

images are from Rambo and Unsplash

Is blind faith what it’s all about?

Faith is not blind. It sees. Where we falter, it renews.

I have always been fascinated by dogma. Fundamentalism is something of a preoccupation of mine. So much so that I used to equate those two things with Faith and in particular following Jesus.

I used to think that there was a requirement to believe “all the things” (and believe all the things -literally.) I thought there was a requirement to be a blind, thoughtless follower, a perfect follower in order to be a faithful follower.

By proxy, this really turned me off to “following.” I avoided it wherever I could.

I was not going to be a slave to any dogma, nor ritual, nor commit to blind obedience to anyone or anything.

I took pride in this rebellion. An arrogant and condescending pride. I immediately boxed myself in with the “free thinkers” of this world. The truly noble breed of mavericks who had their own philosophy of life, ever-changing and ever maturing. I did not need a compass point, I was the only true north that mattered.

Only the closer I got to what I thought would be freedom, the more shackled I was? I was locked in by my own limitations. I was lost at my lowest points with nowhere to turn but my would be “almighty” self.

Was I loved by others? Yes. Was I happy with myself and confident in my own skin, for the most part, yes? However, just like some worn out cliche or poignant song lyric, I had reached “the end of myself.”

You might call it luck that I was already two or three steps into a community of believers when this day came, but I call it divine intervention. You might say I was searching for answers and in some self-fulfilling prophecy, I had simply found them. Maybe you’re right? Although, if I recall, in those days I was feeling semi-coerced to be in community when my preference was to hang with my wife, dogs, and kids, and/or sit at home on my couch and watch TV or movies instead?

Then the collision happened. I felt a pull and a tug to stop blazing a trail of my own and let a broader community in. What was even more frightening to me was that this community was made up of the very people I had scorned for the better part of my life!

Crash! There I was with the airbag in my face. Not only attending a small group of similarly conflicted people but being asked to lead one. Bang! There I was starting to call out to a God who only weeks prior was a non-entity to me. Screech! The sound of tires and brakes squealing and the metal of my mind being twisted like paper was a cacophony of contradictions.

How could I let go of myself and my loved ones as the center of my universe and give all that over to a figment of these other peoples’ imagination? What was I thinking!? How hypocritical would I feel after years of questioning other people’s faith to suddenly reveal I had become one of these blind believers?

The answer was not anywhere as dramatic as I thought it would be. The answer wasn’t a life where I stopped being me in order to be a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, the answer was not even about blind faith. The answer was all about simply following.

It turns out, much to my delight, that I didn’t have to give up every independent thought or action or desire to be a faithful follower of Jesus. It turns out that it was never about the dogma I thought it was. It turns out that, instead of becoming “less me,” I somehow got to become “more me” than I ever dreamed of?

Where I thought I would be shackled – I was freed.

Where I thought I would be constrained – I was unbridled. (yet somehow also accountable?)

Where I thought I had to dumb down – I became smarter and wiser.

Where I thought I was called to be perfect – I found I was forgiven with Grace so bottomless and everlasting I could not fathom it!

… and yes, where I was lost, at the end of myself, I was indeed found. Well… I was found from my perspective only, because, my friends, the thing I finally had to realize was that I was never truly lost. I was never brazenly doing anything on my own. I was never at the end of anything. I was simply a dead thing waiting to be brought to life by a God who was always by my side waiting patiently for me to ask for a new life.

You may not buy any of this. I can’t ask you to do what I wasn’t willing to do myself. All I can ask is that if you feel that tug. If you feel like you’re reaching the end of yourself. Please follow where it leads you. Start by letting other people in. Let them love you. Let them show you the face of God in their actions, not their dogmatic words and maybe, one day, decide to follow.

I can’t promise you it will be a perfect journey where one day you will be in pain and the next day you will have none. I can’t promise you-you won’t meet up with contradictions that man has put in the way. I can’t even promise you that your faith will be everlasting (although I wish and pray that for you and for me alike.)

What I can promise is a new life.

A life of dull gray dead ends that turn technicolor with Promise and Hope. A life of Love that far exceeds the kinds of love you’ve been experiencing to date. A world changing kind of love. The love of a flawless Father and a forever friend.

I can promise you what I promised at the start. A new lens on life. A new way to see the world. A tireless fountain of renewal.

Love you guys, J

Why do we run from things rather than toward something greater than ourselves?

What is it about our human nature that is so stoked in fear that we are constantly looking for any excuse to find the exit?

What saturates our brains in flight or fight neuropathy so much that it feels like we are always either defending our flank or leaping like an antelope for the safety of the opposite river bank?

As an amateur student of biology and evolution, I know the selfish gene theory says we are wired to preserve our life so we might pass those genes on. As a student of the Bible ( and an even greater amateur at that ) I know it has something to do with being broken and (by our choice) separated from God?

No matter the reason or combination of reasons, it is self evident that we want something different than to run. We yearn for some kind of peace and open plain, free of predators where we can idly eat our antelope grasses, without fear of the next attack.

We yearn for something or someone to protect us.

Those of us who are Christians turn to God for this peace and protection, but we often fail to truly accept it. We are always trying to do it all on our own. If he sends us people to help, we reject them for fear that they are the lion in antelope’s clothing. If he gives us a moment or two of peaceful revelation and a feeling of acceptance we reject it as not real, as a lure or trap set for us to get just a bit too close to the watering hole, so the crocodile can snatch us.

If we are not Christians and we have no other, higher power to turn to, we attempt to rely on our understanding of human nature to bring us peace. We hope that a greater and grittier acceptance and understanding of the strategies that other humans employ to stay safe will help us gaurd and cope more deftly. We strive to become the perfect antelope that can either evade or outrun or outsmart any danger. We are in utter competition with the other antelopes for our survival, sometimes clustering with a few others for our safety, but always just a bit wary of their motives.

I witness myself on both sides of this conundrum without easy answers. I think I’ve found them by knowing that I am forgiven. That I am loved, unconditionally, by my Heavenly Father. I pray that when I go to him and lay my troubles, fears and anguishes at His feet I will become like the antelope on the safe plain. I also seek answers in my study of human nature. I listen to endless podcasts and read books and blogs. I observe human nature and those around me, endlessly. Sometimes all if this feels like a continuous struggle with no obvious answer.

Only that is not really the point either, is it? Maybe we aren’t designed to be at peace continuously or have a bunch of obvious answers to our deepest yearnings? Maybe we are designed either by nature or by a prime Mover for something else?

What if we are intentionally designed to strive? What if we are meant to soar like an eagle who only gets to drift for a few glorious moments, but much of the time must flap its wings to climb or desperately dive and seek its prey?

What if the whole point is not the placid peace but the engagement? What if it is neither the quest nor attainment of competency, but the act of building competency and community? Perhaps it is not about vigilance or hiding or running at all? Perhaps it is more about the way you show up, who you show up for and only a little about how well you can find gratitude in the quiet moments when the grass is still and the plain is clear and someone or Someone whispers…

Fear not, I got you!

If that is the case, we have but one choice.

The choice to engage with our environment and lean into our community. The choice to be for something and not simply against or running from something. We have to make the choice to be better together over standing alone or in safe (but wary) clique.

One on one an antelope is not a match for a lion anymore than a single fish can be successful against a dolphin or shark. The reason herds are successful is because there is strength in numbers and strength in community. We are not meant to do this alone. Biology, God or a combo of the two, the evidence is clear that the lone antelope wandering off on its own is only going to encounter greater risk to life and limb. It doesn’t have as much chance to pass on what it has learned. It may not get to see its progeny strive and survive. It is too busy running or hiding or surviving or dying for that.

Don’t do this thing called life alone. Don’t try to figure it all out. Don’t run from those who want more for you and nothing from you.

Run TO something, be FOR something, be FOR someone and Fear not, He’s got you!

Love you guys, J

Slapped in the face with the mirror of “for” vs “from.”

I write two blogs. This one and one for work. This one is called Four4Soaring, as you know, and the one at work is called Friday Food For Thought. I suppose, something about “F” sounds and the word “for” just speak to me. I think it is because I do my best to be ” for” people, “for” my community and “for” my family and friends.

I endeavor to provide both blogs weekly. They are written with the same purpose in mind to encourage, inspire and equip people. They are meant to be “for” people. We have this saying in my church world that is supposed to prove you “get it.” “It” being the whole “Jesus Follower thing” and it is that:

“you are supposed to want something FOR people, not something FROM them.”

That is what I think I am doing, most of the time…

Yesterday, I was kind of riding a high of being “for” people and I really thought I was wonderfully postured to continue down this path of delivering things like:

this blog and my work one

and the leadership quotes I share on multiple platforms

and leading in my areas of our church where I have been asked to lead and grow other leaders….

…..when I was slammed in the face with the possibility that this work I think I am doing is not meeting its intent!

The short version is that someone shared with me that they were not very impressed with my ability to lead and were not interested in receiving anything from me in this regard. In the ultimate irony (you will only get when you read the blog post I wrote to my work world a couple of days prior below) they said I both failed to empower others and be authentically humble. The post was named (and you just can’t make this stuff up) “Be Real, Be Humble and Empower Others to Get Results.” Now if you don’t believe God has a sense of humor, I can’t help you with that, because that, my friends, is both mildly painful and hilarious!

Then I went to my email this am and I saw a message from someone who I happen to live in more than one area of inluence with and it said simply this “Thank you, I really needed this today.” That wasn’t the only such message I received Friday from the Food for Thought, but it had a special meaning to me because I know this person knows me in more than one sphere. It has even more meaning this am, after being told how very unhelpful I am sometimes.

To be clear, this person is not some villain and I am not the hero. I screwed up. I did not do a good job with informing or empowering them. I needed to hear that. I may have even needed to hear the other part about not being authentically humble. I can be pretty arrogant sometimes and pride is something I wrestle with. So this person i right on many levels. I am grateful for the feedback, but what if anything do I do to change what I am already doing?

Which is it? Am I a fraud, a charlatan, or worst yet a “sorcerer” trying to influence and cajole people into liking me? Am I really doing all this to inflate my own ego and be liked? Do I want something “from” people or do I want something “for” people? I’m going to keep asking myself that question and I’m going to ask God to help show me the answer.

Until I get the answer I’m going to keep doing what I feel I am called to do. Until I get more clarity, I’m going to keep trying to be the best leader I can be. I’m going to keep trying to help you be the best leader you can be. The harsh reality is I’m going to screw up, and I am going to do it probably every single day!

(two quick examples: 1: I jokingly told someone to ‘die to himself’ that had literally died last year and 2. I called a guy (and his family) by the wrong name, made a big deal about an event I wanted him (wrong him) to go to and didn’t realize I did it until 4am this morning!) Holy foot in mouth Batman!)

So keep the feedback coming folks because I need help to know the real answer and God may use you to tell me. I want more than anything FOR you to soar. I want you to find light, love and laughter. I want you to find keys to being a better leader in every aspect of your life, just as I try to be.

Those are the 4 Ls to live by and soar by and they are coming each week along with the Friday Food for Thought I share at work. Let me know if this is truly valuable to you, but also let me know if and how I can do better.

Love you guys, and thanks for learning and soaring with me, J

Here is the (now hilariously and painfully ironic) Friday Food for Thought my co-worker thanked me for Friday:

Be Real, Be Humble and Empower Others to Get Results

Over the last couple of months I’ve watched a group of teammates form a team and tackle an enterprise HR project utilizing the new model and all its strengths to create a truly impactful product!

One of the most remarkable things I witnessed through my lens as a “grizzled 20 year HR veteran” is that this team leveraged all the Boeing Behaviors along the way, led by an unlikely set of guides: an early career project manager, an external consultant and a brand new team member!

Although the project required a great deal of cross functional collaboration and expertise, there was no “grizzled veteran” at the helm of this ship. Sure, they brought a few of us along for the ride and they empowered their team to get things done, but they are the ones who steered the ship into the harbor, and they did it precisely from areas of strength that, without their courage, could have been some of their most vulnerable weaknesses – they led with trust, curiosity and humility every step of the way.

To be fair, I’m deliberately not calling out the name of the specific team here because this could describe any number of HR teams I have seen over the last several months, and all of these teammates of mine are fast becoming my heroes.

In an environment rife with change, they created an environment of inclusion and trust and they helped each other learn and grow. They respected the value of the differences on the team and leveraged those to deliver results.

So today’s Food for Thought will feature some wisdom and behaviors I’ve witnessed around empowering and delegating and it will feature this “not so hypothetical but representative” team along with one of the best teachers I have ever listened to on this topic : Craig Groeschel. Much of the Food for Thought below will come from Craig, so I shared some references below to give credit where credit is due.

Food for Thought Item 1 : Be Real and Be Humble to Get Results

Let’s start by examining this team I mention and one of the primary reasons I think they succeeded:

They were REAL

They remembered that they didn’t have to know it all to be great leaders! They were themselves. They got to know each other. They took time to build rapport with one another and with new team members. They laughed and joked all along the journey and shared their fears with one another as well as their triumphs.

Why does this make a difference?

People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.

Craig Groeschel

Another reason they were successful was: they were humble and willing to accept that they were the guides not the hero– they assembled a team of subject matter experts and experienced people (aka some of the “grizzled veterans I mentioned) to be the team and bring their best ideas to the table:

Groeschel explains why this is so effective in this way :

We empower people through clarity and trust.

We must be clear on the what and the why, but not the how.

Trust those you empower with the how.

Clarity without trust produces fear and inaction. When you have clarity but no trust, you’re looking over shoulders and causing fear. You hold onto the things others could be doing instead. Fear can paralyze the people you’re trying to lead.

On the other end of the spectrum, trust without clarity produces work without direction. Your team members might be bought in, but they don’t know what to do. They’ll start doing things that might not be important or right. If you want to frustrate someone, give them freedom without direction. Clarity ensures that your team members’ work is aligned with your goals and mission. Your team will know that what they are doing matters. Trust is the necessary net that results in risk-taking.

When your team members have freedom to fail, they have freedom to experiment and don’t have to be perfect.

“Most leaders are trying to figure out the right strategy. The best leaders are obsessed with empowering the right people.”

“You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both.”

“The best way to know if you can trust someone is to just trust them. Craig Groeschel

Item 1 Food for Thought Questions:

  • Do we have an ownership problem? If every idea is your idea, your team is simply executing your vision. If they are part of process and bringing their ideas to the table, your team is more likely to embrace it as their own.
  • How can you ask more questions and provide fewer answers?
  • How can you provide clarity and trust the team to get the right answer even if you think you know that answer before they do?

Food for thought Item 2: Delegate and Empower Others

Sometimes, as leaders, we think there’s no way someone could do the job as well as we can.

Is that a leader’s mindset? No!

A leader says, “Eventually, the right person will do it better than I ever could!”

Most leaders delegate tasks. The best leaders delegate authority. Craig Groeschel

Are there other, real life examples of this we can look to?

One company that does an extraordinary job empowering their employees is Zappos. They tell their employees to provide the absolute best customer service—that’s the clarity. How their employees chase that mission that is up to the employees—that’s the trust. Some Zappos employees have felt so empowered, they:

  • Physically went to a competitor’s store to buy out-of-stock shoes for a customer.
  • Sent a free pair of shoes overnight to a best man who arrived at a wedding with no dress shoes.
  • Sent a customer flowers when they found out her feet were hurting after wearing Zappos shoes.

Does extending clarity and trust mean that your team members won’t make mistakes? Of course not! But it’s better to see aggressive, Boeing-Behavior-driven mistakes than passive, safe ones.

Be a leader who takes risks because you believe in your team enough to trust them with your values.

Item 2 Food for Thought Questions:

  • What are some decisions that only you can make?
  • Name at least three tasks or decisions you will delegate immediately.
  • What are three things you are doing now that you can delegate to someone on your team?

Bringing it all together:

Start with yourself as a leader. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I accept that I am a leader, even if I don’t have a formal title?
  • Do I need to motivate better?
  • Does my team have the resources it needs?
  • Do the team members feel valued? Appreciated?
  • Do I really believe I’m the only one who can do things right?
  • Am I threatened by (other) good leaders?
  • What needs to change in me to better trust my team?
  • Is the culture I influence around me empowering and healthy? Does it align to Boeing’s Behaviors and Values? If not, how can I change that?

Lastly, ask yourself : How can I take all the Food for Thought questions shared in this article into next week?

  • Into 2019?

What is one thing I can do different starting next week?

I hope you find this valuable, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, and remember, if for any reason you don’t find this helpful…it is all just Food for Thought.


Creating an empowering culture part 1

Creating an empowering culture part 2

“The strength of your organization is a reflection of who you empower and trust.” Craig Groeschel

The Payoff and Price of Flourishing

My brother in law and I were joking about my relationship with my kids over the holiday break. He is the cool uncle, the fun one, the world traveler that takes them out and shows them how to have fun in the world and how to live in the moment. I am very thankful for him.  We were joking about how these now grown men, my so-called “boys,” might feel about their dad in contrast. At least I thought we were joking because (and don’t be shocked) the joking was more me being self-deprecating around being a less than stellar parent in the fun department.













Just as I was slamming myself, my brother in law got serious for a second and looked me in the eye. This was a bit of surprise as it was one of those “hanging around in the kitchen,” amidst a bustle of activity, in the scurry and flurry of the holiday, moments. In that split second, for me, everything got still. He said something like (and we never really recall exactly what people say- so I don’t fool myself): “John, your sons respect you, they value your opinion, and that is huge.”

That has not left my mind in the weeks since he said it. I am definitely someone who overanalyzes things anyway, but that one statement, in that moment and since, has both filled me with pride and (immediately) set me on my heels with abject humility.

When someone says things like that, our human tendency is to feel supremely validated. Yes! I did something right! I think there is some merit to that, but I also can’t help but be aware of how powerful of an influence I’ve been on my kids for good and probably some detriment over the years. We can’t help being both because we are only human. Hence, the acute need for humility. 

Recently, a similar dynamic has happened at work. A few times a week, I will receive some feedback about how well thought of me and my work partner are in the work world. We’ve done some pretty cool stuff, but neither of us did it alone. Nonetheless, this dynamic of kudos persists. It struck me this morning that the same thing also happens in my church community a good bit. It also happens on social media occasionally. My friends and family will say similar things…. you get the picture (sorry if this makes you nauseous, there is a point, I promise 🙂 ).

Although these worlds are varied, I try my best to be the same person in each and I find the theme is prevalent throughout. I think what all this means is – I am flourishing? Wow! That sounds so pompous to say in my head let alone write it in a blog, and I know that is the last thing someone who isn’t flourishing wants to hear from someone like me because I wasn’t born flourishing. (At least I didn’t know I was born flourishing, because I didn’t understand who God was back then nor even as recently as ten years ago when, by all accounts, I had begun flourishing in many of the ways the outside world views flourishing. )

This all came together about 4 am one morning as the term flourishing or the feeling of flourishing was really on my mind along with this pervasive pinging on my heart around humility. I couldn’t sleep, so I was listening to a podcast with Ed Stetzer and Carey Nieuwhof and Ed quoted a guy named Andy Crouch- and what he said acted as a crucible for all these thoughts and emotions in that instant:

Why is power a gift? Because power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be. And flourishing is the test of power. Andy Crouch

Just like that moment in the kitchen, I was humbled and taken to my knees by the fact that it is exactly and precisely when we are flourishing that we have to be the most careful and the most grateful! To be more precise, it is ok to be thankful and grateful in the flourishing as long as we have the right posture about it. Yet, we don’t get to bask in the hot tub of gratitude or take a “well earned” victory lap for very long. Unfortunately, to quote a less austere, but equally awesome dude: Stan Lee:

With great power comes great responsibility.

I find the joy of flourishing and the heart of gratitude to be a positive and overwhelming set of emotions, but the brain and the devil will constantly try to deceive you into thinking you did all this without any help when the reality is the exact opposite.

Flourishing is a test of power and we must never forget that. In fact, I would edit this to say flourishing is a relentless test of power. The test is how you use that power. The test is ongoing. The test is how you show up in the world. In the flourishing, I catch myself growing a bit bolder, which can be a good thing until I let my arrogance creep in – I have to go back to a place of humility.

This is most evident when I catch myself wielding influence in new and varied ways to help other people flourish or give them some relief from stress or pain, but then (often unaware) neglect to give them my time or get too busy for them or give them the wrong advice and counsel. One of the hardest parts of this realization is that the more I flourish,  the stronger the influence, the sting of hurt to those looking to me is that much greater.

So what can you do with this information? I didn’t write this post to brag about my flourishing, I have probably done that enough in so many subtle and not so subtle ways on my social media feeds I have sickened people (Insert nervous laughter here.)

What can you do? If you are not flourishing, let me first say I am sorry if this hurts to read about someone else doing so. First, please know that blog posts are like a lot of other media and artistic license always paints a rosier, Instagram version of reality and my flourishing is probably not all it is cracked up to be in many ways. Second, I submit to you that comparison is a joy killer and a trap. If you are a believer, one of the most beautiful things about God is that he will heal you if you let him and free you from that trap.

What can you do if you are flourishing to avoid all the pitfalls and truly use the power you have been given? That is my question to you. I fully realize your answer may not be my answer.

Here is my answer:

  • wear your curiosity and humility about you at all times like a seat belt.
  • Serve others abundantly.
  • Talk to God about the not so shining moments you have while flourishing.
  • Have a strong person or set of persons in your life that will bring you back to reality in a moments notice.
  • Lastly, wield your power with gentle grace and loving intent to help as many people flourish as you can.

Flourishing is not a solo sport, it is best done as a team, and the bigger the team the better.

Donald Miller says this much better than I do, so I point you to this quote as you (and I) consider the best way to flourish. 

Those who realize the epic story of life is not about them but actually about the people around them somehow win in the end. Its counterintuitive, but its true. In fact leaders who think the story of life is all about them may achieve temporary successes but are usually remembered in history’s narrative as a villian. 

%d bloggers like this: