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Cancer of the Attitude (Part Two)
How I responded when I found my success being threatened by an unlikely foe.
I would not consider myself a lazy person. In fact, I have been described as a "workaholic." So it was a surprise when I realized that laziness had affected some parts of my life. It had even begun to affect my goals and dreams.
This is often the case when the demands of your life go up. I used to be able to knock out my extensive To-Do lists with very little structure. I wandered from one job to the next, finishing at my pleasure. However, as new doors began to open for me, this lack of structure stopped working. I ran out of time at the end of the week. I began to have to "wing it" in my talks and writing. I was always rushing to get yesterday's stuff done today.
Surprised by laziness
I didn't feel lazy. I was traveling, speaking, and writing more than ever had before. However, in one of our senior staff meetings, a young man had the courage to tell me, ''Michael, all your talks and writing lately seem very dry and uninspired." Someone else said, "Yeah, you're really sucking it up lately." Ouch!
I wanted to defend myself. But deep in my heart, I knew it was true. As the conversation went on, we all realized that I had to structure my days, meetings, and life in general in a way that maximized my time. My assistant began to talk about how I often ignored her when she shared how I could stay on track each day. She explained that all her planning and structure was a waste of time if I chose not to work hard at following it. My wife talked about my need to prioritize my health and family. It was like an episode of Intervention.
As a free-spirited leader, I relished my laid-back style. I did things when I felt like it. I couldn't imagine the horror of a scheduled life! But as the meeting went on, it was clear that I needed to grow. I saw that I had become comfortable with putting off tasks. In fact, I procrastinated long enough that some opportunities just went away. I was being too lazy to grow.
Laziness is a funny little creature. I used to think it was why people don't get jobs or why houses stay dirty, but I have found it to be a cleverer foe than I ever realized. True laziness just says, "Things are fine." Laziness rewards you for what you have done and encourages you to stay in that moment. Laziness reasons that tomorrow will be a more fruitful day. It convinces us to rest before we even get tired.
In a leader, laziness often looks like "movement," while preventing meaningful action. Like a ship anchored in a storm, the ship rocks and rolls with the waves but it never goes anywhere.
So what kills the cancer of laziness in a leader? Education and new habits.
I began to read everything I could about leaders who experienced growth: Hybels, Maxwell, Welch, Jobs and other biographies of other men and woman who have excelled. I began to give those under my leadership more voice in my daily duties. I asked my wife to use harsher words to get my attention. I learned to say "this meeting is over." I began to turn things down (even some good things!). I wrote during the time outlined on my schedule. If I didn't feel inspired, I lied to myself until I did. But I always kept typing. I built a team of staffers to help me develop my talks with their honest feedback. And I learned to stop at the end of the day.
In short, my life got structured. I cannot tell you how much peace and inspiration it has brought me. It's a funny thing about constantly educating ourselves; it inspires us to perform at new levels. I have come to see that those I admire have one thing in common: They never stop learning. Laziness cannot exist in the bright light of learning and growth.
I spent several years in my early twenties working as a professional fire fighter. First, we went through a fire academy that lasted close to a year. During that time we were taught not only how to do our job, but also the mindset we'd need to perform under intense circumstances.
One day, after a rather bad performance by our team, our instructor called us all together and said, "Men, you failed today because you hesitated. You have been trained enough that you knew what you should do but you lacked the confidence to rush in and do it." Then he said something I have never forgotten, "In this job hesitation will make your worst nightmare come true. It is the result of every mistake."
He went on to explain. Fires only get bigger and hotter. As soon as you know how to kill them, do.
I have found this to be good advice as a leader. How often have I put off a conversation with a staff member hoping that an issue will fix itself? How many times do we have to make tough financial decisions hoping that money will magically appear? The answers to the biggest decisions in my life were often clear as glass and yet somehow, I paused too often when I needed to act.
Now, I understand the need for wisdom. We need cool heads at decision time. But every leader I know has a story of how a problem they ignored grew from a whisper to a roar very quickly. Sometimes, leading people requires quick decisions.
I used to use the words "I'm processing" to postpone these. I now understand that isn't always wise. If I sense a problem with someone on my team, I choose to ask immediately, "Hey, do we have a problem?" And each time I ask, it takes two seconds into their response to know if we do or not. A wait-and-see approach isn't always the best way to deal with every issue in life. If a snake slithered underneath your bed, you would never say, "You know what? I can't see it right now so I'll deal with it later." No. You would deal with it now. And if you couldn't find the snake, you'd likely burn the house down trying. Hesitation can cause nightmares. But bold action when we know it's needed makes a huge difference.
These are just a few cancers of the attitude that I have had to watch out for. Yours might be different. But whatever is jeopardizing your attitude in ministry must be dealt with. Attitudes are of vital in the life of a leader. From them come our thoughts, dreams, and actions. Don't let your ministry become diseased because you didn't seek these out. Choose to exam your life before your tumors grow. Be ready to treat them with the right medicine.
What "cancers of the attitude" would you add to this list? What are the antidotes?
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