Tension: The Need for Healthy Communication

As an Organizational Leader you cannot underestimate the power of ongoing, informative communication. Once positions are taken, assumptions are made, and tensions solidified, the results can be disastrous. I was reminded of the importance of ready communication on a recent trip to Waco Texas and a visit to the location of the FBI’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound.

If you study the history of the Branch Davidian Siege, individuals on both sides of the conflict desperately tried to facilitate communication because they recognized the tragic path that both parties were on. Their words fell on deaf ears.


Because conclusions had been drawn, plans of action had been made and the tensions were so high that no amount of talking could deescalate the situation. It had past that critical moment where the tragedy was destined to play out and no individual, no matter how skilled, had the power to stop it.

The Result: 82 Souls perished. 76 Branch Davidians were killed, of whom, 34 were women and 23 were Children along with several Federal agents. The massacre was a true blight on American history and case study on Liberty and Federal overreach. Furthermore, it’s a lesson in the importance of communication that cannot be ignored.

For the leader, reflection on this event is very important. Fostering an environment of open and transparent communication is paramount to organizational success. It is inevitable, that within your organization, issues will arise that if swept under the rug will fester until the point they become irreconcilable, and your organization will pay the price.

Begin with your leadership team, make sure they know they can tell you anything and that you will listen. Furthermore, that whether you agree with them or not you will hear, consider, and respect their opinion. Then, as you model that quality, encourage and train them to be the communication facilitators for the remainder of your people.

The “stand offs” that you avert will keep you healthy, thriving, and moving forward to become the best organization that you can be.

Remember: Communicate, communicate, communicate…

Here is a Leadership Minute video that I filmed at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas.

A Higher View

Work “on” the system, not “in” the system.

The role of leader requires a certain way of thinking about everyday tasks. You may need to shift. Consider how you can step back from the to-do list and oversee the progress of your organization as a system to be managed. We struggle with so many things to do that it is easy to throw our hands in the air and give up. However, with a little strategic thought we can streamline.

You have a work flow. How organized it is depends on you. I want you to imagine yourself at your desk. If it is anything like mine we could say it’s “un-neatly organized.” Now that you are picturing it, imagine all the related tasks that are on it’s surface. The thirty-fifth paper in pile number two is related to the twenty-fourth paper in pile five. It has gotten this way due to neglect. Day to day, you take the top paper, work on it, put it somewhere else, or you throw it in the trash. You are in the system…

Quote1 working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically    Quote2

Now, imagine that you had perfect clarity. You are now standing over your desk (not sitting at it) and because you can see the big picture you can see how each paper corresponds to other papers and you begin to group them with all other relevant papers. You begin to see “mobilizations” instead of a to-do list. You realize that if you put the tenth paper in pile two together with the third paper in pile four and the fifth in pile five, you can take care of all of them with one action. You are now working ON the system…

As long as you are working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically, or give ownership of anything to anyone. It is faster to do the task than to teach (or allow) someone else to do it. However, if the related and relevant items are grouped, and a mobilization is build around it, you can give ownership of something much bigger than a task, and relieve yourself of the minutiae of having to perform every task yourself. As a collective whole, those tasks can become a strategic mobilization which results in the training of your direct reports and greater efficiency for the organization.

As a leader, your people need you to show them where they are headed and how they will get there. Inspire them with the big picture. Reward them for every step towards that end. Celebrate when each victory is achieved and inspire confidence in their abilities. You know that they are going to make mistakes. You also know that – initially – the tasks will get completed to a lesser level of excellence than it would had you completed the task on your own. However, to follow your same patterns will lead you into a trap. You do not have the option to work in the system and direct it from above. If you desire change in your organization, but refuse to let go of the lesser things, then step aside and let another lead. Remember, a leader rejoices more over a mistake made with effort than with inactivity perfectly executed.

PRACTICUM: Take a moment to think about repetative things that you do, the no-brainers. Now think about how often you do them. Add up the time on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis. Take one of those tasks, and hand them off to someone this week. Expect less than perfection and be willing to wait for the standard to rise.

Self Leadership

Leadership starts with self.

I woke this morning to two things. First, a notification on my phone of motion on my home security system. It turned out to be a moth buzzing the cameras. Second, news coming out of Milwaukee that riots are taking place because of the escalated national violence and sensitivities that mark the day.

It strikes me that the polarization we are undergoing as a nation is nearing the point of no return. It seems everyone is looking in the wrong place for leadership. Leadership stars with self.

When leadership is looked for through dependence it is never healthy. When we entrust others to define and implement our futures we subjugate ourselves. We must each define the future that we want to see for ourselves and it does not start with blowing up the system, but becoming part of the system.

I am privileged to work with many different associations to help them define their future paths and roles among their members. One thing remains constant, the newer members of the organization see the old guard and define the gap. The elder members see the gap as well, and their approaches to change rarely find common ground. The older members must seek to include the younger and benefit from their input and participation. The younger members must seek to engage and allow their voices to be heard. What typically happens is that the older exclude the younger, and the younger want to blow up the system. This leads to a passive aggressive—or sometimes aggressive—struggle for change. This season of “Storming’” can be detrimental to the organization if not handled well. Each individual in such a situation needs to refrain from being part of a group voice and seek their role as diplomat in that situation. The harmony in an organization is more important than individual need or agenda. But most people are sheep. They seek another’s leadership to get behind. I contend we all need to be leaders starting as leaders of one… self.

Back to our current reality…

While the nation struggles, I wonder how things would change if everyone would take a leadership role in their own life and not subjugate themselves to a group.

Are you waiting for a political party to solve your issues? A movement? A business? A house of faith? Another person? None of those people care for you like you do. They don’t wake up in the morning and think “I need to make sure Rick is well provided for today and feels a deep sense of security!” No, that’s Rick’s job. The world is cruel and doesn’t give a lick about Rick.

Until we are happy with who we are, and refuse to be dependent on a system or another, we will not be free to pursue self fulfillment. Take stock, who do you depend on for your sense of purpose and wellbeing? If it is other than God and family you are not free and you cannot blame that on anyone but yourself. Lead yourself.

Here’s my final thought. What I am watching in Milwaukee today represents the moth in my home. I know that for the rest of the day that moth is going to fly around and activate my alarm system. So today, my alarm system is worthless. I will need to fight the tendency to ignore it because by ignoring it I am vulnerable. But, I will unfortunately ignore the moth.

Flying Elvis

Tension leads to Release

There is something very powerful about a release, whether it be edifying or destructive. There is that moment when all the harnessed energy comes to the point where inaction is no longer possible, it releases, and the tension is gone. Even if it is destructive, this flash of release is gratifying. However, the moments that follow are what determine whether or not the release causes additional stress or bliss.

Like the archer in slow motion who grasps her bow. She grips it in her support hand in just the right position. She knows as soon as she picks it up whether or not it will need adjustment. Even though her eyes are fixed on the bow, the mind is fixed on the target, the distance, the trajectory, the wind, crowd, competition, results, consequences, muscle response, pain, equipment, pull, tension and ultimately, release. A flurry of senses, thoughts, calculations all happen at a subconscious level and the bow has not even been raised. Eventually, it is, and muscle memory brings extreme tension, calculated mental action, and reaction, and then release. If all is well accomplished the arrow will strike center.

A few years ago I was in Orlando Florida, and as I so often find myself, I was sitting at the desk in my hotel room rummaging through the paperwork of the day and the tension demanded release. I jumped up with a start and remember murmuring to myself; “I am so out of here!” You see, there comes a time as a leader when the fog of data and systems clouds the creative response. Hear me! In those moments it is time for your creative pause, it is time to check out. It is time to let the subconscious go to work and you need to go and play. It is not an option.

Drive… No Direction

Thrust into action with only one thought–getting on the highway and seeing where it would lead–I found myself in Kissimmee. I turned off the highway and began driving small gravel roads as if pushed forward by the tension of the hotel room and the earlier meetings of the day. There I was, glancing side to side, looking for a yard sale, a flea or farmers market, something brainless. That’s when it happened. As I rounded a long sweeping turn between small homes on large parcels, I broke through the trees and my eyes and mind were drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I was on an airstrip of beautiful green grass. “Oh yeah!” I muttered underneath my breath, “Play Time!” There was definitely fun to be found here.

Walking into a glorified shed with a sign above the door that identified its offering as “Glider Rides,” and after reading the necessary disclaimers and a release of liability, I took my pen and signed my life away to an old friend named New Experiences. Little did I realize the adventure would reflect the events of the day so closely.

Systems Birth Stress

The tension began to increase as I signed the release of liability. Basically, I was putting my life into the hands of a bearded Neanderthal of a man I had just met, and if I die, says the release, it’s on me.

Cool! No tension there!?!

With a grunt, he leads me out into a field and to his glider which looks like it was built back when Elvis was overweight, sweaty, dressed in white leather with red stripes and could barely walk the stage. In fact, this antique reminded me of the king, flipped up collar and gasping for breath between songs. No composites here only aluminum and rivets, and yes, painted white with red stripes. This thing was vintage.

Much to my surprise, he dragged Elvis into place with one hand as he walked this wannabe retired airplane to where the “real” airplane was going to hook on for the ride. I remember thinking; I am 6′-4″ and 215 pounds and I am going to sit in something that can be dragged onto the airfield with one hand by a man whom I am sure just smirked at me through the side of his face as if to say, suckerrr.

Our eyes meet, and he says, “Get in!” He then begins to put me in a five point harness and pulls it really tight. At this point, I am feeling the panic of claustrophobia and the canopy is still up. He leans over and points to the release lever. “When I yell ‘Now!’ pull it.” It was in that moment that I realized my head is sticking way out of the natural body lines of this glider, and I say, “I don’t think I’m going to fit.” He proceeds to try to close the canopy. I cock my head as far as possible sideways and it was still not close to closing. His next words; “Get out!” Our man of many words now begins to rip the seat out of the glider. No joke! And in some sick replay of other dumb decisions I’ve made in life, I actually go along with this. I climb in and sit on bare aluminum in the cockpit and Mr. Wax Eloquent checks the canopy and starts strapping me in again. Each of the five points of the harness seems to gauge my increasing tension. Meanwhile, the real airplane has appeared and connected itself to me without my noticing. In a nonverbal acknowledgment that everything was a go, my new friend slaps his hand on the canopy as if to say… Well, I’m not really sure what it said. Good luck perhaps?

The next thing I know, I am experiencing a very rough rush of forward acceleration as the real airplane takes off down the runway. “Um, what do I do now?” “Wait for me to say ‘Now!’ and pull the release handle.” came the reply. I remember thinking to myself, he actually speaks in sentences? It brought small comfort. We continued to climb. Tense and stressed, I was absorbed by the chaos and found it very difficult to focus on the beauty around me with the constant noise, bumps, drops and clatter of being dragged–by a rope–where I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go. Then, piercing all the mayhem and propelling me from the fog to hard reality came the cry, “NOW!” I reached out and pulled…


As if God Himself had reached into my reality and turned the volume knob from eleven to one, everything became clear. My mind which had been trying to process the inundation around me had cleared. My ears heard little but the wisp of outside air. My eyes focused on the tow plane as it seemed to fall tragically from the sky, leaving me behind, then to the breathtaking beauty of my seat in the sky. My hands were no longer shaking but steady and sure on a now smooth (previously vibrating) control stick. It was bliss.

For forty-five minutes I swept through the sky like a bird without reservation, smooth and fluid, embracing positive and negative gravitational forces alike. Even the discomfort of sitting on the aluminum structure of the glider ebbed away. Tension had given way to release and the experience was, well… Clear. It’s the only word that describes it. I had traded the stresses of the procedure and systems for the joy of flight. I felt inspired.

As leaders we each must learn the lesson that I was privileged to learn that day, that is: Clarity comes after the systems and procedures are necessarily worked, and unless you are willing to subject yourself to the tensions they create, you will never see the fulfillment of your dream. Altitude is gained through struggle and if the struggle scares you, and you stay on the ground, you lose. Leadership is not like the third grade where everyone receives a ribbon. Some win, most do not. I had traded the tension of a hotel room surrounded by paperwork for the tension of a seat-less cockpit in pursuit of my creative aha! I found it, and clarity, at 5000 feet.


Could I have found that moment alone? No! It took a pilot, a plane, and a landing strip. Skilled people had to assist me in getting there. I had a team. Without them, I would have never had the experience, or I would have tried it alone and killed myself in the attempt.

If you are a leader/church planter, you want to fly. I get that. Remember that you cannot fly without partners that can actually get you airborne. A mentor to strap you in, to train you, challenge you, grunt at you. Prayer partners who provide the airstrip to launch you into the exciting unknown. Financial partners that will attach themselves to you, provide the horsepower, and empower you to a higher level and are willing to yell “Now!” Ultimately, the ride of your own leadership begins when you respond and pull the release. Then, and only then will you soar.

Modeling Accountability

As a leader, you have an obligation to model personal responsibility. I love the old phrase:

Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks better than your talk talks.

The attitudes we express, the actions and behaviors that we model, all illustrate to our direct reports the type of behavior that we believe in and expect for the organization. The leader that personally commits to transparency in their leadership style will instill confidence and excellence in their team.

One of the hardest things you can do is a leader is to self evaluate. Giving those whom you lead the opportunity to evaluate both the organization and you as their leader. Placing yourself in this situation is both humbling and trying. I have found that a yearly evaluation serves the organization, and me as a leader, in that I learned things about myself, seen from someone else’s perspective, that if addressed make me a better leader.

As I prepare the evaluation, there is one ground rule that I put in place, and it has to do with respect. This ground rule serves to create an environment where communication can happen at the highest level, avoiding hostility and/or hurt feelings. The reality is that there are things that others see in you as their leader that you are unaware that they see. In many cases, you may not even know they have that perception of you. You need to know!

Those things can hinder your effectiveness, or even disqualify you as their leader.

It is your job as a growing leader to explore, unearth, and improve upon those things. The problem is, unless you solicit feedback that enables you to see those things for yourself, you may never know that they exist.

Here is my ground rule

I tell everyone that their evaluation of me, or any individual in the organization will be personally reflected upon, that I will take what they have to say to heart. I promise them that I will act on any constructive information that they give. For that reason, I ask that all responses be respectful, and seeking the best good of the individual. No flaming allowed.

This understanding has led to a lifestyle and organizational culture that allows my direct reports to feel comfortable telling me what I need to know. If it is personal, and they are not comfortable telling me directly during the course of the year, they wait until the yearly evaluation. That is fine with me. I have shown that no comment, respectfully given, is ignored and that I move on every constructive recommendation. In fact, I go public with the evaluation.

It was hard for me to publish one year’s evaluation when I had the following comment: “Rick needs to spend more time on the team building he talks about, and less time personally taking on as much as he does.” OUCH! However, by making these comments public, it serves the organization in multiple ways:

1. It shows that I take comments seriously.

2. It puts accountability to the forefront (they will wait to see if I start building teams).

3. It inspires them as they see the teams being built.

4. It gives me an item of improvement to report upon.

5. It makes me a better leader.

6. It allows me to model how to publicly handle, and implement constructive criticism.

By the way, when you are open and transparent, and your people know that you will take evaluations from them anonymously, and that you will act upon them, they feel that they have a voice.

Rest assured, if you as a leader do not give your directs a voice, they will find their voice elsewhere. Usually it will be laterally, and then the problems really starts…