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In this blog and upcoming book If Somebody Loses, You Don’t Win: 21 Leadership Essentials I’ll share what I’ve learned leading a congregation through an economic downturn, three strategic plans, competition from a nearby megachurch, and creating a message and mission that resonates in a digital world. 1.7 people leave the traditional church for every one person that joins. Yet, over the past decade Mayflower Church’s membership has grown 25% and its giving has grown 55%.

1. People are Down in What They Are Not Up On

“They said they hated [the Aeron chair],” writes Malcolm Gladwell in Blink. “But what they really meant was that the chair was so new and unusual that they weren’t used to it… but two or three years later… everyone started copying the Aeron.”

Leadership is recognizing people are always down on what they are not up on. It could be a new chair or an initiative in our organization. Expecting this pushback is essential to proactively doing everything we can to prepare people for the upcoming change, explain it over and over again, until people feel they are “up” and not “down” on what we are trying to accomplish.

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2. Paint Over the Cracks

“As for the [Sistine] chapel’s ceiling,” writes Matthew Kneale in his book on Rome, “it might never have been touched if the building had been better constructed. In 1504 a huge crack appeared in the roof above the altar. It was made safe by placing large metal rods beneath the floor and the roof. Pope Julius II was not prepared to leave his uncle’s Sixtus’ chapel ugly and so, for a huge fee, he hired a 33-year-old artist named Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint over the mess.”

Leadership is knowing we will always make mistakes and cracks will form in our ideas, projects and initiatives, but our job as leaders is to find the best people to help us paint over those cracks and sometimes, if we’re fortunate, our “cover up” will become its own work of art and what people will want to see.

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3. Find Your Expansion Joint 

“Generally, solids expand less than liquids as they’re heated up,” writes Helen Czerski In her book Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life. “The expansion is only a tiny fraction of the overall volume, but it’s enough to make a difference.

Next time you cross a road bridge on foot, keep an eye out for a metal strip at either end of the bridge, running across the road. It’s likely to be made out of two interlocking comb-shaped plates. This is an expansion joint, and once you know what to look for, they’re pretty common.

The idea is that as the temperature rises and falls, the combs allow the bridge materials to expand and contract without buckling or cracking. If the bridge sections expand, the fingers of the comb are pushed farther into each other, and if the bridge contracts, the fingers pull back but without generating a serious gap in the road.”

As leaders things will at times get “heated.” Stakeholders, staff, people in our community, might disagree with our ideas and programs and emotions can quickly run “hot.” It’s important to create “expansion joints” in our life to give ourselves the opportunity to absorb these changes in temperature so we can remain cool.

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4. Be a Realist Inside an Idealist

“When the news broke on October 9, 2009, that Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, much of the world, and even the president himself, was surprised,” write E.J. Dionne Jr. & Joy-Ann Reid in their book, We Are the Change We Seek.

While some praised the choice, many—even among Obama’s supporters—found the award astonishingly premature. It seemed less a comment on his leadership than a reward to a man who had run against George W. Bush’s foreign policy—and won. The remarks Obama would give at the Peace Prize Award Ceremony were seen as an opportunity to expand on his plan for renewed international engagement. However, on December 1, just days before traveling to Norway, Obama announced in a speech at West Point that he would be sending thirty thousand additional troops to Afghanistan.

His address thus attempted to balance a broadly optimistic view of international relations with the harsh realities of continuing Bush’s War on Terror. Strikingly for one receiving a peace prize, Obama stressed his belief in just war doctrine. It was a realist’s address offered in an idealistic idiom. And, as he did at Notre Dame, he faced head-on the controversy the award had created.”

Sometimes as leaders we must chose a similar path: to be realists inside our idealism.

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5. Adapt or Die

“It is simply the process by which things either adapt and improve or die. To me this evolutionary process looks like what you see on the right,” writes Ray Dario in his book, Principles. As leaders we must understand what Darwin identified in nature applies to organizations.

We want to look like this:

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And not that:

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6. 32hrs of Flow To Finish

“The final miles of a nearly two-month race across Antarctica — a lonely effort marked by long days, short nights and stunning endurance — ended… with a sprint to the finish,” wrote Adam Skolnick in The New York Times.

In what could go down as one of the great feats in polar history, the American Colin O’Brady, 33, covered the final 77.54 miles of the 921-mile journey across Antarctica in one final sleepless, 32-hour burst, becoming the first person ever to traverse Antarctica from coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided by wind.

O’Brady’s transcontinental feat, which took him an actual total of 932 miles with some zigzags along the course, was remarkable enough; but to complete the final 77.54 miles in one shot — essentially tacking an ultramarathon onto the 53rd day of an already unprecedented journey — set an even higher bar for anyone who tries to surpass it.

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”I don’t know, something overcame me,” O’Brady said in a telephone interview. “I just felt locked in for the last 32 hours, like a deep flow state. I didn’t listen to any music — just locked in, like I’m going until I’m done. It was profound, it was beautiful, and it was an amazing way to finish up the project.”

As leaders at times we will feel at the end of an enormous project an urgency to complete the task before the opportunity slips away. This will be our 32hr moment. When that situation arises remember Colin O’Brady and find your “deep flow state.”

7. Are You a Babylonian or Greek?

Richard Feynman is considered one of the greatest physicists of the last 50 years. Leonard Mlodinow wrote a book about his relationship with him called Feynman’s Rainbow. Mlodinow writes,

“The Babylonians made western civilization’s first great strides in understanding numbers and equations, and in geometry. Yet it was the later Greeks—in particular, Thales, Pythagoras, and Euclid—whom we credit with inventing mathematics. This is because Babylonians cared only whether or not a method of calculation worked—that is, adequately described a real physical situation—and not whether it was exact, or fit into any greater logical system.

Thales and his Greek followers, on the other hand, invented the idea of theorem and proof—and required that for a statement to be considered true, it had to be an exact logical consequence of a system of explicitly stated axioms or assumptions. To put it simply, the Babylonians focused on the phenomena, the Greeks on the underlying order.

The Babylonian approach allows a certain freedom of imagination, and allows you to follow your instinct or intuition, your ‘gut feeling’ about nature, without worrying about rigor and justification. … physicists employing this kind of thinking sometimes violate the formal rules of mathematics, or even invent strange new (and unproved) math of their own based on their understanding of experimental data…

Feynman considered himself a Babylonian.”

As leaders we often lean towards being either a Babylonian or a Greek.

We either use our intuition to discern patterns and then postulize an idea or initiative or… we seek to gather facts and then argue for the most prudent and reliable conclusion and path forward. Both approaches can be successful, but being aware of our style of decision making is essential so we can recognize and then communicate from where we lead, Babylonia or Greece.

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8. Lay Cermaic Eggs

Rachael, a friend of mind, tells a story of how she was asked to care for a friend’s chickens. She and her young daughter fed and tended to them and took home a few eggs, which was part of the agreement. But when they went to crack the eggs there were two that were so hard my friend thought they were rotten: they wouldn’t break. When the owner returned Rachael explained how a few of her eggs had spoiled and the women replied, “O no, those are ceramic eggs. We place them in the coop so the chickens know where to lay their eggs.”

As leaders our responsibility is to place ceramic eggs throughout the organization so people know where to present their new ideas and endeavors. Without ceramic eggs the coop, or our organizations, can come to feel disorganized and lack a creative center.

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