Focal Point Blog

 
 …when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet…for the Lord will be your confidence… –Proverbs 3:24, 26

 

In his entertaining book The Lunatic Express author Carl Hoffman recounts his hair-raising experiences in Kenya while riding in a form of public transportation known as matatus, privately owned minibuses that Kenya’s former president Daniel Arap Moi once called “agents of death and destruction.”

Hoffman tells of his matatu drivers honking and flashing their lights in bumper-to-bumper traffic; parrying, jockeying, blocking one another’s doors at passenger staging points; jumping curbs onto sidewalks, sending pedestrians scrambling; blasting up Kenya’s Ngong Road, an undivided 2-lane strip of cracked blacktop, at speeds up to 100 mph with Bee Gees at deafening volume; leaping off the bus at tea time to wolf down fried dough and sweet tea; paying off cops and inspectors; and chewing mira (a narcotic) to “enhance their alertness on the road” during 18-hour workdays.

While none of us may ever have occasion to avoid riding in a matatu, there is nevertheless a bit of practical wisdom for all of us to glean from Hoffman’s story. Unless I miss my guess, like most Americans, at times you find yourself, as I do, parrying, jockeying and jumping curbs to gain advantage, or downing a stimulant to enhance alertness while blasting 100 mph down the road of life with Bee Gees at deafening volume. While extreme, the matatu drivers are merely examples of what you and I do, too: live life without margin.

By the way, what is margin? The dictionary says it’s the amount available beyond what is really needed; extra; reserve. In the present context margin is making it to the airport with time to relax and enjoy a Starbucks; marginless is sprinting to make the flight. Margin is taking Saturday as a family day; marginless is working Saturday on business stuff that didn’t get done Friday. Margin is living within our means; marginless is spending all we earn or even more than we earn, as the majority of Americans do.

What happens when our margins disappear? Psychologists tell us that as margin decreases, stress increases. Beyond that, when we live without margin, our relationships go to seed. Are you aware that relationships – with our wife, our children, friends – happen in the margins of life? They do. Busyness is the enemy of closeness.

You and I understand that a good life has margin, and that it’s possible to pursue good things to the point that our life is no longer good. Why then don’t we simply fix the problem? I don’t know. I’m just asking. Could it be we’re afraid that we might miss out on something? Perhaps, bottom line, I believe we’re convinced that if we don’t live on the edge, somehow our lives won’t count. What do you think?

The author of Proverbs 3 reminds us that God is calling us away from the edge. In the midst of our fast-paced, highly competitive world, God says if we’ll look to him for our confidence, if we’ll trust him for our significance instead of measuring our worth by our performance, then we’ll be better able to relax, and living with margin will be a whole lot easier.

Funny thing, when because of stress a man suffers a heart attack or a nervous breakdown, all of a sudden he doesn’t have any troublemaking margin a priority in his life. It would seem to make good sense then to accept God’s help in finding margin now rather than delay and maybe be forced to find it on our own, later.

Dr. Jim Furr

Photo from http://www.fromscreentotheme.com/SaturdayMatineeAlltheCatsJoinIn.aspx

Building a “Great Society”

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; by knowledge its rooms are filled with all kinds of precious and pleasing treasures – Proverbs 24:3-4

What are the essentials needed to build a prosperous and long-lasting nation? No idle question in these difficult times. What should we as a nation be doing in order to hand off to future generations a truly “Great Society”?

Proverbs 24:3-4 from the Bible draws on home building and decorating to depict symbolically how to construct a prosperous and long-lasting family, business enterprise or society. A man builds a house, and then fills it with beautiful furniture, paintings and tapestries. It’s a pleasure to see such an elegant home.

The prevailing view today, of course, is that the building blocks for erecting an “elegant” America are education, legislation and environment. Maintaining a national focus on improving literacy, creating more laws to insure safety, and providing wholesome surroundings for all will, we’re assured, one day issue in a kind of utopia.

So how’s this blueprint working out? I mean, America has invested trillions in these things. Where’s the utopia we’ve been promised? Is it possible we’ve been barking up the wrong tree?

Clearly, education is crucial to our society’s wellbeing. If we only give a starving man a fish, soon we create a man dependent on others for his food, and we rob him of his self-respect. On the other hand, if we teach the guy the basics of fishing, we give him dignity and the means to feed himself and even help others.

Legislation, too, is critical. Laws are essential for our protection from the criminal element and to deter crime. And few would deny that a healthy environment improves a young person’s chances of becoming a well-rounded, productive adult.

But as important as education, legislation and environment are, I would argue that by themselves they’ll never solve all our problems. Take education. Prior to WWII it was generally accepted that the world’s finest universities were in Germany. In other words, these renowned institutions helped shape the culture that gave rise to one of the greatest evils ever known. So much for education as an elixir for the world’s problems.

Nor is legislation an end all. True, the law provides a standard by which the egregiously unruly may be removed from society, but it does not produce good people. It does, however, expose the tendency in all of us to be lawbreakers. Who, for instance, would have thought to walk on the grass if there had been no sign forbidding it?

Environment doesn’t hold the answer to the world’s problems, either. HUD’s failure to reverse longstanding lifestyle patterns should disabuse us of that notion. By the way, isn’t it ironic that the decision that started everything spiraling downhill in the first place occurred in a perfect environment, the Garden of Eden?(!)

So what, if anything, will turn our nation around? Notice in the proverb that it’s “by wisdom” that a house or a society is built. “Wisdom” here refers to the ancient scriptures of the Bible. The picture the Bible paints of man is that his most basic problem is not ignorance, lack of laws or a lousy environment, but the condition of his heart, which in turn limits the impact of education and these other things. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart.”

Put simply, solving America’s problems, from the Bible’s viewpoint, is fundamentally not about something happening outside of us – we get educated, pass laws, change our environment – but about something happening inside us. It says we need what only Jesus can provide, a new heart: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” A “Great Society” starts there, one person at a time.

Dr. Jim Furr

 

“Beyond You Leadership”

It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor –Proverbs 25:27.

Years ago, I had the enlightening experience of conducting two case studies, each focusing on the CEO of a company. For the sake of this article we’ll call these companies A and B. I spent several days at each site interviewing the chief executive, his direct reports, and 30 rank and file members of the organization. I observed the CEO’s leadership style and how he related with his staff and others within the organization.

My research revealed that while these two companies were in the same type of business and of comparable size, and that talented staffs surrounded both executives, Company A was scrambling just to maintain the status quo, while Company B was growing rapidly. In Company A, the plateaued organization, several of the staff voiced frustration with their CEO, and in general there was an attitude of “our best days are probably behind us.” In contrast, within Company B optimism and job satisfaction reigned.

I concluded that the difference in the performance of these two organizations was essentially a function of leadership. Company A was led by an executive with the tendency Israel’s King Solomon warned against in Proverbs 25:27. The other CEO was a “beyond you leader.” Allow me to explain.

It’s no secret that many leaders enjoy making most of the decisions that affect the organization, having others defer to them in meetings, occupying a corner office, “running the show.” In other words, they “seek their own honor,” which the proverb compares to eating too much honey. Sweet as honey is, and healthy as it is in moderation, too much of it makes us sick. While honor accompanies a job well done, a good thing, for a leader to focus on seeking honor for himself is too much of a good thing and makes for a sick leader.

Company A’s CEO tried to do virtually everything. He was controlling and seemed a bit paranoid. Among his direct reports, all obviously capable, morale was low and frustration high. Because the CEO was determined to “seek his own honor” his staff felt hampered in their efforts to make a significant contribution to the company.

Company B’s executive, on the other hand, was a “beyond you leader” (BYL), a description that I became acquainted with only recently. At Leadercast Live 2014, leadership communicator Andy Stanley defined BYLs as leaders who fearlessly and selflessly empower leaders around them as well as those coming along behind them.

Stanley outlined three ways that BYLs leverage their power for the benefit of those around them. One, they refuse to make decisions others can make. Instead of making all the decisions, when possible the BYL says to his people, “You decide” (I’ve tried saying this lately, and while it still feels somewhat awkward, I’m beginning to like it). Two, according to Stanley, the BYL makes a habit of working for the team. He asks, “How can I use my power to help you get done what I hired you to do?” Then, third, the BYL empties his cup, meaning that he pours into others what he knows, making certain his people know what he knows about what they are working on.

Although my case study write up did not refer to Company B’s executive as a BYL, had I at the time been familiar with this terminology it would have. Based both on what his people told me and what I witnessed, that’s the kind of fearless, selfless, empowering leader he was. It’s also the kind of leader that you and I should strive to be. For, as Andy Stanley concluded, if our leadership is not all about us, it will live beyond us. But if it is all about us, the only way it will live beyond us is in serving as somebody’s illustration of a bad example.

Dr. Jim Furr

 

 

Memorial Day

Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him… –Proverbs 25:13

Memorial Day dates back to 1868, when May 30th was set aside to honor America’s fallen dead of all wars – “trustworthy messengers” sent forth by a not always grateful nation on an errand of mercy, to fight in defense of freedom. I find that, much as a cool drink on a summer day revitalizes my body, the remembrance of these warriors and their unflagging commitment to duty refreshes my spirit.

Several years ago the Moving Wall, half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC, was displayed here in Tulsa’s Central Park. The Wall is about names, 58,000+ of them. Among these I found “Farl Duane Wagner.” Duane and I shared three high school gridiron campaigns. Ironically, the Wall had been assembled just a few hundred yards from where the practice field once lay on which in our youth the two of us had left much sweat and even a little blood.

“David Lee Alexander” was also etched into an ebony panel of that tribute to noble sacrifice, as it had been into my memory during the four-year crucible that is West Point. With misty eyes I recalled the passion with which Dave lived …and how death had snatched him away before his 25th birthday. Duane and Dave, two among that venerable host who, as Stephen Spender wrote, “fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”

On June 6, 1984, 40 years after the Normandy invasion, President Ronald Reagan spoke at a memorial service above the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, France. Assembled on that windswept promontory in poignant tribute to their fallen comrades were former Rangers whose D-Day objective was to seize the ground where they were now gathered. Following are Mr. Reagan’s edited remarks on that solemn occasion:

“At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns.

“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers – at the edge of the cliff shooting down at them and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When a rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.

“225 came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

“Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? We look at you and somehow we know the answer. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worthy dying for, because it is the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.

“Something helped the men of D-Day: the rock-hard belief that Providence would have a hand in what would unfold here, that God would be an ally in this great cause. And so the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them, ‘Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask his blessing in what we are about to do.'”

Heartened by the valor of those undaunted Rangers and the countless others, like Duane and Dave, who gave their last full measure of devotion in service to our country, may we, in the words with which President Reagan concluded, “continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”

Dr. Jim Furr

Who Are the Notes of Our Symphony?

In the 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss plays professional musician Glenn Holland, a man who dreams of one day being a famous conductor. Meanwhile, Mr. Holland takes a job as a high school music teacher. His plan is, in his spare time, to complete a symphony he’s composing and move on. As it turns out, however, between demanding teaching and family responsibilities spare time is hard to come by.

As decades pass, Mr. Holland becomes a skilled teacher, using innovative methods to help students understand classical music and inspiring many of them to excel. Yet, when, after 30 years in the classroom, the cancellation of his school’s music program leads to early retirement, his symphony still unwritten and believing he’s been mostly forgotten by his former students, he wonders if he’s accomplished anything in his life.

At a surprise assembly organized in his honor on his final day as a teacher, friends and students, past and present, show him just what he has meant to them. Among those present is Gertrude Lang, a former student w
ho is now sitting governor of the state. Speaking to those gathered she says:

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it mig
ht be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.

Question: Who would say that they are the melodies and notes of our symphony?

DSC_0261

In the Bible, Proverbs 12:27 tells us, the lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions. While at first glance this pithy saying that contrasts a hunter too lazy to dress and cook what he’s taken in the hunt with a diligent man who values his possessions seems to have little to do with Mr. Holland’s story or us, I’d like to suggest that a closer look reveals it has everything to do with both.

Now very near or into our eighth decade, you and I have under our belt a wealth of leadership experiences: the Academy crucible; a career in the military or marketplace or both; community involvement; marria
ge and family; etc. We’ve learned much, lots of it through the school of hard knocks, about how life does and doesn’t work, about what’s true and what has only the appearance of truth, about what brings happiness and what disappoints, about what’s worthy of spending life chasing and what isn’t. Over the years, whether we recognize it or not, we’ve acquired insights that many younger people would give their eyeteeth for.

So, whom are you and I mentoring? If it
takes a leader to cultivate a leader, whom are we helping to become tomorrow’s leaders in the home, church, workplace and nation? The Bible teaches that Jesus had but two primary goals: to redeem mankind and to train 12 leaders to carry on the movement. Whom are we training?

Keeping insights to ourselves that required years and possibly substantial pain to acquire, rather than demonstrating that we prize this possession by doing the work to share it with others, is maybe just the sort of thing the above proverb with its hunting metaphor is warning us against. Who are the notes of our symphony?

Dr. Jim Furr

KNOW THYSELF

The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. Proverbs 20:5

As you know, the best leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. For instance, self-aware leaders have insight about how to deploy their strengths toward the challenges of their role and how to mitigate their weaknesses.

Proverbs 20:5 notes that the purposes of our heart lie deep within and must be drawn out if we are to have an awareness of them. In his book Impact, organizational psychologist and management consultant Tim Irwin discusses this drawing out process using the metaphor of three windows of self-awareness: the open self, blind areas and hidden areas. Irwin suggests ways to enlarge our open window while diminishing the blind and hidden areas.

The one “window” through which who we are on the inside is clearly seen by both ourselves and others is what Irwin calls our “open self.” Enlarging the open-self window increases our self-awareness, and the greater our self-awareness, the greater our personal authenticity and the more effective our leadership.

Take for example Bill Foote, cited by Michael Zigarelli in Management by Proverbs. Bill stood before 150 managers to deliver his first speech after becoming CEO Of USG Corporation, a building products manufacturer in Chicago. He opened by telling the traumatic and intensely personal story of his wife’s struggl with cancer, which had ended with her death one month before Bill was named CEO.

Now shouldering the new roles of widower, single parent of three young girls and chief executive, Bill Foote elected to stand before his management team and willingly disclose who he was. Later, The Wall Street Journal reported that: “As managers talked afterwards…the clear message was ‘if we have to go through a few walls for this guy, we’re going to do it.’”

The second of Irwin’s windows of self-awareness is what he calls the “blind” window. We’re all familiar with the concept of blind spots. Like a car that we collide with because it was in the blind spot of our side-view mirror, personal blind spots, unheeded, can wreck us. The blind window represents areas of our behavior, seen by others but not by us, that limit the effectiveness of our leadership.

To enlarge our open window by diminishing our blind window requires that we have people around us that we’ve given permission to speak to us with uncensored openness. A spouse maybe. A man was driving home from a gala at which he had received a prestigious award. He mused with his wife, “I wonder how many truly great men there are in the world today?” Her response: “One less than you think.”

Irwin’s third window of self-awareness he calls the “hidden” window. This window includes areas of our lives that, without intentional effort, neither we nor others see. Hidden defects may not show up for years, then all of sudden they manifest. Consider for example disgraced NY Congressman Anthony Weiner. Confronted with evidence of his lewd behavior, Weiner said, “If you’re looking for some kind of deep explanation for it, I simply don’t have one except that I’m sorry.”

Whatever Weiner’s hidden imperfection was – maybe simply the arrogance that often accompanies power – he needed to discover it, make it part of his open self, and then guard against it. That’s also what we need to do. How do we discover these hidden parts of our personality? Irwin suggests regular and thoughtful introspection. I’ve also found it helpful to allow God to expose my hidden areas as I meditate on his scriptures.

Dr. Jim Furr

April 25, 2014 – April 26, 2014

UnknownENDURANCE

Tulsa Performing Arts Center – Tulsa
Liddy Doenges Theatre
GET TICKETS
Presenter: PAC Trust
Show Dates: April 25-26 at 7:30 p.m.

“Endurance” by Split Knuckle Theatre Company is set during the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Hartford insurance man Walter Spivey is struggling to justify his recent promotion and save his co-workers’ jobs. In his search for inspiration, he begins reading the biography of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who kept 27 men alive for two years after their ship, Endurance, was crushed by ice in the Antarctic. Both stories are simultaneously told by four brilliant young actors who also collaborated to create the play. “Endurance” illustrates the qualities of true leadership and the power of optimism.

The Book is a “Must Read” for this generation!!!

Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed –Proverbs 19:8

The Army taught us the value of physical fitness. Even now, though pushing 70, we still jump to conclusions, fly off the handle and put our foot in our mouth. Or is that only me? Anyway, we know the importance of keeping muscles toned and the pulse down. We may not work at it, but we understand the principle.

Proverbs 19:8 spotlights another part of our anatomy that requires regular exercise for peak performance, the little gray cells. It says, “To continue to be successful in life, you’ve got to keep on learning.”

Unfortunately, by the time some folks reach their mid-30s they’ve stopped developing new skills. The tragedy is that to quit learning is to stop growing and start shrinking. It’s sad to see people who gave up thinking 10 or 15 years earlier and now let others do their thinking for them. The proverb reminds us, “Never stop learning; keep on expanding – and not just your waistline – by developing your mind and striving for new insights.“

My friend Nick Krawciw, West Point Class of ’59, retired from the Army in 1990 after serving 31 years. In recognition of acts of distinguished service too numerous to mention here, both during and after his military career, West Point presented Maj Gen (Ret) Krawciw the 2006 Distinguished Graduate Award.

Nick’s credentials are remarkable. But just as impressive (and inspiring) to me is the continuing commitment to growing and learning that I’ve witnessed in him over the few years that I’ve known him personally, both in areas of his expertise, such as leadership, as well as in relatively new areas. For example, Nick has become an enthusiastic student of the Christian faith, adding Christian literature to his wide reading repertoire and speaking at faith events and taking careful notes when others speak.

If you and I are to remain intellectually sharp throughout our life – as Nick has into his late 70s – there are a couple attitudes that the Bible suggests are essential. One is openness – The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact he looks for them (Proverbs 18:15). He says openness and mental alertness go hand in hand.

Have you noticed how the willingness to try new things tends to be inversely proportional to age? Who are the folks least likely to embrace new technology? Those of us drawing Social Security. This is the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” syndrome, often little more than an excuse for a closed mind. Openness to new things and new ways of doing old things is a must for maintaining an incisive mind.

So is humility: When pride comes, then comes disgrace. But with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). I’m sure you’ve noticed that another common hindrance to learning is the idea that, “I already know it all.” Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” (emphasis added). He was referring of course to how ego can get in the way of learning.

The human mind is an incredible gift from the Creator. Keeping it in top shape both honors him and pays huge dividends. The more we make maintaining a “buff” brain a top priority, the higher the probability that we’ll still be thinking creatively and making a difference well into our 80s, 90s (like my 93-year-old aunt who’s in a spelling bee next week!!) and maybe even beyond. Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed.

Dr. Jim Furr

 

Love and faithfulness form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity. Proverbs 20:18

What would you say is the DNA of a great leader? Many hold that it’s nothing more or less than ability to effect results, which in marketplace parlance usually means beating analysts’ projections for quarterly earnings.

By the way, that’s exactly what happened at Mirrex Global. You may have read about it. A couple very good deals last November boosted the textile giant’s fourth quarter per share earnings well above projections. According to Businessweek, first quarter 2014 earnings are also expected to exceed estimates.

So why then did CEO Doug McClain get terminated by the Mirrex Board at their March meeting?

WSJ.com reported that although McClain achieved financial results, he also sparked a rebellion by failing to win over the people most affected by his strategy to centralize all company functions in New York. “A lot of our best people are thinking about jumping ship,” WSJ quoted Mirrex Board Chairman, Walter Borinski.

What’s more, it was reported that McClain had publicly hung the very popular Marketing VP Carl Zumis for opposing the CEO on the restructuring, creating tremendous resentment among the sales force. “Firing Zumis,” said Borinski, “seemed arrogant to many, petty and mean-spirited, like McClain wanted only yes-men around him.”

In addition, the Board accused McClain of behavior that failed to exemplify Mirrex’ corporate values of integrity in all dealings and respect in the treatment of their people.

This story is fictional, but it’s a narrative that regularly plays out in organizations today. As Jim Collins notes in Good to Great, “boards of directors frequently operate under the false belief that they need to hire a larger-than-life, egocentric leader to make an organization great.” As a result what they often end up with is someone whose arrogance and abuse of power wreak havoc. While “Doug” will probably land somewhere else as CEO, and “Mirrex” will survive the years of lost productivity and erosion of morale, the workforce may never recover. Loss of confidence in management and forfeiture of great people like Carl may well cause some to check out emotionally if not physically.

Little wonder that Collins and other leadership gurus today argue that the best (Collins: “Level 5”) leaders are servant leaders. Collins uses words like humble, quiet, modest, self-effacing to describe those that his research found took a good organization and turned it into one that produces sustained great results.

Jesus, clearly one of the world’s foremost leaders, also addresses servant leadership. Like Collins, he agrees that great leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves so as to make the organization great. However, for Jesus “Level 5” leaders are those who serve their employees not just to make the organization great, but also because, following Jesus’ own example, they actually view themselves as servants.

The Bible records that when Jesus became a man, he laid aside the privileges of deity and took “the nature of a servant.” In other words, he willingly (“yet not my will, but yours be done”) obeyed God: selflessly serving others.

Collins’ Level 5 leader is leader first; he assumes the role of a servant to further his ambition (“Level 5 leaders are incredibly ambitious-but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution”). Nothing wrong with ambition, but in Jesus’ model the “Level 5” leader is servant first; he leads so as to more effectively serve. Very simply, the difference here, as Proverb 20:28 explains, is that Jesus’ model is love driven. Without question, people are empowered to excellence by a leader who delights in seeing them grow and flourish for the benefit of the company. But surely our highest level of performance is reserved for leaders like Jesus, who motivated by love demonstrate unbounded willingness to sacrifice on our behalf.

by Dr. Jim Furr – (Illustration by k.spear from thinkspace.com)

Page 5 of 7« First...34567