Conflict Resolution: There Is A Solution

chess-king-square-piếc-black-and-white-fight-render-hd-widescreen1One of the problems during a conflict is to lose sight that there is always a solution.  Throughout more than 20 years in healthcare management, 6 years running  a low barrier homeless shelter for men, and now 2 years as a pastor I have seen a lot of conflict.  I have mediated conflict between physicians and executives, homeless men and city government, drug addicted homeless men with their significant others, co-workers, and family members.  In almost every conflict there are three ingredients:

  1. Emotion – This can be good emotion or, too often, bad emotion.  The emotion can be driven by history, the topic, false beliefs, accurate beliefs, and how things are heard or perceived.  Emotion is always there….
  2. The issue at hand – This is the reason the conflict arose.
  3. The desire to win – If there was no desire to win (or be right) there would be no conflict.

When you recognize that in almost every conflict those three ingredients exist you can start to address each to come to a resolution.  If any of the three are ignored it can seem as though a solution does not exist.  Here are some tips on how to manage conflict when you have recognized those ingredients:

  1. Nothing is solved when emotions run high. I cannot recall any examples of long term conflict resolution when someone is yelling, angry or course during conflict.  Cooler heads always prevail.  When resolution is demanded when emotions are high ridiculous solutions tend to be agreed upon that do not last.
  2. Within all of the noise of the conflict if you cannot describe the issue at hand in a sentence then likely the conflict will not be resolved.  While this might seem like an oversimplification, too many times there are arguments around countless details and side stories and similar examples.  All of which may be interesting but take the focus off of the simple issue at hand.  This requires asking “why” many times, and it may lead you to new areas of misunderstanding but it should lead you to the root of the problem.  Without dealing with the root of the problem, the problem will grow back in different ways.
  3. If we would redefine “winning” as the conflict being resolved and not treat it as a tennis match long term resolution would be easier to achieve.  Frequently individuals want to win rather than resolve the conflict.  The vast majority of conflict happens with individuals on the same team, yet the team members do not act like they are battling a common enemy.  Focus on what matters and stop focusing on who is winning.

Great Leaders Adjust

Fotolia_78205116_S-700x467Leaders make bad decisions. Hopefully that doesn’t surprise you. Throughout my last 20 years of leadership I have made some pretty lousy calls and watching others throughout those 20 years I was not alone. What makes great leaders unique from bad leaders is the ability to regularly adjust to decisions and the environment around them. Great leaders adjust, even if it means adjusting off of their own previous decision.

Too often, and I have been guilty of this, a leader makes a bad decision and then has an irrational desire to lock in and “be right”.  There is some false assumption that transparently owning a bad decision makes a leader look weak. If you find yourself supporting one of your own decision out of a desire to “be right” you are wrong already. Great leaders realize that it isn’t about them. Decisions that leaders make are for others – members, consumers, shareholders and employees.

Here are a few tips to consider when faced with a bad decision that you made:

  1. Don’t immediately discount what others see – Spending time convincing others that the obvious is irrational just because you want to be right burns more time than it’s worth.  Use that time instead to consider other options.
  2. Listen to your sharpest critics – Many times those most critical of your decisions see something that you don’t.  You shouldn’t spend too much time in this area, but the weakest leaders tend to immediately discount the loudest critics without listening or learning anything.
  3. Be cautious of dropping an anchor that can never be lifted – Leaders need to make a lot of decisions and frequently they are the ones that have to make the most contentious. Great leaders will make a tough call and the greatest leaders won’t drop a permanent anchor on decisions.
  4. Admit you made a bad decision – Every leader makes bad decisions through their career.  Own them, discuss them openly and learn from them.  The best leaders do this so everyone learns around them.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up (too long) – It never feels good to have made a wrong decision, but admit it, learn from it and move on.  Don’t make jokes about it months later, don’t let it rule or slow your future decisions and don’t let it emotionally drain you.
  6. Change your mind with good input and great timing – Some leaders get stuck after admitting that one of their decisions was bad, but they never adjust with a new direction.  They get stuck.  The best leaders change their mind and make a new decision and cast a new vision with others input and within a reasonable timeframe.  Changing your mind based on good input and direction is not a sin and it should be celebrated.

Spiritual Bucket List

ultimate-bucket-listI’m 44 years old (as I write this) and the weight of time has become a more heavy reality recently.  I’m in good health and I’m more energized about life than ever, yet I have a renewed sense of “I’ve got to get after this stuff….” bubbling in me.   I’ve never had a bucket list of things I need to check off before I die but the thought of getting focused around the larger things in life and the limited time I have left led me to consider a spiritual bucket list.  A list that is pushes me beyond normal annual goals or pithy wish lists and is leading me to follow God in such a radical way that my boundaries are being reset.

I doubt the concept of a spiritual bucket list is new. While doing some research on great spiritual bucket lists (try Googling “spiritual bucket list”) I saw many spiritual destination locations and self help suggestions. Suggestions of prayer resorts, experiences for healing your past, finding inner peace and exercises that will increase joy seem to top the list. That wasn’t the list I was looking for. While those are interesting they don’t significantly motivate me many of those can be completed out of my own strength. God wouldn’t even have to show up…. That’s not right! I decided that my spiritual bucket list should be something that so excites me that I literally launch out of bed in the morning.  A spiritual bucket list should ONLY be able to be accomplished when God shows up and amazes me through the process. When I stretch into my spiritual bucket list I should see God’s fingerprints throughout it as He would need to open the doors and make the way or I’d fall down in the process. He would need to show up and show off as I could never complete this list out of my own strength.

Don’t get me wrong, these are not about “me” and what I can see or do. These are about Jesus. They are about creating an environment around me that significantly impacts the word with His love and His power. It is about really understanding how much God wants to interact with us and impact not only our own lives, but the lives around us. I cannot imagine a more exciting time to go after the things that God can do!

Here’s my list…. What’s yours?
  • Live out of a wildly strong identity in Christ
  • Regularly fall in love with the Bible and it’s author
  • Steward a family relationship with Jesus that is unshakeable
  • Learn to worship God in new and unique ways each year, even if I look stupid doing it
  • Pray for / share Christ to 500 people a year
  • Raise at least one person from the dead (Matthew 10:8)
  • Give away 90% of our income per year and live on 10%
  • Write at least 1 book that is meaningful to many
  • Introduce and foster a kingdom mindset into the local marketplace and city government
  • Make Jesus famous by regularly teaching in a multitude of locations and settings (both marketplace and ministry)
  • Be invited to teach and share kingdom principles to the largest organizations in the region
  • Read 20 books a year that stretch me
  • Help to end homelessness is South Bend forever
  • Help create a church planting and leadership development process that is not dependent on me and launches at least 50 churches in 30 years
  • Help start and lead a tent revival where 1,000 people come to know Jesus

Receiving Critical Feedback – A Challenge

feedback-not-for-meIn a previous post I shared the leadership challenge of giving critical feedback in today’s over celebrated and politically correct environment.  I now want to share a few tips on how to receive critical feedback, which is a leadership development must.  If you want to improve you have to be able to receive and process critical feedback.  To be even more clear, I believe you will not significantly improve as a person until you can learn to receive and process feedback that can be challenging to hear.

Here are a few tips when receiving critical feedback:

  1. Feedback isn’t your identity – My identity is in Jesus Christ and whatever feedback I receive I refuse to let it hang on me to change who I am.  Without rooting yourself in who you are you will become what everyone wants you to become instead of who you were made to be.  If feedback is your identity then you will have a fear of criticism and you will search out affirmation from people instead of God.
  2. Discern the personal investment on the feedback you are about the receive – If someone is investing in you and on your future potential you should be completely open to hear and receive their feedback.  Conversely if a complete stranger gives you feedback you have to cautiously determine how and even if you need to adjust or respond.  You don’t need to respond to all criticism!
  3. Receive the feedback with open ears – If your posture becomes immediate defense when someone attempts to give you feedback your potential for improvement declines.
  4. Thank the person who is giving you feedback – There is no reason to do anything but thank the person who gives you the feedback.  It doesn’t mean you agree with them, but assume that they want you to improve.
  5. Consider and Pray about the feedback and how you should change / respond – You don’t have to immediately change.  Likely it took you decades to form your style and your mannerisms.  Changing it overnight can be clunky so be patient.  If you should adjust then adjust.   A big leadership mistake is to receive critical feedback but never do anything about it, even though it was outstanding.


Giving Critical Feedback – A Challenge

feedback-help-professional-developmentI think we are losing the ability to give and receive critical feedback.  I know that is an over-generalization, but with the participation trophy society that we live in, it is becoming more and more challenging for leaders to impart wisdom and advice without being discounted as being overly critical.

When I was growing up I participated in band program and was somewhat musically inclined.  Throughout my teenage years I received A LOT of feedback.   When I inquire with others who participated in sports activities or other extra curricular activities it is a similar story – feedback, even critical feedback, was important to improve.  Throughout my entire working career in the marketplace feedback was exceedingly important to understand how I could improve.

The question was recently asked to me, how do leaders today give feedback without being perceived as negative or overly critical?

As I think through this challenge today here are some tips to consider:

  1. There should be an emotional bank account to dip from – If you are only giving feedback without a relationship you can easily be discounted as always being negative.
  2. Give feedback in a timely manner  – Memories fade quicker than you think.  Giving feedback on something a few weeks ago won’t be as effective as giving feedback on something that happened yesterday.
  3. Share feedback out of a foundation of improvement – Giving feedback should be drafted out of a desire to improve.  Feedback should never be a means to an end, rather a suggestion to help a person be even better than they are now.
  4. Don’t over compliment to bookend critical feedback – Whenever you need to share feedback for improvement don’t fall into the trap of always giving praise before and after the criticism.  You will end up softening the feedback that should be given and could miss the core message you are trying to impart.  Give praise when praise is due, but don’t overpraise just to give criticism.
  5. Go beyond the critical – Don’t just share that “Your performance was terrible”, share what they could have done differently to make it better and be specific!
  6. Follow-up – This is a frequently missed tip!  Follow-up after the feedback in a few days to see if the individual understood or if there are any questions or if they disagree. Many times the time for them to process your feedback generates an even healthier discussion a few days later.

In a follow-up post I will share a few tips on how to receive feedback.

Why I went back to Evernote

unknownWith the recent terms of service communication snafu by Evernote this year I wanted to see if Onenote by Microsoft was a viable alternative.  I’ve been an Evernote user since April 2010 and have paid regularly for their premium offering.   I’ve also used Onenote on a somewhat regular basis through an Office 365 subscription.  I run a MacBook Pro running Sierra O/S and the latest versions of Evernote and OneNote.

When the terms of service were changed I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the new Microsoft Onenote converter tool from Evernote.  I converted a few of my most used notebooks and notes over and for a solid month tried to only use Onenote.  Here are my observations and why I decided to convert back to Evernote.

  • The importer tool did not convert 100% of the notes I needed.  I had to play with the import tool, export the notes from Evernote and then batch upload my notes.  When I got them in OneNote they didn’t convert flawlessly.  They were in page sections that were listed 1-100, 101-199, etc.  It took about 3 hours to get the layout to the point I could actually functionally use OneNote.
  • I enjoyed the text entry capabilities in OneNote. It felt more like an editor that was viable for everyday use and it mimicked the capabilities in Word more than Evernote.  I really found it great to use from an editing standpoint.
  • I found myself asking “why did it just do that?” frequently with OneNote.  When I was creating a long text document and wanted to put a text box of “ideas” to the right of my main text box.  I found it started to move my content in the main text box.  It was terribly annoying.
  • Even though Evernote and OneNote should help you not print so much paper, the reality is printing is something needed.  OneNote printing on the Mac is an absolute joke.  It doesn’t “fit to page”.  You might as well just not give the option if the output is terrible.
  • There is no ability to sort the pages by date created in OneNote.  Sort is kind of an important thing.
  • OneNote feels like it sits atop multiple Microsoft platforms.  From SharePoint to Word and OneDrive it just feels like it is stacked on top of many Microsoft platforms and it feels bloated.
  • The “experimental”features in OneNote try to mimic the left had format of Evernote, however it is an improvement, but not what I need because it continues to lack sort options. (why is this?)
  • OneNote on the mac crashes or locks about 1x or 2x per week.  Evernote rarely locks or crashes.  Like I cannot remember the last time it was unstable.
  • Tables in Evernote work much better than tables in OneNote – there are more formatting options and it is an important feature in note taking software.
  • The tags in OneNote I thought would be helpful just became annoying.  I’m sure if this was part of your workflow it might be useful, but the only one I used was “todo”.

Even though Evernote has made some bonehead decisions that they have had to change later, the reality is EverNote is still more robust and easier to use than OneNote.  I’m hopeful that EverNote will continue to develop it’s core technology, improve the editing capabilities, become a leader in security in the industry and normalize it’s leadership communication and direction.

When Worlds Collide: Healthcare & Homeless Ministry

12790452674_e7bff6f3d5_oLast night and this morning I was faced with a very frustrating situation in our attempt to help the unsheltered homeless in South Bend.  It’s one thing to write about how fantastic it is trying to do the things Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25 ( For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’), but the reality is that not every interaction ends in joy and celebration.

Last night at our Weather Amnesty shelter an individual arrived who was medically challenged.  I’ll leave off the details to protect privacy, but the individual was in a skilled nursing facility in another town prior to refusing treatment and walking away from that facility and getting a bus ride to South Bend.  Now This isn’t unique to South Bend as it happens all over the country. The individual grew up in South Bend, however no longer has relatives close and no family support system to lean on.  It was the city he knew.  He wanted to be free and to have independence.  He didn’t come to “mooch off the services of the  city”, rather in a passionate move to gain freedom from being constantly cared for, he left his primary care facility to do something he wanted to do.  He refused treatment.

Since being in the city for just a few days he has spent time in the hospital as well as time in our weather amnesty facility.  He is incredibly polite, respectful and has no mental issues that I could determine in the short amount of time that I met with him.  He has a deep desire to have freedom and be more self supportive.  But based on what I saw, that is going to be challenging at best.   I feel like the canary in the coal mine.  I’ve had a conversation with the local hospital and other homeless facilities in town in an effort to coordinate a plan.  I cannot imagine working on situations like this without a coordinated effort. I am beyond blessed to have worked 20 years in healthcare locally and have a fantastic relationship with the other homeless agencies in town, however I’m concerned….

As I recall my time in healthcare administration our guest is likely at risk for being a frequent visitor to expensive emergency hospital care. You cannot make someone receive treatment.  You cannot force a solution on someone who still has the capability to make choices for themselves.  This ends up being incredibly expense and frustrating. You can find countless articles about the expense to a hospital (and community) related to homeless medical expenses. (Here is an example) This was one reason six years ago we starting Project WARM ( to keep the unsheltered homeless in a safe location outside of the local hospital emergency room.  Our goal was to develop a relationship with the unsheltered homeless, share the love of Jesus with them and get them to a next step in their life.  Over the last six years we have seen incredible stories of success, but today’s example is a heartbreaking reality when someone refuses help.

The reality is our guest this morning needed something deeper.  He desperately desires “meaning” in his life and “independence”.  Two things that even in a skilled nursing facility someone can find, but seemingly were not provided to him.  When he gets placed again (hopefully soon) in a skilled facility, without someone addressing a basic desire of “What’s the meaning of my life” he likely will not be content and could refuse treatment again.

From a ministry standpoint he needs to have a relationship with Jesus.  He needs to know what “love” is – he’s never experienced it in a meaningful way.  He can find meaning in who God made him to be, but that can take time. It is difficult to convey and show the love of Jesus when someone refuses treatment, refuses good advice and is in a emergent homeless situation.

I was able to pray for him this morning and suggest a next step….. But I’m still frustrated….

That frustration reminded me this morning of Matthew 26:11 where Jesus pointed out that  “The poor you will always have with you…”.  Likely this was a reference to Deuteronomy 15:11 “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land”.

So while I’m frustrated, I’m not giving up.  We are commanded to be openhanded toward the poor.  We are not commanded to be openhanded until you get frustrated and then give up and walk away.  The reality is for every individual who refuses a healthy next step, there are more who take steps to recovery and health.  As I write this I’m reminded of the individual listening to everything going on this morning at our shelter who said that he was looking for a job today and was ready to get off the streets.  I’m reminded of the gentleman last week who told us that he stopped drinking two weeks ago and had been sober longer than he had been in years.   I’m pressing on….

A Clogged Filter

clogged-air-conditioning-filter-phoenix-azHave you ever felt like you needed to filter what you were about to say?  Or maybe you’ve said something and wished you would have filtered it before it came out.  I’ve done that – way too many times.  The problem with a filter is it gets clogged up and the ugliness eventually comes out.  We put to words “how we really feel”, and it comes out in a not very helpful way.

In Matthew 15:18  Jesus says “….the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart”.

You can try to filter what you want to say only so long but what comes out eventually are is deeply implanted thoughts in the heart, our core beliefs and judgements.

The issue isn’t the filter we use, the issue that we even need a filter.

In Matthew 12:36 when it says that “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken”, I already have enough words I need to give account for I don’t want to add more.  This means that I need to evaluate my heart and my heart reaction, my core belief system and my judgement of others.  I need to view situations and people, no matter how complicated or messy, the way Jesus sees them.

Lord help me live in such a way that my heart is clean and a filter is never needed.

So Dad, what’s the benefit to us of you being a pastor?

img_0695This last weekend my 11 year old son, after a small disagreement regarding a trivial matter on a Sunday, asked a phenomenal question….  “Dad, what benefit is there for us now that you are a pastor”?  Ouch…. that hurt…..  While it sounded like a really selfish question for an 11 year old to ask, it was a great, honest, heartfelt question in the moment.  After a month of pushing hard to get many things done it was a good reminder of my priorities.

Before I dig deeper into that question and my response I need to paint some background.  Over the course of my career in healthcare I tried to carve out time during my busy schedule for my children.  This picture above is what “Work Days” normally looked like.  These were days that I would invite one of my boys to the office for an hour where we would hang out, eat ice cream from the hospital cafeteria and I would try to make them feel important.  I would introduce them to people I worked with, let them draw pictures on my white board and listen intently to them.  I still got work done during the time we spent together – as you can see in the picture I’m on my phone….but I intentionally carved time out of my busy schedule for them.  I would also take them to Notre Dame football games or special events and we would vacation together to fun places.

Now in ministry I find it more difficult for “work days”and financially challenging to take them to larger events like football games or fancy vacations.  My boys go to church on Sunday’s so they are at the place I work, but for a different purpose.  In ministry you also deal with your weekends being much different than they were when I was in the marketplace.  The day I’m off my children are in school or working and it can be challenging to find time to be meaningfully present.

Here are ways in which I try to connect with my children while in ministry, and I’m still working on these:

  • We try to eat together many evenings – this doesn’t happen every night, but we really try hard to do this regularly.
  • Intentional time – I drive my middle son to school almost every day.  It’s 20 minutes together and while we don’t have amazing discussions every day (imagine a 15 year old early in the morning – not the most talkative), it’s time we get together and we do connect.  Finding intentional time with each of my sons is important.
  • Special Events – These take on different meanings because they are likely less frequent in ministry just due to time and financial constraints.  Instead of Notre Dame games or destination vacations we go away and camp or to a state park.
  • Pray Together – Must do more of this!
  • Texting – With my oldest son who now has a full time job and attending a community college texting seems to be a lifeline to connection throughout the week.  From comical tidbits back and forth to serious questions texting is a must.

Today after an early morning meeting and leaving before my sons got up, I went back home to eat with my youngest son and we discussed some of the benefits of my job to the family.  We talked through his question yesterday and we talked about how our time together was important.  It was the highlight of my day.

While there is a delicate balance between your time in ministry serving others, are you serving your family and your children well?  Do they feel like they are important to you, or are you out of balance?  It took an 11 year old to ask an honest question for me to recalibrate after a busy month of activity….  I appreciated his honesty and I enjoyed my breakfast with him this morning.


Improving Communities – Start With Your Smallest Community

cuu6mjaumaqdsbdI had the opportunity recently to speak with a large health system in Northern Indiana.  They wanted me to speak about “Improving Communities” and left room for me to speak about whatever I felt might be important within that topic.  With such wide boundaries to work within it allowed me to think about the gigantic concept of “community improvement”  and I immediately thought about geographic regions like cities or large portions of populations. When you think about community improvement the natural tendency is to think big, isn’t it?  When you consider improving large populations of hundreds, thousands or millions of people you start to think about what programs to implement, funding decisions and key metrics and it is easy to of a mission to improvement communities to become largely disconnected from someones everyday work.

If you look at the mission statement of health systems around the country it frequently points to community improvement in some way.  When you ask their employee’s how their specific job, at a day to day level, helps to advance the mission (let alone do they know what their mission statement is), they frequently can’t make that link – it becomes an ethereal concept.  How does going to meetings everyday really improve our community?  How does cleaning this patient room improve our community?  If your mission statement isn’t directly linkable to someones everyday work in some way it is difficult to really advance your mission.

If you look at how Jesus dealt with community, he generally dealt with the smallest form of community – changing one person, or a small group of people which then infected the entire community, and the world around him.  It got me thinking….  What if we thought of community as every interaction that we have around us with other people?  Don’t you enter a community every time you enter a patient room – it’s the community of the family in front of you.  You enter a community every time you deliver a meal to a patient room, visit a person at home with a homecare visit, schedule a patient visit, clean a patient room, document a visit in the electronic medical record.  We enter a community when we have a meeting with our co-workers, we enter a community when we give a performance evaluation.  The reality is we are a collection of communities, small and large, and we interact with communities all day long.  If we thought of improving communities as improving the interactions we had every day with groups we work with the mission of “improving our communities” our mission would take a who new meaning.  It would make the ethereal concept of community and make it tangible for every person in the organization.

It is my belief that without the thought of improving communities at the every day interactions with small pop-up communities all around us, an organization will never be able to improve large community populations.

Here are 6 ways in which an organization can start improving communities at the day-to-day level that will more rapidly start to improve larger communities.  Using these you can tap into the potential of thousands of everyday interactions which cumulatively improve the geographic population you live in.   As you read through this list, think through the small communities (interactions) that you have every day.

You can improve community if you….

  1. Realize you are not the most important person/department/organization in the community
  2. Build the community up, don’t tear it apart
  3. Discover and encourage the gifts of other community members
  4. Unlock your own gifts and give your all
  5. Participate in your community with joy
  6. Leave your community better than you found it

These are great lessons from best management reference around….The Bible…. Specifically from Romans 12:3-8