The Beauty of Contentment

The Beauty of Contentment Pin1 The Beauty of Contentment

Look Beneath the Surface

For about the last year and a half—since I retired from full-time ministry—my family has been involved in a church in a community next door to ours. The average income in that community is probably somewhere between 2 to 4 times my family’s yearly income. I have to be honest and admit that there are times when I look at the houses of some of my new friends and acquaintances that I’m a bit envious. I see the nice cars they drive and other cool things I hear them doing—like taking expensive vacations—and a part of me wishes I could live that life. Discontent begins to stir in my soul.

But if you peel away the surface and look deeper, I guarantee you’ll find a person who’s life isn’t perfect. They have struggles and problems just like the rest of us, and we have no idea if they’re just really good at looking confident and secure in public but fall apart in private because of all the stress. That big house and the matching car and the vacations all come with hefty bills. Do we have any idea how far into debt they went to look so good?

I’ve gotten to know some of the people in the community through our church, but also through leading some of them through Financial Peace University. The reality is that they may have high paying jobs, but those jobs come with high-pressure and long hours. They may have big houses twice the size of mine or larger, but they also have mortgage debt sometimes 4 or 5 times my own. Not to mention that just about every subdivision in their city has an HOA that makes them pay yearly dues on top of it all. Even more burdensome is that some of them have several hundred thousands in student loan debt, two or three car payments or leases, several thousand dollars in consumer debt, and no money saved for their kids’ college or their own retirement.

Would you really want to trade places?

Stopping Comparison Ends Discontent

To be honest, their lives suddenly don’t look so appealing anymore. I maybe don’t make as much, but I don’t have the pressure and long hours. I get to sit at home in my living room near my wife and kids and pretty much set my own hours. My house isn’t as big, but I live in a house that’s now worth quite a bit more than we owe, so we could sell it at a tidy profit in the current market if necessary—plus we don’t have an HOA breathing down our necks.

None of this is to brag or put anyone else down and say that they’re just a bunch of irresponsible children. It’s just that when I look at the facts, I find that I have absolutely no right to be discontent with my circumstances. Looking beyond the surface at someone else’s life is a reminder to be content with where I am and with what I have. That car sitting out in the sun that’s had the glove box completely disintegrate and fall out? It’s paid for. My house that’s half the size or smaller than someone else’s? It more than meets our needs and honestly allows us to life in lavish comfort compared to most people in this world.

There’s beauty in contentment. Envy can’t find ground to take root in my soul, and there’s peace in knowing I have more than enough already. Who needs more?

How to Stop Holding Boring Team Meetings

How to Stop Holding Boring Team Meetings1 How to Stop Holding Boring Team Meetings

I’ve sat in hundreds of meetings over the years, if not thousands. Some of them have been great meetings—productive, encouraging, and full of interaction—but the vast majority have frankly been boring and perfunctory. Now to be fair, I’ve led some of those meetings myself, so I’m not just throwing former supervisors under the bus. I’ve been a part of bad meetings in a wide range of environments, from faculty meetings to volunteer meetings to staff meetings. All of them, regardless of the organization, have had highs and low—unfortunately far more lows.

Yesterday, I wrote about how having an uninspired team is probably the fault of the leader in some way. One of the common problems uninspired teams often have to deal with is that the leader is failing to cast vision, and the meetings themselves are simply sucking time and energy from the team. Even great leaders can conduct bad meetings if they don’t understand the true purpose for those meetings.

Over the years I’ve managed to learn a lot of don’t when it comes to meetings. I thought I’d try to synthesize my thoughts in two lists. First, let’s look at the negatives.

How NOT to Conduct Meetings

  1. Don’t have meetings for the purpose of sharing calendars. You and your team should be using some kinds of online group calendar such as Google Calendar to share relevant dates and deadlines.
  2. Don’t have meetings to “make sure everyone’s on the same page.” You should be using project management software like Basecamp, Asana, or Smartsheet to keep your team on track.
  3. Don’t spend endless amounts of time in large group brainstorming sessions. Cultivate and encourage small group brainstorming and individual creative thought among your team. Stress that you have an open door policy when it comes to hearing ideas that anyone on the team is allowed to take advantage of.
  4. Don’t have meetings to lecture or micromanage your team. If this is happening most of the time in your meetings, then one of three things is true. You either don’t trust your team to do their job, you hired the wrong people for the job, or you haven’t effectively led your team.
  5. Don’t allow rambling or rabbit trails to take over your meeting. We all like to have fun, and most of us like to hear ourselves talk about ourselves, but don’t let personal reflections, funny interjections, or passing thoughts derail forward motion. Encourage everyone—including yourself—to keep it relevant so you can all get back to work.
  6. Don’t ever discipline an employee in a meeting. Disciplinary issues should be done in private or in the presence of relevant supervisors. This is true even if you feel the need to address an issue with your entire team or a subset of your team. Post reminders on a team bulletin board or communicate issues via email.
  7. Don’t allow your meeting to extend for more than an hour. Even if you haven’t covered everything on your agenda, don’t push through for the sake of completeness. You should front-load your meetings with the most pressing topics and work your way toward less critical items. When the hour is up, assign some “thought homework”to your team and dismiss. Save what went unsaid for the next meeting or send an email to the team about the remaining issues and encourage followup discussion. Please note that this applies to weekly meetings. If your meetings are less frequent, you’ll likely need more than an hour, but be sure to expedite things nonetheless.

So if you don’t synchronize calendars and projects or spend lots of time discussing business, what is the point of having a meeting? What should you be doing in a meeting? Here’s what I think.

How To Lead a Great Meeting

  1. You should cast your vision. It’s almost impossible to talk about your vision and goals too much with your team. If you’re passionate about what you and your company do, passionate about what you stand for, it should show. It should be hard to shut you up about your vision, and you should never be embarrassed about talking about your vision all the time. Over-communicate your vision to your team.
  2. You should be duplicating yourself. Meetings are the perfect time to teach your team, to share what you know, to help them learn, to help them be a success by becoming the best they can be. Share what winning looks like and how it can be achieved. Share about your failures and how you’ve overcome some and still struggle with others. If you want your business to be successful, then it’s your job to help your team be successful.
  3. You should be encouraging and inspiring your team. Not every meeting needs to be all about business. Sometimes it’s good to just load them up and take them out for lunch, or go for a ride on your boat, celebrate this month’s birthdays—do something fun. This is an obvious area where smaller and individual meetings will have more impact.
  4. You should be using meetings for creative thinking. Yes, have brainstorming sessions, just don’t let them run too long or get off track. There’s no rule that says you have to oversee their creative process. Gather the team, present your idea or problem, then unleash them to find creative solutions. Free them from the constrains of an official meeting period to go out and find what you’re looking for.
  5. You should be recognizing excellence. When an employee does a great job, you should make a big deal out of it. As much as discipline should be private, praise should be public and lavish—as long as it’s genuine. Don’t ever let it deteriorate into a means of showing favored status to a select few. Give it to everyone who earns it.
  6. You should be holding Q&A sessions. These might be planned or impromptu teachable moments. Whenever or however they happen, you should be taking time to regularly field questions from your team. Make sure your team knows that pretty much nothing is off limits, as long as it’s done in a respectful and relevant manner. Even if a team member questions your methods, you’ll find great benefit. It’s possible they truly don’t understand why you make decisions the way you do, so you can teach them your reasoning, or it may come to light that you really haven’t thought things through or there is a better way. Q&A sessions are as much for your benefit as your team’s.
  7. You should keep meetings short. In my opinion, there’s a diminishing return when a meeting is longer than an hour, even if it’s been a great session. Know when less is more and cut your meetings off. Do this consistently enough, and your team will come to each meeting more focused, knowing there’s a limited amount of time available, so they need to make the most of every moment.

I believe if you shift your thinking and approach about the purpose of your team meetings, you’ll soon have a team that begins to perform like rockstars!

Tell us about some great meetings you’ve sat through. What made them great? What made them so beneficial and memorable? Let us know in the comments.

6 Reasons Why Your Team is Uninspired

6 Reasons Why Your Team is Uninspired1 6 Reasons Why Your Team is Uninspired

So, you’re an entrepreneur who’s hired employees, or maybe you’re a manager with employees under your supervision, and it’s the most dreaded day of the week. It’s meeting day.

Why the most dreaded? Because you know what’s about to happen. You’ll walk into the meeting room and present up your agenda to a bunch of glassy-eyed, uninspired employees and wonder why you even bother getting the a lousy group together.

Why isn’t your team engaged? Why aren’t they participating, offering feedback, and asking questions?

Though I personally think there are some pretty big caveats to the phrase “everything rises and falls on leadership,” this is probably a situation where it’s likely true. It’s highly probable that YOU are disfunction on your team, especially if your team was once full of inquisitive, passionate go-getters.

Here are 6 Reasons Why Your Team is Uninspired

  1. You’ve fostered an environment of perfection. They’re afraid you’ll think they don’t know how to do their job if they ask questions. They feel like you expect them to know everything, or that they have to be able to figure it all out on their own. They’ve come to believe that you think asking questions is a sign of laziness or inability.
  2. You’ve made them believe you hate to be bothered. Too many times they’ve knocked on your door and asked a question or floated an idea only to hear you say, “I’m too busy.” You also seem to have an affinity for saying no before you’ve heard them out or taken time to consider what they had to say. So why bother any longer?
  3. You’re either a micro-manager or a dictator. You want it done your way, right away, without any deviation. Again, if there’s no culture for innovation or experimentation, if you are rigid in your processes, whey would there ever be questions during a team meeting?
  4. You hate either hate change, or you’re afraid of it. Oh sure, you say you love change, you love innovation, but your words and actions say otherwise. Why would your team push for change when you always push back or run away?
  5. You haven’t communicated your vision. Maybe none of the reasons above are true about you. If that’s true, then it’s possible that you simply haven’t clearly communicated your vision and goals to your team. You can’t just mention it in passing every once in a while, or make it a mission statement your team only sees when you hand them the new employee manual—you’ve got to bang the drum of your vision constantly and consistently. It needs to be on the tip of every team member’s tongue. It need to be part of the company culture.
  6. You hired the wrong people. It happens to the best of us, but you’re still ultimately responsible. Sometimes you’ve picked the wrong team members. For whatever reasons they haven’t bought into your brand and vision. The only value you bring them is a regular paycheck. There’s no curiosity, no drive, no desire to succeed when they help the business succeed.

These six reasons might have been hard to hear, but sometimes those in leadership positions need a hard wake up call. When your team is dysfunctional, you should always look at yourself first and ask, “What am I doing wrong? What do I need to change?”

Are there any reasons why teams are uninspired that you think I’ve missed? What have you done to grow and inspire your team? Please share in the comments.

For more ideas on how to lead and inspire your team, check out Chris LoCurto’s podcast on 5 Unconventional Ways to Inspire Your Team.

The Tortilla Chip Theory of Success: How to Succeed Without Being Unique

The Tortilla Chip Theory1 The Tortilla Chip Theory of Success: How to Succeed Without Being Unique

Have you ever noticed how many different brands of tortilla chips are available in stores? Seriously, why do we need so many options? Tortilla chips are basically just corn tortillas cut into chip shape and fried in oil until just right. How many copies of the same thing could we possibly need?

Better yet, how can all these separate labels be successful?

Admittedly, some are more successful than others—and possibly more recognizable—while others may disappear before too much longer. I’m sure you’ve already thought of a brand name or two that you enjoy and purchase regularly. Or maybe you thought of that little family-owned restaurant down the street that has the best chips and salsa you’ve ever tasted. Either way, the fact remains that there are scores and scores of different tortilla chip brands available.

So what’s going on?

Now, I could have chosen lots of different kinds of products to make my point, but I chose tortilla chips because they are my biggest temptation on my gluten-free, low-carb diet. The point is that these bags of tortilla chips coexist on stores shelves year after year and people keep buying them despite the glut of options. But, oh, what options!

We humans have different tastes. You know that no two bags of tortilla chips are truly identical. They vary in an almost infinite variety. Consider the following list of differences I came up with off the top of my head:

  • Taste: type of corn, amount of salt, additional seasonings or flavorings (Doritos!)
  • Texture: thick or thin, crunch, amount of oil, granular feel, restaurant style
  • Shape: traditional triangle, round, strips, scoops
  • Package size: regular, economy, family size, mega-super-jumbo
  • Price Range: clearance, value, generic store brand, brand name, premium
  • Values & Needs: certified organic, free trade, local, anti-corporate
  • Perception: brand recognition, brand loyalty, regional reputation, nostalgia

I’m sure you could come up with more. The reality is that all of these successful brands have discovered how to do what Seth Godin calls delighting your niche. If you can focus and create a consistently high-quality product, the next step is to discover your niche. Who is your target customer or audience and how can you delight them? That’s what you need to figure out in order to become successful in today’s market.

The truth is, your idea or product is probably not new, though you may have a unique or rare approach. So rather than trying to out do your competition and steal customers, you should focus on finding people who speak the same language you do and offer them a world-class product.

If you can do that, then you’ll find your brand of tortilla chips sitting on the shelves too.