Thundersnow: What Jim Cantore Taught Me About Leadership

As I write this post, I am only hours removed from some of the coldest weather of my life. I’m talking about temperatures dipping into the negative teens when factoring in wind chill. It’s the kind of bitter cold that makes you wonder how people can even catch their breath outdoors. We are, after all, comprised of 60% water as human beings are we not? I’m reminded of that every time I see long slabs of ice hugging the sidewalks in Brooklyn. It creates an enormous sense of urgency to get myself to the local subway station as fast as I can.

The Northeast in general has been under severe winter warnings over the last few weeks and as much as I would like to complain there are many cities that have gotten hit much harder than New York City. Even still, this icy vortex has dominated about ninety percent of our average conversations and even created friends out of strangers while waiting in the checkout line of the corner bodega. And while most of the dialogue is understandably negative, there are pockets of people around the northeast excited about the continuing arctic freeze. Apparently every last one of them works for the Weather Channel. And among that group, there are none more joyous than meteorologist Jim Cantore.

If you aren’t familiar with Jim Cantore, his vigorous and lively personality makes you want to check Al Roker for a pulse. Jim is famously known for his live weather reports in severe storm conditions and has more recently made the viral video rounds thanks to a rare blizzard marvel called “Thundersnow”. Thundersnow is basically a thunder and lightning show in the middle of a snow shower. Excited yet? Me neither. But that didn’t stop Jim’s exuberant outburst of passion when that storm hit several days ago. If you haven’t watched the clip of his broadcast in Boston, it’s definitely worth two minutes of your life. (I would recommend that you watch #Thundersnow [see below] before finishing this post.)

My bout of laughter finally subsided as the video clip ended, and I began to think about what has made this guy an international sensation. Anyone who passionately exclaims, “You can have your $500 million jackpot in Power Ball, but I’ll take [this Thundersnow] anytime baby!” is someone that I NEED to meet. I have never really been excited about the weather, at least beyond how it impacts the way I dress each morning. But after seeing Jim’s jubilant fury I am motivated to expand my understanding of atmospheric phenomena. So what drives me to know more about severe winter storms from Jim Cantore? It isn’t because he is knowledgeable about the subject, otherwise I’d be glued to my TV every night at 11pm to hear my local meteorologist. No, it was not simply knowledge; it was Jim’s endless amounts of enthusiasm and unashamed expression of that joy that caused me to lean in.

And then the leadership lesson hit me like that same snowstorm: A leader’s joy-filled passion gives them influence and creates a platform for them to share their expertise.

As leaders, we cannot think that just because we are well studied or experienced in our craft we should be automatically given a position of influence or entitled to an audience. What draws people into our lives, our expertise and ultimately our cause is undeniable passion. I read a quote recently that said, “The people with the most hope have the most influence.”

Hope is an unrelenting belief in a positive future. Who doesn’t want to be around a leader or a vision like that? Too often we try to teach people what we know and expect they will respect or follow us based on our capacity or organizational position. But people are not attracted to knowledge alone. Should leaders be competent? Yes. Should leaders be skilled? Of course. But before you open your mouth, ask yourself if people can discern that you are personally overrun with hope and joy-filled passion for your calling. If the answer is yes, then it won’t be long until people will stop to hear what you have to say.


Is Delegation Selfish? | Part Two

There are not many things that derail game plans quite like subtlety. Ideas, culture and language that seem “close enough” to your original target can appear to be nothing more than semantics in the beginning. But subtlety isn’t word play; subtleties are cracks in the integrity of your culture. Small, yet persistent cracks over time develop into chasms. In other words, your end result winds up being nowhere close to where you originally intended on going.

For example, if I want to grow in my personal capacity, I could say, “I am a student of leadership” or I could say, “I am reading a book on leadership.” Although both appear to run parallel, the end result could be drastically different. The first phrase implies teachability or intentional posturing while the second phrase only equals activity. I can simply read leadership books, but without the intention of humbling myself and applying those principles I am not bettering myself at all; much like drinking a kale smoothie to feel healthy while ingesting a large pizza. Being active does not necessarily equal being effective.

One of the subtleties of building leadership culture is a choice between delegation and empowerment. In Part One of this post I began to create a distinction between these two methods that appear similar, yet produce drastically different results. I touched on two of my five thoughts in that post; here are the other three.

3.) Empowerment values people; delegation uses them.
When leaders care more about completing a mission than drawing the best out of their teams, they switch from valuing people to simply using them as a means to an end. A delegating leader says, “Go do ______ and do it this specific way.” A delegating leader doesn’t leave much room for people to use their imagination, capacity or unique perspective to solve a problem. Ultimately what it communicates to a team is, I only care about your hands, not your heart or your head. An empowering leader says, “You are worth my time and personal investment. I believe in you and will release you to use your unique approach and skill set to find a solution; you’re just what we need to make this better.”

4.) Empowerment is a process; delegation is momentary.
I imagine the biggest reason a leader wouldn’t choose to empower a direct report wouldn’t be an issue of trust, but of time. Empowerment takes a lot of time. Teaching someone what to look for rather than just performing a function takes time. Teaching someone why and asking questions to sharpen their critical eye takes an enormous amount of patience and energy. Values and culture exist in the realm of ideas and trusting someone to use their perspective to make decisions based on those ideals takes a whole lot more time than just telling someone how/what to do in a moment.

5.) Empowerment creates leaders; delegation creates managers.
Delegation tells people to be boxed into current processes, systems and methods as means to accomplishing goals. Where as delegation trains people how to, empowerment trains people how to find a better way. Empowerment releases people to challenge the current system (not authority, process). Leaders who want to produce leaders take a chance on new people and consequently, new ways. Leaders who want managers will delegate and ensure that the end result was accomplished “in the way I’ve always done it”. Delegation is a safe way of leading because you know what to expect every time, but in the end your growth will be capped. Delegation and wide scale innovation cannot coexist.

Empowerment creates a leadership culture. And we need leaders in our world, in our churches today. We need innovators; people who look and relook, think and rethink what’s possible. We need people who have been believed in, have been given a target and then permission to go find solutions in their own God-given way. Empowerment is ultimately how we unlock potential, affirm value and unleash our people to lead.

Why I Still Respect Russell Wilson

The only thing deflated from last night’s Super Bowl game is my heart. What a tough way to end the night and a football season. From my previous post, I think you already know who I was rooting for. If you’re new to “Justinland” then you should know that I enthusiastically bleed Seahawk blue and green. If you were one of the 110 million+ people that watched the showdown between Seattle and New England, then you know the outcome came down to a call made in the final 30 seconds of the game.

In the last 2 minutes of regulation Seattle had marched down the field with a couple of clutch plays, including a miraculous catch by receiver Jermaine Kearse. As the game clock ticked away, the Seahawks found themselves just one yard shy of the end zone and down by four points; only a touchdown would suffice. With several chances to punch the ball across the line Seattle made a decision that could possibly haunt them for years. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of Marshawn Lynch, one of the fiercest running backs in the NFL, Seattle opted for a passing play. In a heartbreaking finish, the ball was intercepted by the Patriots and essentially the game was over.

As a devoted Seahawks fan I was devastated. The shocking end took my breath away, in the worst of ways. Though I woke up this morning still under a cloud, I began to think through the events of last night and the post game conferences. As a student of leadership culture, I understand that all great leaders falter in moments but their long term influence will always ensure the potential for future success. So, in the spirit of perpetual learning, here are a few leadership lessons that emerged from that drama that was Super Bowl XLIX.

1.) Great leaders aren’t defined by a bad call.
“If I could just go back and change that decision…,” says every single person who has ever made a choice with an unsavory result. After all, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. In the case of last night’s final offensive play call, the Seahawks should have run the ball. Okay, so that’s pretty obvious now. But had that pass been simply deflected and eaten precious seconds from the clock with two more playmaking opportunities, head coach Pete Carroll would have been called a genius for restricting the Patriot’s multiple Hail Mary attempts at the end of the game. All I’m saying is that there are many ways to dissect the events of last night, after the fact. Look at the end of the first half of that game. Pete Carroll and his coaching staff made a gutsy call to run a touchdown play instead of kicking a field goal and it worked brilliantly; they entered half time tied up. Great leaders take risks. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Great leaders should be given grace when they make bad calls from time to time. I’d rather celebrate the culture of gutsy competition that exists on the Seahawks team that has put them into the Super Bowl two years in a row. What separates the tiers of leadership from average to great is the ability to get back up from those mistakes and embrace the future with courage and optimism.

2.) Great leaders never blame others.
I heard Nicole Reyes, an exceptional leader and preacher (and my sister-in-law) in Los Angeles, once say to her team, “As your leader I will always give the credit to you when we succeed and I will always take the blame if there’s failure.”

In the fallout of failure, leaders rise to the surface and I can’t think of a sharper contrast than one found in the comments of Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson. Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks outside linebacker, came into the spotlight last night by becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to be ejected from the game after an all out brawl in the final moments. In an emotionally charged postgame interview, Bruce Irvin apologized for his conduct but also publicly questioned his coaching staff and the play calling. And while I recognize that emotions were running high among every player on the team, team quarterback Russell Wilson had a different response. Instead of blaming the coaching staff for the decision that was made Wilson took responsibility for the intercepted throw and then looked to the future and affirmed his hope for next year.

3.) Great leaders show honor in every moment.
I think great leadership is cemented in the way leaders handle difficult moments publicly. Speaking to the previous point of blaming others, honor not only takes ownership of mistakes but simultaneously shows restraint by not degrading others in the process. Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll answered one reporter’s questions directly after the game was over. Clearly downcast, Carroll took full ownership for the call that was made. He didn’t blame his offensive coordinator or Russell Wilson or anyone else on his team. Instead he commended everyone for their effort and teamwork through the course of the season and the final game.

It’s okay for leaders to have negative emotions and opinions about how a situation turns out; that’s being human. What’s not okay is rejecting responsibility, casting blame and turning that emotion toward others in a way that undermines their value. Mistakes will happen. Falling short is a part of leading people. But great leaders understand that the trust of their team is strengthened when they speak to an individual’s potential and exercise collective grace.

What other attributes of leadership did you notice from the outcome of yesterday’s game? Are there any principles that have guided you when moving forward from mistakes or failure?

XLIX: How I found out the Seahawks were Super

One of the tensions of being a Pastor and an avid (borderline rabid) NFL fan comes down to a certain day of the week. A day which serves as an intersection between my passion, calling and responsibilities; one day a week that only presents a conflict in the months from September to February. That day is Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY! Football and chur, uhhh, I mean church and football. I wish I could say that I was 100% spiritual all the time and while I sit in church services I am always taking sermon notes on my iPhone on the front row and never checking football scores on the NFL app.

Now don’t get me wrong, I will never consistently choose a football game over my passion for building God’s house and His people. The local church far outweighs any other passion I may have. But there are moments where I do feel the pull of the pigskin. One of those moments came several weeks ago during the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and my beloved Seattle Seahawks.

What a game. For nearly 56 minutes, the Packers had dominated my team. Everyone had given up on them, myself included. There were more mistakes, interceptions and fumbles from our team in this one game than in the eight games leading up to this one. And while the rest of the world (and let’s be honest, most Seahawk fans) had figured this was the end of a great season, the only ones who hadn’t given up were the Seahawks themselves; and then suddenly it turned.

Comeback doesn’t even begin to describe what happened; miracle is more apropos. In three and half minutes, the Seattle offense came roaring back and forced Green Bay into overtime. It was at this point that my pastor hat came back on and I was forced (so dramatic) to leave my home, and my team’s future, behind as I jumped on a subway to make to our evening Union Square church service.

For 30 long minutes I sat on a subway car, underground, with no cellphone reception or access to the nail biting contest above. When I arrived at the Union Square station I knew the game would have already been over and so I started up the stairs with suspense. As I emerged from the station into the brisk, evening air I looked up to the most beautiful of sights: the Empire State Building boldly lit up in Seahawk blue and green. I threw my fist into the air and let out a shout of joy/relief! (Then snapped the above picture to treasure the moment forever.)

Despite their inconsistency for a majority of the football game, the Seahawks never threw in the towel. Even in Seattle, fans had exited the stadium with 5 minutes left in the game, only to kick themselves afterward upon hearing the swing in fortunes. Can you imagine the heartache to be a believer, walk out on your team and find out later that you missed out on the comeback?

As a leader, I wonder if you’ve ever been tempted to throw in the towel on people you’re leading. It’s easy to consider that option. Sometimes there are missteps and failures. Sometimes our team members drop the ball. Sometimes it feels like you have invested your life into someone and they come up short…again. I’ve been on both sides of the coin. There have been many times where I’ve made mistakes and costly errors but in the end I had people in my life that didn’t walk out on me with five minutes left in regulation. The ability to consistently believe in people and keep a short memory are critical to leaders who build leaders that go the distance. Learn how to focus on people’s potential. Teams/people that are encouraged regularly will often be inspired to go above and beyond.

Have you had people in your life that believed in you even in difficult times? How did you respond as a result of their influence?

Is Delegation Selfish? | Part One

I remember the day I stepped fully into leadership for the first time. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had opportunities to lead or influence decisions before, but that day was different. That day someone had entrusted me with a fledgling initiative, a small group of people to lead and to care for on my own. I was handed the opportunity to birth a youth ministry at a church in Los Angeles. I found out quickly that service programming, events and organizational structure were not a great foundation to build on. Those things only survive on the back of strong culture and values and so I set out to engineer and pioneer culture and values.

Little by little we began to attract more people, both students and leaders. As the youth ministry grew I discovered that I would be unable to perform every function needed to pull off a weekly services, pastoral care and the administration that supported it. I found myself preparing every week’s sermon, setting up and tearing down the event, praying with students, going to athletic events, meeting with parents, leading worship, doing expense reports, managing a website, launching a video channel on YouTube…you get the idea. It was too much and I was not only losing my personal steam, I was stunting the growth of the ministry that my soul was carrying. Suddenly I had an epiphany, I should have other people do this with me.

Now, the idea of “never going alone” in leadership is one of the most basic ones and in one way or the other every leader figures out that no matter how gifted we think we are, we are unable to do everything. I needed people to partner with me in building and over time I was faced with two options when it came to the way I would lead people. It was either lease or release; that is, delegate or empower. On the surface the two ideas (delegation and empowerment) don’t seem to conflict. In fact many would say they are the same concept: people come along side of you and go accomplish your vision. And while the busyness of others looks like teamwork from the outside, only one of the two methods of leading others really produces a long-term success for the team and for the individual. In my experience the better answer is not delegation.

I’d like to offer 5 ways I believe empowerment is more effective than delegation. We’ll take a look at two of them in Part One of this post.

1.) Empowerment asks why; delegation says how.

One of the teams in our Brooklyn church community is responsible every Sunday for setting up The Lounge. Essentially it’s our version of a church foyer where people can connect with friends over coffee and light snacks, find information about upcoming events at the church and meet new people. Prior to our lounge opening 30 minutes before the service, some set up needs to happen. Before set up can happen, some thought went into the design of the lounge. But even before the how can happen, there is a why. As a leader I have an important choice to make. Either I can tell a team how and where to set everything up, or I can teach why we have a lounge in the first place. Delegation gives people a list of executable tasks and usually a precise way of doing them. Empowerment believes that understanding the reason behind the task is more important. If I can effectively impart the values and vision behind why we need a comfortable place where people can develop genuine friendships then I can release a team to brainstorm and execute the best way to make that vision happen. Their ideas may be better than mine. But having the best ideas isn’t what defines leadership. It’s the leader’s job to release the best idea – in many cases, the one that doesn’t come from you. Case in point, that’s exactly what happened in our lounge in Brooklyn recently.

One of the unique challenges we get to solve every week is the venue in which we meet. We gather in a movie theater and our lounge is at the bottom of an escalator, on the bottom floor. It’s an incredible effort but the whole space is transformed into God’s House every week (I’m pretty convinced that the Holy Spirit plays the largest role in that). But for a season, we were having a difficult time creating a hospitable first impression beyond the greeters at the front door. Some of the space our lounge occupied was unused and had some tables and displays positioned around it. We found that it was hard connecting visitors and guests at the moment of stepping off the escalator. Instead of me trying to come up with the best solution, I simply asked the team to find the best way to utilize the space in the most welcoming way possible at the bottom of the escalator and then I said, “Surprise me”. The team delivered and produced a collective result better than anything I could have dreamed up (you can come visit and see – we’d love to have you) and everyone won; our church family, our guests, our teams and our leaders who realized that the why can be accomplished by a number of different hows. This may a simple example of empowerment, but when you implement this kind of culture and reinforce it over time it begins to produce leaders who can dream and strategize on their own, all while reinforcing the values that drive you.

2.) Empowerment trusts; delegation tasks.

When leaders step into a position where they have the final say, it’s very tempting to run point on every detail and project. This is partly because of a newfound freedom but mostly because we have a certain level of success or a specific eye for seeing things, which is why we were entrusted in the first place. We naturally lean toward the thought that initiatives should have our direct influence in every way. I would suggest you run from that impulse as quickly as you can otherwise you will find yourself delegating. As I stated earlier, a delegating leader will have specific instructions for completing something a precise way leaving no room for a person to include their unique fingerprint in the execution. And because there is no room for diversified leadership and individual problem solving among teams, delegating leaders tend to be the “go to” person for every single decision. Empowering leaders on the other hand bring their people into the brainstorm process and in the development of strategy allow their teams to run point. This style of leadership takes an enormous JT INSTA #1amount of time and energy – but trust always does. There is a process of building rapport, training judgment (or “critical eye”) and asking a lot of questions to help you understand the way your team leads think. The empowering leader will spend a lot of time outside of the actual event and work toward relationships with key team members and then we can trust them to execute the vision and values in any way they deem necessary. This kind of releasing inspires people, grows their personal capacity and truly shows a level of trust in their abilities and unique skill sets. If you want something done your way – and fast, then delegate. You may achieve short-term satisfaction, but you’ll find yourself having to own everything all the time. However if you want someone who can advance your vision and values over and over on their own, then take the time to empower. Giving away control could result in immediate outcomes less than you desired, but in the long run you build leaders that think for themselves, and then soon enough they will begin to think like you.

I currently pastor/lead a church community in New York City and often I tell our teams that I strongly dislike the word delegation. Delegation carries the illusion of building people, but in the end their value or potential isn’t ever addressed. Delegation may accomplish tasks, but I’m not in the business of simply finishing tasks; I’m here to build people, to build Kingdom. Empowerment is a selfless style because it releases people to personally grow in their potential not just learn one way of doing things. Of course “stuff” needs to get done but I am more concerned about challenging someone’s capacity while we complete projects together. This is the essence of good leadership and empowerment should be the approach we choose. While there are many strategies and personalities in leadership that will affect the way in which a leader leads it’s the way we see people that ultimately allows us to create an environment where they truly flourish and reproduce themselves.

Next week I’ll address three other ways that I think empowerment is a better approach than delegation. Until then, what are some other differences you see between delegation and empowerment? Is it just semantics? Feel free to comment; I’d love to hear your thoughts.