Archives For Impact

This is the 3rd in a series of stories about my leadership journey. My first management position was less than successful. As I’ve moved beyond that job, I’ve learned about a few attitude adjustments necessary for leadership transformation.

The problems in my first management position stemmed from everyone having their own vision for the future. It occurred to me that, even though I was the boss, each team member was free to make their own choices.  The scope of my leadership could never eclipse their power to choose. Everyone chooses the energy and the passion and the interest they bring to a job. We also may be free to chose the method.  And for many even what they choose to do and the order they choose are up to them.  Either your team chooses to do what was best for the organization or they didn’t. In the end, few people do things because they have to. They choose to do them because they believe the choices will get them where they want to go.

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My first management position provided several opportunities for mismanagement and poor leadership. Much of what I’ve learned from leadership I learned after having made many mistakes over that 2 year stint. I regret learning things the hard way and the difficulty I caused for my team.

To change our leadership, we must Continue Reading…

I spent several years as a bad boss.  I reacted poorly to the stress of my new leadership position and I developed a bad temper. I became (more) insensitive, explosive, negative and critical. And I micro managed. Much of what I now read or write about leadership challenges me to apologize to those people who used to work with me.

The change in my leadership came Continue Reading…

9572961_sThere are words that grab my attention. Some are opportunity words like success, excitement, future. Others are inspirational words like honor, loyalty, integrity. Still others are warnings. As a leader, I want to always hear these 4 words to keep me from slipping in the quality and the energy associated with leadership. Continue Reading…

I learned 3 important leadership lessons from the choices my Dad made in 1957. Face your challenges, don’t compromise and people matter.

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Heroic Choices

November 23, 2012

Heroic Choices | Mike Henry Sr.Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest on November 16 says, “The tendency is to look for the marvelous in our experience; we mistake the sense of the heroic for being heroes.” Continue Reading…

Source of Action

July 29, 2012

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Firefighter RememberedHave you ever considered the areas where you are most prone to act? How about when you see someone asking for change by the side of the road? How about when you see someone with a flat tire? For a time when I worked downtown, I caught myself avoiding the pan-handlers. After a while, though, I felt like a coward. I wasn’t making a difference; I was simply reacting. Once I committed to act every time I had the opportunity, the fear went away and I began to notice people and find ways to make a difference. And that difference expanded beyond the people who were asking for handouts, to my coworkers and my family too.

When you feel responsible for something, you are more likely to act on that responsibility. But don’t be fooled, being responsible is a commitment. Thinking about a problem, working on a problem, “taking a stab at” a problem or “giving a try” are all significantly different than accepting responsibility for a problem. Look at your life carefully. Are there areas where you consistently fail to act? Judge yourself honestly today.

In the book The Noticer, by Andy Andrews, the main character, Jones said, “Have you ever considered how often we judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions? I intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you. ‘I intended to bring you flowers, but I didn’t.'” Intent without action is an insult. Our best always lies on the other side of action. Thoughts and intentions won’t get it.

So back to the question; where do you consistently give yourself a pass? Can you think of one? What will you do with that information?

Leaders act. Leaders see a problem and take responsibility. On whose behalf are you ready to act? Is it your family, or your neighbors, or your team? What about the poor or the neglected people around us? What about taking responsibility for some part of improving the quality of life in your community? Do you believe you can make a difference at that level? Or, what about the future… the next generation of leaders? Are you taking action about the problems you see in our world or are you just complaining about them? Where do you draw the line when it comes to taking action?

If you began or renewed a commitment to be more responsible and act, take the first step now and make a note in the comments. It won’t kill you. And who knows, you’ll probably make a difference to someone else.

Photo CC by Puzzler4879 on Flickr

We the People

July 4, 2012

On July 4, 1776, a revolution formally began that had been brewing for years. Prior to that time, leadership was a class. You were born into it or you weren’t. You either ruled or you didn’t. On that day, We, the People chose to stop being victims of a government outside of our control and start being responsible to create a govenrment of, by and for the very people being governed.

We the people still have ultimate responsibility, but we appear to be delegating more and more responsibility to the entity we created, almost as if it is something other than ourselves. We don’t seem to want responsibility when it becomes routine or difficult, so we offload it.  “Let the government do it.” For 236 years, we in the U.S. have given more and more of our responsibility to a group of people called the government. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to know if we’re giving the responsibility or if those in the group we created are taking that responsibility from us.

We the people have stopped being the solution to our own problems. We find too many solutions in laws and programs managed by the government, an organization that over time seems to become something other than what it was created to be.

Have We, the People created the very class of leaders that we declared our independence from those 236 years ago?

We the People need to return to being the solution. The health care crisis is borne out of fear of sickness and death. We’re the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, living longer and enjoying more leisure than ever before and we’re willing to create a bureaucracy that will eventually decide who lives and who dies, which sick people are worth treating and which are not.

And it’s not just health care. In the U.S. we’ve been making government bigger since it was created. Most recently the economic crisis, which arose out of our own greed, or unemployment, or homelessness or CEO compensation; each becomes another problem to give to the government. There seems to be no problem too big for the U.S. Government.  But each problem we look to “the government” to solve is another lost opportunity to be “We the People.”

Do I love my TV and my air conditioning and my lifestyle too much to take responsibility for things like the health care of my neighbors? In my community, a church has started a free medical clinic. I wonder what challenges it will face as they attempt to provide free health care to people in our community. We the people must take responsibility for those who can’t afford medical care or housing or those who don’t have jobs. If we continue to relinquish our ability to self govern, we’ll lose our ability to self govern.

Photo © Dana S. Rothstein

My dad’s name is Jack Henry. Born the 3rd of 4 to a couple in western Pensylvania, his dad worked in the coal mines when he could but he was sick so much that everyone in their family had to pitch in. His older brother by 7 years moved away when Jack was pretty young so Dad threw papers and ran errands and had other odd jobs that helped support the family.

They ended up in Akron, OH and at age 17, he faked his age and got a job with a trucking company. For reasons we never fully knew, he joined the military in 1948 and spent a couple of years in Germany right before the Korean War. After the army, back at the trucking company, he started to move up in the union, which was a career strategy of sorts in the mid 1950’s in northeast Ohio.

In 1957, he married Shirley Henry after dating a few years, and shortly thereafter, I came into the picture. My father has always done what needed to be done and he worked 2 and 3 jobs at the same time he went to Akron U at night for 7 years to complete his degree. He was also quite a driver. I remember 5 different trophies we had from different truck driving rodeo’s in the late 1950’s. As kids, we broke a couple of these during pillow fights in the den.

He also became the secretary of the Akron Teamsters Union, and around 1960 he tells a story of attending a union dinner and looking critically at the people who held the positions of leadership in the union. He decided that night that he didn’t want to end up like them. He didn’t respect their leadership or their lifestyle. His future wouldn’t be in the union. Risking ridicule, he pursued a management position at the trucking company and became a safety supervisor. About a year later, a $5 per week promotion moved us from Akron, OH to Chattanooga, TN, which was culture shock in the early 1960’s. But Dad did what he had to do. Promotions required transfers and if he was going to move the family ahead, he had to move the family ahead.

We moved again in a year to Nashville and less than 4 years later to Louisville, KY. In 1969, we moved to Atlanta, GA in June and to Memphis, TN in August, right before I started 7th grade. Mom made Dad promise that we’d stop moving when I started high school and he kept his promise by 3 days. He had to keep it again, passing up an opportunity or two in the early 70’s.

Dad built a great business in Memphis in the 1970’s. He was VP of a small trucking company that prospered throughout the decade. People both enjoyed working there and worked hard. Everyone had stories about working for “Mr. Henry.” Everyone called him Mr. Henry. To this day, if anyone calls me Mr. Henry, I simply ask, “Where?”

Working around the company throughout high school, he would assign me to supervisors, each with the freedom to make sure I worked. There would be no special treatment for the boss’s kid. About the time I turned 18, his company voted to go union and he made a deal with another Terminal Manager in town. That man’s son would go to work at Dad’s company and I’d go to work at the other company. It became a great lesson for me. My father’s standard was pretty high and I found it easy to do a good job for the new company.

At age 55, he took his life savings and invested it in a trucking company of his own which has been in business and profitable for 25 years. His greatest pride has been building a self-supporting organization that gave people an opportunity to earn a living. Profit is necessary for that. So is quality. My Dad had a career that helped others feed their families, send kids to school, build houses, fund charities, and do other great works. Every life is part of this bigger picture, creating value for future generations. My dad taught me to be responsible about my contribution, making sure I give more than I take so there is room for society to prosper.

He went out on a limb with that company and moved my family, and his first grandchild back to Memphis to work for the family business. Dad shouldered a lot of responsibility in those early days that I never gave him enough credit. We tried twice for me to work for his company, the first time it lasted 6 and a half years and the second time only 2 years. It’s hard for oldest sons and dads or oldest daughters and moms. So I’ve been out of the business since 1996 and the business is now under different ownership.

As I look back I see the one overriding principle my father taught me: who you are matters. It’s much more important than what you say or what you intend. It’s much more important than who you know or how much stuff you have. Jack Henry always did what he had to do. He sat at the hospital for hours never leaving my side in the hours after a bad car accident in 1979. He fought me all throughout my teen years and my early adult years. He took his responsibility to raise his children and provide for his family seriously. He took seriously his responsibility to have a profitable business so that people could grow. He lived his life doing what he believed he owed society; taking care of his family and making sure they were productive members of society. My brothers and I have all been pretty successful, but the sheer force of who Dad is has forged us to be who we are.

Your who-you-are is the only message you have. It’s the only story anyone will remember of your life. My father set the standard in our family. His “who-you-are” wasn’t what I thought it should be so I spent several years in rebellion. Dad isn’t perfect – no one is – but he is who he is. I didn’t understand until recently, but his life has shown me that who you are matters. Bring the best “who-you-are” to the world and make an impact that will last. My life is shaped by his life.

Thanks Dad. I appreciate your generous spirit, your loyalty and your commitment to fairness and responsibility. You blessed me and my family with your life. I love you.

Thinking About Church

June 10, 2012

As a Christian, when you think about your church, what do you think of? Do you think of the place, the people, the singing, the preaching? Do you think about the activities, or the classes, retreats, “ministries?” (What is a ministry anyway?)

Do you think about the overseas or cross-cultural activities that members of your church community participate in? Maybe you think about a ministry to people in another country or people in your local area who are in prisons or hospitals or homeless shelters?

Or do you think about the kids, Sunday school, lesson plans or youth events? Do you think about people getting baptized or making changes in their lives? Do you think about people who leave their jobs, temporarily or permanently to “go into mission work?”

Some questions have come to me over and over in the 10 and a half years since 9/11. On September 11, 2001, I was busy in the pursuit of worldly success in a company that was trying to capture the wealth and potential of the telecommunications industry at that time. I had been a believing Christian for almost 14 years, but that day the eternal became much more real. There was much more going on in the world than just my job and my pursuit of money.

September 11 woke me to the idea that I had subordinated my dream to make a difference to my desire to improve my circumstances. I rationalized it by thoughts like “I can make a much bigger difference when I’m wealthy or when I’m the boss.” But in the weeks after 9/11, I realized that my time was short and if I was going to make a difference, it would be in my circumstances, within my present limitations. No more delaying until the time is right. “Now” is and always will be the right time to make a positive difference.

In my community, it seems few think of our jobs as a place where we can make a difference for eternity. We don’t see our jobs as where we go to serve others and proclaim the glory of Christ (my simple definition of a mission field). In my community, everyone acts pretty much like a Christian, so all of the really important work to make an eternal impact must be somewhere else. Generally, in my community, if you haven’t killed anyone or been jailed for anything, you’re probably a Christian so I don’t have to worry about you at all. Nope, I have to plan my next trip to wherever or go to the bake sale or fireworks store at my church to give my money to “missions.” There’s no significant work for me to do, unless I can take some time off work and go someplace else.

When I think of church, I think of the rest of us that go to work every day. We listen to the Pastor and we sing the songs, and we do the things we’re asked. I think of what we could do if we were organized and mobilized in our jobs. What if we went to work every day intent on giving our lives away in service to our co-workers just so they might see the love of Christ? I wonder what our world would look like if that group of people in every church were mobilized and equipped to show off Jesus in the workplace.

I’m convicted too, that I don’t do this very well. If you’ve ever worked with me you know it. That won’t keep me from trying again today. How about you? Let me know if I can help you in your mission field too. Here’s to action!