5 Character Traits Every Millennial Leader Must Learn

Millennials, those born from the early 80’s to mid-90’s, are one of the largest demographics alive today. Their impact on business, culture, and economy will be profound, as shown by a few statistics provided by Brookings:

  • Millennials will comprise more than one in three of adult Americans by 2020.
  • Millennials will make up as much as 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.

With such a large generation taking center stage in America’s history, it begs the question of what character traits will be essential in Millennial leaders.

Every generation has had their leaders.

Our nation’s founding was birthed through the leadership of a relatively small group of extraordinary leaders. Men and women of gifted minds and deep resolve.

Our nation’s growth was piloted by another group of visionary leaders that harnessed the power of our rich heritage and resources to create a powerhouse of influence. Men and women of boundless optimism and relentless energy.

Our nation’s survival was protected by leaders who refused to let fascist and communist ideals subvert what those before them had created. Men and women of fierce determination and selfless sacrifice.

The generation that led us through the first half of the 20th century is all but gone. The second half of the century already showed the weakening of their influence, as leadership was replaced with conformity and chaos. We entered the age of the Millennial with more questions than answers and gave birth to a generation not only responsible for their own leadership, but having little inheritance in that respect.

Despite these easily spotted trends, little focus seems to be given to Millennials’ leadership development. According to a 2016 Forbes article by Karen Higginbottom:

The study found that just 20% of organizations identified the Millennial leader segment as critical for development over the next 24 months. Neither are organizations invested in coaching and mentoring of Millennial leaders. Millennial leaders crave advice particularly from senior leadership yet on average, just 7% of organizations invested in offering Millennial coaching, mentoring and dedicated time with their chief executive and other senior leaders.”

The discrepancy between the need and the action is glaring and alarming. We must learn how to develop young people in to leaders if our economy and culture are to survive.

My intent in writing this article is to not leave the earlier question of what traits are essential to Millennial leaders, but rather to help shape the answer with Godly Wisdom. My hope and prayer is that aspiring leaders in my generation will read this, adopt these principles, and rise above the weakness surrounding them to develop in to leaders the generations to come will be proud and thankful to have had before them.

So, without further prelude, let’s discuss 5 leadership traits that any Millennial aspiring to leadership must learn, embrace, and practice.

  1. Perseverance
    By definition, a millennial is someone in their 20’s or early-30’s (as of the time of this writing in 2017). This means that they are early in life and have many years ahead in order to achieve the level of success they envision. This is something common to all young people throughout the ages and can be frustrating to those with big dreams and boundless ambition.While we’ll discuss the importance of Patience as our 5th attribute, I now want to emphasize the importance of Perseverance in a young leader’s life. None of the rest of this article will be of any good if one does not apply each trait with consistent perseverance.Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible and talks about the legacy of generations past created by their strong faith and hope. In Hebrews 12, the author continues with:

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (3) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

    This is a powerful image of the motivating impact of a “great cloud of witnesses”, the leaders of past generations, watching and cheering as we run the race. Even more importantly, we have the picture of Jesus before us, encouraging us to run the race that He charted for us and giving us the power to do so through His own journey and resulting Grace.

    A race by definition will be hard. It is important that in all we endeavor, we do “not grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9) but persevere in the calling we have before us.

    As we run this race, we are expected to grow in maturity and wisdom. This is not a factor of age, but a result of deliberate discipleship under Godly authority.  In Ephesians 4, beginning in v. 9, Paul speaks about the “fivefold ministry” and its place in growing the church. He wraps up with a vision of the end result:

    “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” – Ephesians 4:14

    This result of mature confidence, rooted in strong doctrine and sound in faith, is not the byproduct of age but of discipleship. Millennials, being young, should not wait for age to bring wisdom. They must place themselves under Godly authority in order to grow in wisdom. This concept may seem too “Christian-eze” for my secular readers, but it is not unlike good mentorship or simply honoring and respecting the authority (bosses, parents, etc.) that are currently in your life.

    The road to leadership is long. Leadership is not something given, but earned. Anything of value that is earned takes time to cultivate. Walking with perseverance is critical to achieving greatness.

  2. Humbleness
    As Millennials are young, they are beset by a plague common to many youth; Pride. Granted, this does not magically disappear with age, but life has a way of humbling most. Rather than waiting for life to knock down one’s pride, the wise pursue Wisdom and learn humbleness before their fall. George Washington, perhaps the most impactful and remembered of the Founding Fathers, was a young man during his first opportunities for greatness.In Ron Chernow’s biography, Washington: A Life, we find a story of a young man riddled with insecurity and anxious about his future. During his time as an American officer in the French and Indian war, Washington was constant in his griping of not getting the recognition he deserved. He constantly angled for honor and sought a commission he felt worthy of at every opportunity.This picture is surely not one we have come to know of the composed Washington in later life. His pursuit of recognition is likely attributed to the deep insecurities and unbounded ambition often found in those of their early-20’s. Thankfully, in time he shed much of this and became servant to greater causes than his own, allowing him to walk fully in his calling.

    The best leaders are those who are not pursuing leadership itself, but service. I wrote about this last year and still feel strongly that it is one of the defining characteristics of great leaders and those who only see leadership as a path to more.

    Leadership is rare and, therefore, valuable. It is easy to conflate the results of strong leadership (position, authority, money, power, etc.) with leadership itself. Many young people find themselves in the position of thinking they are noble in pursuing leadership, when they are really only pursuing its benefits.

    Being CEO of your own tech startup is not leadership in and of itself. Having 100k Twitter followers isn’t leadership either. Those that pursue these are the definition of irony as they are often doing so in pride or misplaced ambition, thinking they are leaders when they lack true leadership’s most important attribute; humble service.

    Romans 12:3 says “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”.

    Each of us is simply a member of the body, called to run the particular race that God has set before us. Internalizing this truth will breed great humbleness, which allows God to exalt a leader and use them in ways we could never imagine or achieve on our own.

  3. Resolution
    Humbleness is a critical characteristic of a leader, but it must not be confused with frailty. A leader must be just as confident in what they know as they are aware of what they don’t.  Asking questions is good, but it isn’t an end to itself.Rob Bell, in his book “Velvet Elvis”, opened himself up to asking many questions. It could even be said that his doctrine became founded on not having a doctrine, for who are we to ever stop questioning?When I first read Bell in college, I detected the danger of his questioning. There was no leadership here. He stopped short of throwing away fundamental doctrines, but opened himself up to asking if they were important. Years later, in his book “Love Wins”, Bell showed the dangerous progression of this lack of resolution through his rejection of the fundamental nature of God’s justice. He essentially became a heretic because he refused to have resolve of belief.A leader must ask questions with the intent to obtain answers. Once those answers are achieved, they must be held to confidently. This resolution is like a lighthouse light cutting through the dark confusion and chaos of a questioning generation and giving clear guidance and protection. Those who are able to stand confident in their belief will be elevated in leadership, regardless of whether that belief is right or wrong.

    Unfortunately, the Millennial generation is often told not to have strongly held beliefs because of their youth. Perhaps it is intimidating to see people walk in confidence. Perhaps conviction is automatically equated with pride. Perhaps it is a byproduct of the death of truth and reason. Regardless, resolution is punished in the younger generations.

    Thankfully this is not a new phenomenon and we see it addressed in two places within Scripture. In Paul’s letters to both Timothy (1 Timothy 4:11-12) and Titus (Titus 2:15), we see him instruct them to let no one “despise their youth” but to be examples and walk in authority. Teaching, exhorting, rebuking. Steadfast in deep resolution of what they know and the gifts that had been given them, by God and through His appointed authority. This function was even extended to those that were older than them in years, but younger in the faith. As each member of the body is there to serve one another, God is no respecter of age.

    This true resolution is also accompanied by quiet confidence. In Matthew 5:33, Jesus teaches on oaths, or vows, and reminds us to avoid them but answer with simple confidence of a “Yes” or “No” (v. 37). This carries with it an air of perseverance, in that we do not walk in questions and doubt, but with a quiet confidence that is spoken for with a simple Yes or No, and no more. This should be the habit of a confident and resolved leader.

    Let no one despise your youth. Be humble, but also be confident. Speak clearly and succinctly. Walk in authority, study well, live a Godly life, and don’t waver from the truth you know.

  4. Focus
    In a recent sermon by Bill Johnson of Bethel church, he expounded upon a particular verse in the Parable of the Sower, found in Luke 8. The focus was on the impact that “cares” can have on allowing the Word of God (the seeds) to grow in a Christian’s life. These cares are not sin, but other voices than God’s that drown out His voice. Cares literally means a “divided mind”.Johnson encourages us to have our eyes be “single”, as spoken of in Matthew 6:22. This idea of “single” conveys being of undivided mind. Complete focus on Christ and His Kingdom.The millennial generation is one of the most distracted to ever walk the face of the earth. The barrage of messages created by the explosion of internet and social media has made for tattered minds, hopelessly divided in their attention and pursuits. How many of this generation have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? One has to ask if this is merely the symptom of a divided mind.In order to achieve anything of significance, focus on that thing must be complete. In the case of the Christian, we are told to be 100% focused on Christ and His Kingdom. We are to seek it first, trusting that everything else will be provided as we have need (Matthew 6:33).

    The difficulty most of us have is knowing what His Kingdom looks like for us. If it were a standard path, even a difficult one, at least we could make a clear decision on whether or not we’d take the journey. Unfortunately, as we are members of the body each designed to fulfill a particular function, our pursuit of His Kingdom will be different for each. Some it may be teaching and others doing. Some may be full-time ministry while others full-time business.

    The key is hearing His voice. Our single-minded pursuit should be simply hearing His voice, believing what He says, and acting in obedience.

    Once we listen for His voice, our focus must be undivided to believe and obey it. We must not allow the cares of the world to overwhelm the power of His voice, but run with perseverance the race ahead of us. We must “write the vision and make it plain” (Habakkuk 2:2) and remind ourselves daily of what our purpose is.

    We must also hearken back to our Resolution and be immune to meaningless things that carry a resemblance of importance. Again, Paul warned both Timothy and Titus of this (1 Timothy 6:20 and Titus 3:9-11) in encouraging them not to be distracted by “chatter” and “foolish controversies”.

    As a younger man, I often feel prey to this and would gladly argue with anyone on fine points of doctrine. Through my 20’s I matured, but this is still something I must constantly remind myself not to fall into. I encourage you to do the same.

    Be focused and do not get distracted by idle people and their many words. Do not let the cares of life divide your mind. Cut out the clutter and focus 100% on His voice.

  5. Patience
    As we discussed earlier on our section regarding Perseverance, young people usually have the challenge of being far away from their fulfilled destiny. Due to the length of this journey, they must walk out all of the above with Patience.While delayed gratification is something that every generation has had to deal with, few have become so accustomed to instant gratification. Millennials have grown up in an on-demand economy, with everything from information to credit readily available. They expect to have success not just later, but now. This trend is likely to blame for everything from the explosion of consumer debt to the lack of company loyalty among our generation.If you’ve made it this far in this article, you are someone who aspires to leadership and has great ambition. I speak from personal experience that balancing strong ambition with patience is not an easy thing. It is easy to become anxious as we wait for God to lead us in to our destiny. It was out of this angst that I wrote on “Finding Your Donkeys” a short while ago. If you’d like further encouragement and direction on this topic, I encourage you to check it out.

    Paul again addresses this as he encourages Timothy in his final words of his first letter to not be drawn away by a pursuit of financial gain. Rather, in Chapter 6, verse 6, he says “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

    Being patient requires contentment in our present state, whatever it may be. We must not pursue the benefits of leadership (in this case, money) if we are to become good leaders. Rather, we must be 100% content with God’s provision. This alone will allow Him to work with us, as a potter molds the clay, to create a perfect vessel for whatever use He sees fit (Jeremiah 18). This may not be “leadership” as you imagine, but it will be exactly where you are supposed to be and position you as the greatest of leaders in His Kingdom.

While I have concern about the broader trends among the Millennial demographic, I am encouraged in knowing that leadership has always been rare. While the culture of the masses has a strong force in determining the direction of a Nation, this culture is not the limiting factor in producing leaders. Leaders by definition are counter-cultural. They must stand above and out front. It does not take a great many leaders to influence change, but a few great leaders to cause great change.

Will you rise up to become a leader within your generation? If this is your aspiration, I encourage you to prayerfully evaluate where you are with each of these 5 character traits and seek to grow in each as you walk out your destiny. The stakes are too high not to.

Blessing,

Ira

Find Your Donkeys

If you care at all about finding your “call” or “destiny”, you need to read this. Finding your donkeys may be the single most powerful thing you can do right now to achieve your specific, God ordained calling.

At some point, to some extent, you have likely worried that you are going to “miss it”. Somehow you’ll take a wrong step and not end up where you were supposed to. It is a scary thought. You only have one life, and to waste it because of a few wrong turns is an overwhelming thought. Whether you are making decisions about a professional career, education, ministry, or just life in general, all of us have to figure out what God wants us to do.

I’ve often been faced with this fear. One of my top five strengths is being “Futuristic”. I can rarely go for more than a few minutes without thinking about the future. It is difficult to live in the moment when I am so focused on what’s ahead. This is a blessing and a curse. Strong vision is an asset when it comes to strategy and planning, but a liability when it comes to focusing on what is given today. Combine this futuristic mentality with a dream and drive to achieve great things and the worry of somehow missing “it” can become near debilitating at times.

Thankfully, God showed me this truth that helped put my anxious heart at ease.

In 1 Samuel chapters 9 and 10 we see the first story of Saul. In chapter 8 we see where Israel wanted a king so they could be like other nations and after trying to convince them otherwise, Samuel took their requests to God and He told them He’d give them a king.

While all of this was happening, Saul was not on the top of anyone’s list for greatness. Yes, he was tall and handsome, but he was from the least of the tribes, a Benjamite.

Saul was also not looking to be king. All he was seeking to do was take care of what he was given day by day. One day, that task was finding the donkeys.

Saul’s father lost some donkeys and he asked Saul to take a servant and find them. They searched for a few days and were about to give up when the servant suggested they go ask Samuel for guidance. Initially Saul didn’t want to as he didn’t have any gifts for Samuel, but the servant had some money on hand. He finally agreed to go.

Saul and Samuel had never met and yet God had told Samuel to expect Saul that very day. He even had dinner prepared for him. Samuel revealed that God wanted him to be king, anointed him with oil and laid out exactly what would happen in the coming days.

Saul did as Samuel asked, but on the day he was to be crowned before the people he chickened out. He hid but God revealed where he hid (among the supplies) and the coronation went on as planned.

There is much we can learn from this story about your destiny and I want to highlight a few of those lessons here.

  1. God Calls You to Steward Today
    When we try to achieve our destiny, whether it is God ordained or our own, we usually fail to steward what we’ve been given today. Saul was not trying to become a king. If he were, he’d be out making political connections or fighting grand battles. All he was doing was what his dad had asked him to do.Jesus says in Matthew 6:34 to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”. We often think of this a way to just plod along and get by, eking the best we can out of each day till we die. In reality, this is the recipe for greatness in the Kingdom! God is looking for those that are faithful in little so He can give them much (Luke 16:10). All we should “worry” about is what we’ve been given today.Also, notice that it was Saul’s father that had asked him to go look for the donkeys. At that time in his life, his father was his authority. Sometimes we can even worry about what the right thing to do each day is. An easy answer is to look for the things the authority in your life (your boss, parents, etc.) have asked you to do and start with those. If you get outside of what they’ve asked, be very cautious!Be like Saul and don’t try to find your destiny. Just find your donkeys.
  2. God Is in Control of Your Destiny
    Saul made a couple missteps that could have easily cost him the meeting with Samuel and changed the course of his entire life. First he didn’t want to keep looking for the donkeys and wanted to head home. When his servant tried to convince him to go ask Samuel, he still didn’t want to. Lastly, he tried to hide even after God had confirmed what Samuel promised.It is pretty hard to mess up a plan that God puts in place. He will put the resources and people around you to make it happen. The servant was persistent and provisioned. God gave him exactly what he needed to make the meeting with Samuel happen. Saul couldn’t mess it up although he tried!If we read on in the story of Saul we see that eventually he allowed rebellion in to his life. He spoiled the destiny that God had placed on him not because he missed it, but because he stopped doing our first point (stewarding today). You don’t wander in to rebellion. It’s a choice.If you are focused on stewarding today, God will bring you exactly to the point He wants you. You’ll know if you mess it up.
  3. Your Destiny Doesn’t Need to be Achieved, but Received
    Proverbs 20:21 reads “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end”. When we go try to achieve our destiny on our own, we usually make it happen too quickly with disastrous results. This is exactly what happened when Abraham had Ishmael. Rather than waiting on God, trusting His promise, and receiving the blessing in time, Ishmael became a burden forever.Notice that God often honors the promise even when we rush ahead. If He has put skills and abilities within in you for a certain task they will manifest themselves in some form. If you do it in our own time, it is usually for bad. Perhaps you get anxious in your current job and go look for another rather than waiting for a promotion. While you may be “successful”, that rushing often leads to sorrow and difficulty along the way, rather than peace.Proverbs 10:22 reads “The blessing of the Lord brings Wealth, without painful toil for it”. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have wealth without painful toil! Work is great, and encouraged by God, but painful toil is something I want as little of as possible!What is another way to know that our destiny is of God and not our own doing? Destiny is almost always given by authority.

    Saul did not achieve his kingdom by force. It was given to him by Samuel. Prior to Saul, Israel was a theocracy, ruled by God and administered through prophets and judges. As such, it was God’s prophet, Samuel, that anointed Saul. It was clear that he was chosen by God and (almost) all the people saw that. He came to his destiny in peace.

    Wait on the Lord and receive your destiny rather than trying to achieve it.

  4. Your Promotion Often Comes When You Least Expect It
    The Bible is replete with stories of ordinary people that were propelled to greatness in mere moments. Gideon was hiding in a wine press threshing wheat when an Angel appears to him and told him he was going to deliver his people from the Midianites (Judges 6). Abraham was 75 years old when God told him to leave everything he knew and go start a nation (Genesis 12). Joseph was in prison one day and 2nd in command of Egypt the next (Genesis 41).God has a tendency to prepare for a long period and then promote in a short time. The difficult period is the waiting prior to the promotion.Sometimes He reveals the destiny in advance. This can be encouraging as it gives something to hold on to in the waiting, but also can make us tend to become anxious and attempt to achieve the destiny in our own time. Abraham gave up on God’s promise of a nation and had Ishmael.  Joseph almost gave up on the dream of ruling and asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him and get him out of prison early. It is even more difficult to bear the years of waiting when you have such a clear vision of your destiny.If you are in the place of waiting, be encouraged to know that the promise of your destiny may be closer than you think. Saul went from looking for donkeys to being king in just over a week. Just because you aren’t seeing the gradual build-up that you’d expect toward success doesn’t mean that you won’t end in the same place. Hold on to hope and don’t rush. Rapid promotion often comes when you least expect it!

If you have ever been like me and felt overwhelmed with trying to achieve the call you know God has placed on your life, I hope you find rest and peace in this truth. Stop asking what next 10 steps you need to do to achieve greatness and start asking what your lost donkeys are. They are likely right in front of you and someone in authority has already ask you to go find them.

 

Go find your donkeys.

Why Diversity Matters

Last week’s media buzz surrounding James Damore’s infamous “Google Memo” has already slipped quietly in to the background. #GoogleMemo isn’t trending anymore and we’ll soon forget who Damore was, if we ever really knew. This week brings new hashtags and the 24-hour news cycle continues.

 

In these tumultuous times, it is hard to discern who and what is right or wrong. Many well-meaning people are confused and have difficulty knowing how to act and react. I’ve waited till after the dust settled from the Google Memo before I commented because I didn’t want to add to the din, but present a clear solution for Business and Community leaders. This is what I hope I have presented here.

 

We as Americans, business leaders, corporations, communities, etc. pride ourselves on both our diversity and equality. In many ways, the words have become synonymous with one another. We have special groups and names for all the diverse people. We have laws and HR surveys, all designed to promote and encourage diversity and ensure no one is left out.

Yet, in this pursuit of perfect diversity, we have achieved the exact opposite. We have mistaken diversity for equality, and in doing so lost our ability to see the beauty of true individual diversity.

 

This is Jason Witten. He’s a tight end for the Dallas Cowboys and is 6’ 5” and a solid 260+ lbs. Jason goes to my church so I’ve passed him in the hall a few times and can attest that a guy is absolutely massive in person.

This is Simone Biles. She’s an Olympic gold medalist and is 4’ 9” and barely 100lbs. I haven’t passed her in the hall, or perhaps I have and I just missed her because she’s so tiny.

 

 

The height difference between Jason and Simone is nearly 2’. The weight difference is a factor of 2.5x. There are both tremendous athletes and yet they are completely different.

 

Now suppose Mr. Jerry Jones decided that he wanted more “diversity” on his team (not talking about race, but physical makeup). It isn’t fair that people are different. He wants to ignore those differences and not talk about them. He wants to celebrate inclusion and fairness. Equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. So Mr. Jones calls up Simone and says “Look, Jason’s been great but we want to have some diversity so I want you to be our new tight end. I saw what you did in Rio and I know you’re going to be incredible here in Dallas.”

 

Now Simone is a real go getter and loves Texas so she says yes. Two minutes in to the regular season the entire nation is mourning the end of her athletic career after the first snap leaves her in physical rehab for two years.

 

Now we all know what went wrong and how ridiculous this example is. It is easy to see the difference in ability and how these two athletes are built for their respective sports but would do horribly if they swapped positions.

 

The issue we face in our organizations today is we do things that are just as ridiculous as swapping Simone Biles in for Jason Witten. Rather than viewing the individual and assessing their own skills, desires, abilities, and experiences, we force diversity and promote equality over individuality.

 

Don’t hear me wrong when I talk about equality. I am all for equality of opportunity. However, equality of opportunity does not equal equality of outcome. When we, as leaders, begin to focus on promoting equality of outcome for all our employees, we do them a disservice in not recognizing their individual diversity.

 

Albert Einstein is famously credited (albeit most likely wrongly) as saying:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This is often shared on LinkedIn and quoted by those who would like to appear wise, but it is often not followed in corporate settings.

 

James Damore’s memo went viral not because it was so well reasoned and written, but because it went contrary to our belief of what diversity means. To state that people have differences of abilities or desires based on their gender is absolute blasphemy in our PC culture. We readily recognize the difference between Witten and Biles but close our eyes to the possibility of physical and genetic differences that would give unfair advantage or tendency toward people in a corporate setting. We don’t want to acknowledge that some people and people groups are inherently better at certain tasks due to their genetic makeup.

 

The brilliance of Damore is that he became a proof of his own hypothesis. [tweetthis]The brilliance of Damore is that he became a proof of his own hypothesis[/tweetthis]. He set out to write about how Google’s echo chamber has devalued individual diversity in exchange for perceived value of group diversity. He predicted that Google will become a consequence of its own policy, weakening until the point of collapse due to their lack of true diversity. In Google’s pursuit of perfect “diversity”, they lost a great mind. If I were Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), not only would I have kept Damore, I would have made him my head of diversity for the company. In failing to recognize his talent, ability, insight, and courage, they lost a brilliant mind and weakened their organization.

 

America was founded on the concept that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”. These words, while 100% true (or, “self-evident”, as John Adam’s wisely suggested), are often misinterpreted. The truth is, all men are not created equal. [tweetthis]The truth is, all men are not created equal.[/tweetthis] If that were the case, I should be playing tight end for the Dallas Cowboys right there with Mr. Witten. Instead, I’m 6’ and 185lbs and am happy when my squat is higher than my bench press (#dontskiplegday).

 

What all men (and women) are created equal in is their inherent worth in the eyes of their Creator God. Regardless of race, color, sex, intelligence, physical attributes, birth (pre or post), or anything else that we can see or measure, their soul is absolutely priceless. Each life is worth as much as the next. No exceptions. Because of this, all have rights. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit (equality of opportunity) of Happiness. When we lose sight of this truth of equality is when humanity goes to the dark places of racism, segregation, subjugation, slavery, and other evils.

 

So how do we balance the equality of the human soul with the inequality of human ability?[tweetthis]how do we balance the equality of the human soul with the inequality of human ability?[/tweetthis] For this, we must go back to the (alleged) Einstein quote.

 

If we take a fish and decide that because of equality we are going to put it on land so that it can enjoy all terra firma has to offer, it will not only do miserably, but will quickly die. Poor little guy.

 

If we take an employee who is not suited for a certain task and decide that because of equality we are going to put them in that task so they can enjoy all the rewards it has to offer (say, the great careers available in the STEM fields), they will do miserably. It won’t be good for them, for the organization, or anyone else. In our desire for equality and diversity, we actually created suffering and inequality of outcome. No one was able to achieve happiness here.

 

James Damore, in his memo, made an observation that women, on average, have more:

“Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally

also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also

interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).

 

These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social

or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even

within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both

people and aesthetics.”

 

Damore cites this as a reason why there may not be as many women in coding. He does not say this is the case for all women, but that this is a tendency for women on average.

 

When dealing with social and organizational issues on a large scale it is easy to speak in generalizations and averages. “There aren’t enough women in STEM fields! We need to fix this! We need to get more women in and close the wage gap too!”. This is certainly well intentioned, but if we force equal numbers of women in to STEM with no regard for the general tendency toward more artistic fields, we will end up with a bunch of poorly performing and unhappy workers. The wage gap grows as women in that field don’t do as well as their male counterparts. Not because they are less, but because we’re trying to make fish climb trees. We fail to recognize the diversity of the individual and therefore weaken our organizations as a whole.

So what is the alternative? How do we encourage equality and harness the strength of individual diversity?

 

We must treat people as individuals. We must value true diversity. Not diversity for the sake of saying that we have an equal or even representative mix of people in our organization and in all fields. Yes, we should give equality of opportunity, but we need to focus more on a person’s inherent strengths, desires, and abilities. We need to develop our employees as individuals and encourage everyone to understand who they are. What is their own pursuit of happiness. We need to be ok that for many women that may be taking lower paying jobs in artistic fields while men continue to gravitate to STEM. It is only by encouraging and celebrating this that we’ll see the beauty and success of artistic intelligence.

 

Diversity matters. Diversity of the individual. [tweetthis]Diversity matters. Diversity of the individual. [/tweetthis]We must value differences. Not by forcing equality everywhere, but celebrating the differences between races, cultures, men and women, upbringing, aspirations, personality type (Myers-Briggs), strengths (Gallup Strength Finder), and everything else that makes us human.

 

Individuals are unique and those differences must be recognized, encouraged and celebrated. This is where strength comes from. If you want to a weaken a society and control it (Communism, Socialism, Fascism, etc.), you generalize. You promote “equality” and the benefit of the State over the liberty of the individual. Ultimately this leads only to destruction, violence, and at worst, horrible crimes against humanity. While not as egregious, making the same mistakes in our corporations will lead to a weakened, discouraged, and unhappy workforce and organization.

 

We must never stop caring about diversity, but must reclaim the true meaning of the word and use it to lead, and lead well.

 

Blessings,

Ira

The Coming Crisis: Will 2017 See Another Housing Crash?

I haven’t posted much here lately as I’ve been working a lot on preparing Propsee for launch. However, today I felt prompted through to take a break from all the other things I’m working on to write about what I feel is an impending crisis for the housing market and US Economy that may begin in 2017. Please take the time to prayerfully read this and take time to consider your own personal situation in preparation.

Executive Summary

Housing prices are not only inflated, but supported by a weak consumer base that is borrowing more than they can afford. Demographics are a ticking time bomb with baby boomers aging out of the workforce and millennials in dismal shape. Consumer debt exceeds pre-2008 levels and the default rates are increasing on the two highest growth sectors (auto and student loans). The “recovery” is a house of cards and a correction is overdue.

Wise consumers will prepare now by reducing debt loads and diversifying incomes and investments as much as possible to weather the storm.

Introduction

Our last financial crisis in 2008 had its roots in a massively overvalued and poorly underwritten housing market. Housing values in 2006 hit a peak of $23.9 trillion, which was accompanied by mortgage debt of $10.3 trillion, yielding equity of just under $14 trillion. Surprisingly, 2017 looks very similar with total housing value exceeding 2006 levels at $24.3T, debt holding steady around $10.3T, and equity rising to just over $14T with the positive difference.  (Source: Urban.org)

 

While this data alone seems eerily similar to pre-2008 levels, it is often dismissed as signs of a healthy recovery. It is not till other factors are considered that the gravity of the situation is fully realized. Let’s discuss some of these here:

What is driving home values?

Housing has long been seen as a fundamental growth engine of the economy. In efforts to spur recovery following the 2008 crash, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to record levels. Below is a graph that shows rates over the past 10 years (Source: Trading Economics)

Low interest rates have encouraged people to buy homes, which is why we saw the bottom of housing values around 2011-2012 with a phenomenal recovery since then (see first graph). In addition, they have increased home prices substantially.

There are four main factors on the market side and three main factors on in the buyers side that go in to the value of a home in a given market. These are based on the assumption that people buy homes based on the monthly payment they can “afford” (read, “be approved for”). Let’s start with the market factors.

Market Factors

  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Interest
  • Home Value

Taxes

Depending on the state, municipality, etc., taxes will represent a varying level of burden on the homeowners monthly payment. Areas with high property tax rates, such as NY state, traditionally see less volatility in home prices as this proportion of monthly payment acts as a buffer against the other three factors’ impact. Areas with low taxes tend to see more impact on home value, but we’re jumping ahead.

Insurance

This remains fairly steady but does have an impact to a lesser degree. If an area has low insurance premiums, less of the payment is based on this “fixed” factor, leading to more impact when the other factors change.

Interest

This is a big one. When interest rates are low, the buyer can afford more home for the same monthly payment. This is perhaps the biggest single driver in starting the run in housing prices seen from 2011-2017. (Note I said starting, because eventually other factors, such as speculation, take over).

Home Value

The output of the other three factors is home value. When you consider the equation, if taxes and insurance are low, then interest rates drop, the home value will increase to accommodate the same monthly payment from a buyer.

Buyer Factors

The above factors are predicated on a buyer with a certain amount of money to spend each month on housing. Unfortunately this is based less on good personal budgeting and more on what banks will approve. The factors here are pretty simple, as it is based primarily on debt to income ratio and lending viability.

  • Income
  • Debt
  • Lending Viability

Income

How much a household makes is fundamental to everything else. So what has happened to incomes since 2008?

Much of the growth in incomes has been unevenly distributed among classes. This is not an article on the value or injustice of income inequality, but the reality remains that actual wage growth of the middle and lower class has been stagnant over time.

Debt

Banks loan based on debt to income ratios. We’ll talk about how lending practices can influence this in a moment, but for now suffice to say that income alone isn’t a great indicator of lending viability but rather income after paying other consumer debts.

We started by referencing the mortgage debt and showed that it is essentially at the same level as pre-2008. What this doesn’t take in to account is the rise of other consumer debt, specifically auto debt and student loan debt. Viewed holistically, you see that the American economy is under as much debt load as pre-2008 levels, just in different areas.  (Source: MarketWatch)

Household debt has surpass pre-2008 levels, and consumers are defaulting more and more on the two areas that have seen the biggest increase of debt growth, student and auto loans.

Student Loan Defaults

The WSJ recently reported that student loan repayment rates are far worse than recently reported, with half of students either defaulting or not paying a single dollar toward their loan balances 7 years following graduation. This is bad, really bad. Student loan debt far surpasses credit card debt at $1.4T and the default rates are about to go through the roof.

The growth in student loan debt is especially disturbing, given how it impacts that portion of a vital demographic, as we’ll discuss soon.

Auto Loans

The auto industry has been doing great since 2008. As with everything, what is driving that? Debt. Lots of it. Auto loans are much higher than 2008 and default rates are on the rise. 17% of borrowers are likely to default in the next year. This is on another ~$1T in outstanding debt. (Source: 247wallst). The worst portion of this is sub-prime auto lending, which is nearing 20% of total lending and experiencing default rates over 5%,

Lending Viability

All of the above items are great, but the other big factor is what the banks will (or are allowed to) lend. Credit scores are a big factor here as well as debt to income ratios. Government programs and how these factors are calculated also play in to the mix.

In 2015, Fannie Mae rebooted the HomePath program (Source: Fox Business), which not only allows buyers to purchase a home with little documentation and only 3% down, but allows multiple income sources to be counted on the application (aka. multiple family members). This was an effort by the Obama administration to help recent immigrants buy homes. What this has done is increase values of entry level homes to unsustainable levels for the actual population buying them, and little data is known on the actual viability of these borrowers.

Debt to income ratios are also being relaxed in several areas in the past few years. A key one to watch is around student loan treatment. Fannie Mae is now allowing people who are in adjusted repayment programs count the lowered payment toward their debt ratio without consideration to the total outstanding balance. In addition, they are encouraging people to refinance to pay off student loans, which will only shift debt from student loans to housing. Lastly, people that have parents helping them on debt or repayment do not have to count that toward their qualifications. (Source: Chicago Tribune).

So in an effort to spur growth in the entry level and middle class segments of the population, we are just taking new tactics to bring in unqualified borrowers, which is inflating prices and encouraging poor financial stewardship.

Has there been a real recovery?

“But what about unemployment?!”, you say. “Haven’t we seen job growth?”. Yes and no. The reason that the federal reserve had a slight interest rate hike this Spring and is expected to increase rates again in June 2017 is based on this metric. Here’s a chart to give basis to their thinking:

 

What this doesn’t take in to account is the labor force participation and employment rates.

 

You can see here that while unemployment has decreased, so has the overall % of people in the workforce. What is happening to all of those who are no longer seeking employment and how do they impact the unemployment values?

Another way to look at this is the overall employment rate, which has not recovered to pre-2008 levels even as unemployment has dropped.

Demographics

The population is aging. Baby boomers are aging out of the workforce in record numbers. Rather than being replaced with a strong generation of workers, we are seeing a very weak segment of millennials struggling to get a start on life as they are crippled with student loan debt.

Based on the most recent census data, over a third of people from ages 18-34 are living at home with their parents. This is up from 25% in 2005. In addition, real wages have dropped for men in this demographic since the 1970’s. (Source: The Hill). To make matters worse, about a third of those living at home aren’t even working or in school.

While more people have college educations, the value of these degrees is dropping. Here’s a chart that shows earning for recent college graduates (Source: EPI):

An entire generation that should be coming in to the workforce, buying homes, starting families, etc. are living at home, burdened with debt, struggling to find jobs, taking bad jobs when they can find them, buying homes they can’t afford, and being subsidized by their parents in countless ways.

Speculation

All of this artificial demand and price increases have led to speculators seizing the opportunity and artificially driving prices even higher. When people buy at high prices with anticipation to sell to someone else at even higher prices, prices are no longer an indicator of actual value. This is why average home price to income (PTI) ratios has increased to record levels in many markets. A “normal” national PTI is expected to be 3.5, which means the average house cost 3.5 the average income. In 2005-2006, national PTI was up around 4.7, just before the bubble burst. Where are we headed now? North of 4, which is dangerous territory. (Source: Freddie Mac).

When values get too out of line with incomes, it is usually driven by speculation (investors aren’t real buyers), dangerous lending practices (see above), or a combination of both. In the current case, it is likely the latter.

Another metric that is interesting to watch as an indicator of investor activity is the % of homes being flipped. In 2006 it had risen to 7.3%. Now it is over 6% and climbing. (Source: ZeroHedge)

“A rising tide carries all boats” is an appropriate axiom here, as everyone is making money on flips. Heck, by the time a property undergoes a 3mo flip, it has probably already appreciated 5% these days! People are paying not only over asking, but over appraisal as there’s a mad scurry to pick up houses and make a quick buck.

So what’s going to happen?

Another tide saying that bears repeating is “When the tide goes out, you can tell who’s skinny dipping” (Warren Buffett). Based on all of the evidence above, there is a very good chance that the tide is soon going to go out, and unfortunately there’s a lot of people skinny dipping. So what’s going to trigger a correction?

Rising Interest Rates

We’ve already talked about how the Fed’s low interest rates have been a primary driver in growth. So what happens when those rates go up? Since incomes are already strained with high PTI ratios and consumer debt, there is no room for monthly payments to increase to accommodate a higher interest portion. This means that home values will need to come down for a real buyer to afford a purchase. While this won’t impact current home owners who have fixed rate mortgages (thankfully ARMs are not as prevalent as they were in pre-2008), it will cool the market. This cooling will start to slow investor activity as well as demand slows down. If all goes well, then we will simply see a reduction to normal appreciation from the 10-20% annual increases we’ve been seeing. This is the plan and why the Fed has been so slow to raise rates.

Of course, it is possible that a big rate increase is enough to send housing prices in to negative territory. This alone likely won’t be enough to cause a 2008 level event, but it will be rough for people who purchased with low equity.

Other Consumer Debt Defaults

As referenced earlier, people are already starting to default on some types of consumer debt, such as student and auto loans. Even though these segments have grown to $2.4T total, they are still not big enough to singlehandedly cause a 2008 level event, when over $10T in mortgage debt was suddenly exposed by a 25% drop in housing values. If consumer debt is to be the culprit, it is because it triggers a series of events and defaults in the mortgage debt.

The demographic issue comes in to play here, as a big question remains of how the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations will interact. Since so many millennials are subsidized by baby boomers, there fates are likely inextricably linked. If a baby boomer wants to sell their home, but there is no millennial to buy it, how will that impact housing prices? If that baby boomer can’t cash our or downsize, how will they retire? What happens to the millennial at home when the baby boomer does retire, if they are able? What happens if the millennial tanks the economy with their student loan debt and now the baby boomer can’t retire?!?

A combination of many factors

Almost 10 years later, there is still much debate of what led to the crash in 2008. Housing was definitely the large part of it, but these things are complicated and it is rarely one factor. Usually it is a combination of poor practices and then someone gets spooked, causing a panicked selloff.

So what should you do?

“So if you’re right, what do I do?!”. Don’t get scared, just get prepared. Pray about some of these things.

Get Rock Solid

Cut or avoid debt as much as possible. Start with simple consumer debt like credit cards, student loans, or auto loans. Do everything you can to drop these or avoid them. Sell the BMW, go to community college, or take a part time job. Get rock solid so you can survive the storm.

Evaluate Your Housing

Are you renting? Consider staying that way. It may seem scary watching prices go up and wondering if you will ever be able to afford a home, but even if I’m wrong about a major price correction (5-20%), it is very unlikely that you’re going to see 10-20% appreciation in 2018 and 2019. Don’t make the mistake of jumping in at the top of the market with a low down payment out of FOMO.

Do you own? Consider selling. This isn’t for everyone, but if you are in a position where you can downsize for a while, either to rent or buy a lower price home, consider doing so. This may not be for everyone depending on your family situation.

If you already have substantial equity in your home, you’re probably ok to stay. It might suck if prices go down and you missed the timing, but at least you aren’t going to get foreclosed on if you already have 30-50% equity in your home at current values. Just stay where you’re at and focus on paying off any consumer debt and/or building your savings.

Diversify

This is typically used when talking about investing, and that applies here as well, but also consider diversifying your income streams.

From an investment standpoint, there is no one right answer. Someone who is in their 20’s could stay in a high stock’s ratio and even if we do have another 2008 will have plenty of time to recover. However, I’d encourage even this person to consider shifting at least some of their assets to safer investments to counter or buffer a stock market correction.

Income diversification is more here and now than your investment portfolio. If you are like most people and get all of your income from 1-2 sources, consider adding a little to that. Can you pick up freelance work or start a side business? Even if you don’t get to where this is a major contribution right now, at least it is available so that if you lose your primary income you have something else you can ramp up to replace it.

Summary

My intent with writing this was not to instill fear in anyone. I could be wrong about all of this, as there are people smarter then me that could easily dispute all of my points and data. However, from my view as a Stewardship junkie, I feel strongly that we are not able to survive as a nation addicted to debt forever. It is like someone who lost their job but just kept living it up on credit cards for a few years…eventually the party has to stop. I simply advise you to prayerfully consider what I’ve said and perhaps take some steps to prepare for the possibility that I’m right.

Blessings,

Ira

Pursuing Less, Stewarding More

Growing up in rural Western NY where the average income was less than $40k a year was a great place to start my life. In this beautiful country of backroads and family farms, a BMW 3-series turns head. Here, a 7-series won’t get a second glance. Going to college isn’t a given back there, and those that do often end up leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere. If you’ve wondered at all why Trump won, I can give you some good perspective….but that’s a post for another day.

By contrast, Texas is a veritable sea of comparison! Looks seem to be everything and the parade of big homes and expensive cars never end. You can be an up and coming manager with a 6-figure salary, slightly used car, and decent home and still feel like a failure as soon as you step out the door. The bar is set so high that it can feel like a constant struggle just trying to keep up.

Given this backdrop of two worlds, I often find myself torn between being a simple country boy and an up and coming Fortune 500 executive. I am concerned about how I will ever reach the level of success I see all around me. While I am doing extremely well by almost any measure, I see the end of my 20’s fast approaching and wonder if I could have made “Millionaire by 30” status if I had done some things differently over the last 10 years. Many will point to my mild successes and encourage me by comparison, saying that very few are the true wunderkinds and all in all things are going well.

I am grateful for what I have, but I feel a constant self-imposed pressure to do more, achieve more, and find a way come hell or high water to achieve the grand destiny I have pictured in my mind….

…but what if the only way to get true success is to pursue “less”? [tweetthis]what if the only way to get true success is to pursue “less”?[/tweetthis]

Matthew 6:33 says “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”. What are the things Jesus is talking about here? Backing up to verses 31 & 32 shows that He is talking about our needs. Now, what is referenced is the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. However, don’t you think that God has more than that in mind for us and that He will provide everything we need to accomplish that as well?

God designed us to be partners with Him on earth. John 14:12 says “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”. He left us here on earth with the work just beginning. He came down and patiently waited 30 years before starting a 3 year ministry. That time was enough for Him to accomplish everything needed to put the Church in motion. After His ascension, there were only 120 believers gathered in the Upper Room, waiting to receive the Power promised to expand the Church. It was this power that grew the Church by 3,000 in a single day, and continued to take it to literally every part of the known world.

Imagine if the disciples and the rest of those gathered that day had decided to pursue “more”? What if in their zeal they headed out to far away cities to spread the news of Jesus’ glorious resurrection, rather than waiting as He had commanded (Luke 24:49)? I have to admit that I’d have been tempted to do just that. I’d have dusted off my MBA, put together a team, and built a strategy for reaching the world with a 5-year plan. I’d have been so focused on the future, I’d have missed the present. I’d be so busy seeking the promise, that I’d have missed the Presence.

The work that God called us to is far greater than anything we could do on our own. On our own we may accomplish some good things, but we will not accomplish Good things. Satan loves to use this trick, lulling people in to a false sense of success by having them do just enough good that they miss the big picture. He allows them to go unharmed as they seek everything but the One who gives it all.

Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” We often ask God to give us wisdom, and it is right that we do (James 1:5), but how many who lack wisdom have gone back to its beginning; the fear of the LORD? What if we chose to pursue the fear of the Lord alone? How do we come to fear Him? Simply by knowing Him! Paul writes in Ephesians 3 that his heart’s desire is simply that the Church would come to understand the “breadth and height and length and depth” (v.18) of God’s love. It is remarkable that he didn’t pray that they would bring more to Christ, baptize more, or pray more. Paul knew that all of those things would follow if people would just begin to understand who God is.

Lately I have been trying to focus on simply knowing God more. Worshiping Him, hearing His voice, obeying His commands. These are simple things that anyone can do, but they are so much harder than the “great” things. In this, God gave me a picture recently that I believe applies to my own life.

Hiram was king of Tyre and a friend and ally of David prior to Solomon’s reign. In 1 Kings 5 we see that he congratulated Solomon on his kingship and Solomon replied by asking for timber to build the Temple. Hiram was able to gladly supply the cedars of Lebanon to allow Solomon to complete the Lord’s work.

What struck me about this story is that Hiram did not plant the cedars. These massive trees had likely lived hundreds of years before he entered the picture. God had taken care of the planting, watering, and growth of the forests, but Hiram was the one who was stewarding them and able to deliver them for this project at that time. In the same way, I realized that the work God has called me to is much greater than what could be accomplished with things that I could plant and grow in my own lifetime. He has been preparing and growing something for me to steward long before I came on the scene. My role now is simply to hear and obey, rather than seek to build and grow.

He has the same things for you. If you have felt overwhelmed by a desire to do good works, I encourage you in this: God has not called you to accomplish Good things alone. [tweetthis]God has not called you to accomplish Good things alone [/tweetthis] He has called you to seek the Kingdom. Knowing Him is the wellspring from which every Good thing flows. I implore you to stop seeking the promise and to start seeking the Presence. You don’t want the promise anyhow if you don’t have Him

As I’ve though about what is most important in life, I’ve realized that the only thing I really want is to know Christ and be known by Christ. If at the end of my life I put all of myself in to this one task and fail at everything else, I will have been a success. If I succeed in the world’s eyes, I will know it is because of Him, not me. I am not perfect in my pursuit, but I am pursuing. I encourage you to do the same. Take your eyes off of the good things around you, and seek His presence. He’s worth it.

Is a lack of Faith limiting your Ability?

I stood on the edge of a 300′ canyon, palms clammy and heart racing as I looked down through the narrow walls and in to the raging river below. Hesitant, I visualized the steps needed to make a successful jump, thinking through each piece to make sure I wouldn’t mess it up. After a few long seconds, there could be no more delay. I stepped off the edge in to free fall…..

My younger brother, Benjamin, and I took a trip of a lifetime through Europe this Summer (2016). We began in Italy, spending time in the Tuscan mountains and Ligurian coast, before a short weekend in the French Alps, followed by several days in Switzerland. It was here in a land of surreal alpine views, countless waterfalls, and pristine lakes that the above adventure played out.

Benjamin has always been more of a risk taker and adrenaline junkie than I. The one thing he wanted to do more than anything while in Switzerland was a canyon swing. This is certainly the place to do it, with one of the highest and most daring swings in the world. Canyon swings differ from bungee jumping in that they allow for true free fall for a long distance before catching the arc of the swing and rushing along the ground and back up, before eventually coming to a stop. The proximity of walls on either side, combined with the unrestricted free fall leave most people saying it is more of a thrill than a bungee jump.

After thankfully surviving the canyon swing, the next day led us to an even more challenging adventure of canyoning one of the most intense and difficult commercial canyons available. Canyoning sounds simple in that it is essentially working your way down a canyon through a series of jumps, slides (think a natural water slide carved in to the rock), and rappels. Sounds easy until you’re standing on the edge of a 40′ waterfall being told to jump in to a tiny pool of water below, this time with no rope attached. O, by the way, make sure you swim out of the pool as soon as you land or you may get swept over an even bigger drop….

Opposed to the canyon swing, which was a big thrill that lasted mere minutes, canyoning was 2 1/2 hours of frigid water, rushing slides, and those big jumps over waterfalls and rock ledges. Physically it was a challenge, but mustering the courage to face each feature left me pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone again and again.

Swiss Waterfall

I am naturally very risk adverse. I tend to only take very calculated risks after weighing the options and risk/reward for a long time. When I do embark, I tend to proceed cautiously, feeling for a secure foothold before I release my last one. I saw this on the edge of the canyon as I carefully visualized each step, holding on to the rope and taking the least risky position for the plunge. By comparison, some of my fellow adventures took flying leaps, headfirst and spread eagle, with seemingly no concern for the consequences. One canyon swing participant ended up with a close call as he did a full 360 rotation on the way down, narrowly missing the rope entangling him and leading to a nasty end. The canyoning was similar, although more controlled, as I saw my careful visualization before each challenging jump, compared to the other’s carefree jumps.

Taking a risk that requires you to get outside of your comfort zone shows you a lot about yourself. The same way you approach the edge of a cliff is likely the way you approach a business deal, or new relationship. When you come through one of these experiences unscathed, it also teaches you that getting out of your comfort zone likely isn’t going to kill you, and instead you’ll have a great story and memory! After the trip I found myself thinking a lot about these concepts. In hindsight, these were some of the best memories we made, and I wouldn’t have done them if not for my brother’s prompting.

God spoke to me clearly in the days following our time in Switzerland that my fear of risk is holding me back from achieving the potential He has placed inside of me. He has given me gifts and talents that are currently being invested for a meager return due to my hesitancy and fear (lack of faith) to step out in to the unknown. For example, I know I have abilities in business, speaking, and leadership that are best in class, but currently they are used in exchange for a comfortable salary rather than launching out with my own business and potentially limitless returns in finances and influence.

It isn’t pride to acknowledge that through God’s grace He has placed certain talents within you that must be carefully stewarded. God expects us to fully use our ability. Even demands it! The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 talks about how the Master (God) gave each servant in accordance with his ability (v.15). Upon His return, He was not upset that they had varying levels of ability, but that they did not all invest in accordance with the ability they had. The servant who had buried his talent was severely punished for not at least taking a level of risk in giving it to the bank to earn some interest! Note that the Master didn’t expect that servant to go out and start a business, invest in futures, or undertake some other type of daring, high risk investment. He just asked him to do something in accordance with his faith. At the end of the story we see that the servant who had the most received the talent that the other servant didn’t invest wisely. I imagine that the other two servants weren’t born with a level of ability where they could be trusted with their two and five talents, but rather it came through a series of tests that challenged and built their own faith.

In the Kingdom, faith is the currency of ability. God isn’t just looking for those with the most natural talent, but those who trust Him enough to let Him use them fully. God can do more with someone with seemingly small talent but tremendous faith than someone with the reverse. Faith is the ability we need to do great things for God, not natural talent. Yes, God gives us that too, but it is through faith that we can exercise those muscles of talent. Talent without faith is not ability.

How often do you get outside of your comfort zone? Is your return being limited by your lack of risk? I encourage you to embrace things that challenge your fear and build your faith. It is only by pushing those boundaries that our faith is grown to the point that we can do all that God has planned for us.

The Distraction Addict’s 5 Step Guide to Freedom

We live in an era of distraction. Never before has so much stimuli been so readily available and constantly present. Thousands of advertisements pass our eyes and ears every day. We impulsively check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the news….try to focus for 10 minutes, then do it all over again. We can no longer stand to be alone with our thoughts for even the shortest moment. We’ve become addicted to the rush of constant information. Our phones are the needle and we are the junkie.

This is the paradox of our modern age. We have access to more information than ever, yet we rarely think deeply and creatively enough to utilize it. “Big Data” has become the buzzword, when deep thought would likely accomplish much more. Our ability to think clearly and deeply has been undermined by distractions.

When you look at the incredible advances made in centuries past, it is humbling to think how many were done with relatively little information and communication. Some of the world’s greatest discoveries and achievements were the product of great minds thinking long and hard on creative solutions. I’m willing to bet that if some of these minds were here today, they’d be too muddled and confused by the barrage of stimuli to accomplish much of lasting good.

We think that we can manages our distractions. We tell ourselves that information is power. We try to quickly jump between short bursts of focus and distraction. We fail to be fully present as our ragged minds fight the FOMO (Fear of missing out). We feel busy, but we accomplish little.

What are we to do? Here’s a simple 5 step recovery plan for the information addict!

  1. Like any addiction, first you need to admit you have a problem. I know I do. I constantly struggle against the tendency to distract myself with random thoughts. I’m not saying you need to make a full time log. Rather, just commit to taking action and take the next step. This step is perhaps the easiest one.
  2. Once you come to grips with how real the issue is, it is time to quit cold turkey. Find the biggest time wasters in your life, be they social media, news websites, Youtube, etc. and limit your access to those. Here’s a few helpful tips:
    • For many of us, our phones are our primary medium for distractions. Simply deleting an app from your phone may be enough to curb your habit. Not being able to habitually click on that familiar icon will be enough to make you think about the next time you start to waste time. I’m not saying you need to make one of those dramatic Facebook exits(I just distracted you….), just delete the app.
    • If it is your web browser (preferably Chrome), install the StayFocused Chrome extension. This extension allows you to block certain sites during periods of the day and/or limit your visits for a certain time. As with any tool, it will help but ultimately the decision is up to you! This will make you think twice before you disable and go to that favorite time waster….
  3. Now that you’ve limited your access through practical ways, you need to make it through one week of withdrawals.  Sound easy? Not so fast. You will suddenly be acutely aware of how often you hit up those  time waster apps and sites. You’ll feel very uncomfortable all of the sudden while standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting at the doctor’s office. You will stare blankly at your screen at work trying to muster up the will to continue working on that spreadsheet or presentation while your brain cries for stimulus. It isn’t easy, but stick with it through one week!
  4. Once you make it through one week, something starts to shift. Now is your time to start thinking deeply. Suddenly, you won’t miss those apps and websites anymore. You’ll start being able to work for long stretches and accomplish more in an hour than you used to in a day. You’ll sit down to read a book and get thoroughly engrossed, enjoying and absorbing every page. Solutions will come to you as you ponder deeply, rather than Googling the quick fix. People will notice that you are more present and your relationships and charisma will improve because of it. The fog is lifting, and your life is changing.
  5. After two weeks, you should have pretty much detoxed from your distraction addiction. Now you need to decide what you want to do with your found time. With a clear mind, get quiet with a journal and a pen to think and pray about what is most important. This exercise itself would have been nearly impossible a few weeks ago, but the results are what will really change your time. Do you want to read two books a month? Have a daily quiet time with the Lord? Spend an hour each night alone with your spouse? Not only are you applying the time you were previously wasting, but your mind is going to be clear enough to fully engage and benefit from whatever you choose. This is where real change happens.

The areas of my life that have seen the most success are the areas where I have been forced to focus fully. School and work are perhaps the best examples. Being accountable to grades and objectives and applying the steady time will yield strong results. Other areas of my life that are left purely up to my discretion don’t always fare so well, but with God’s help I’m getting better!

We are tremendously blessed to live in this modern age. However, don’t let the much get in the way of the most. The rest of the world will keep spinning if you don’t read the news or scroll the ‘gram, and your world will only get that much better.

The Leader’s Pursuit of Service

It is unfortunate that “servant leadership” has become little more than a corporate buzzword. While the concept is proven and good, the practice is hard and rare. In his classic “Good to Great“, Jim Collins correlates the humility of Level  5 leaders with the concept of servant leadership. People have even equated Jesus Himself as the greatest of all servant leaders, and I would agree.

If this virtue of leadership is so powerful in transforming companies, and even the world, why is it still such a rarity?

The problem is, leaders are pursuing leadership through service. Rather, leaders should pursue service itself, and let leadership follow.

“But, Ira!”, I can hear you say. “Surely pursuing leadership through service is a noble pursuit?! How could you fault someone for that?”

Truly great leaders are often reluctant leaders. [tweetthis]Truly great leaders are often reluctant leaders. [/tweetthis]When you look at the story of Joseph of the Bible, he did little to pursue the leadership role he was awarded at 30 years of age. Rather, from the age of about 16 when he was sold in to slavery till the time he was set in place as Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself,  he served. It was because of his service and the blessing of God on his life that came through that service that he was able to achieve greatness*.

Fast forward a few generations and we see Moses was a similar story in that when he was 40, he tried to achieve leadership forcefully. He killed the Egyptian that was persecuting a fellow Hebrew, but God didn’t want Moses to deliver the Israelites in his own strength. It took 40 years in the wilderness to get Moses to the point that he was humble…and reluctant…enough to be used by God in delivering His people. At 40, Moses was well equipped to be a leader. At 80, he was well equipped to be a servant.

God does not share His Glory with anyone. When we have pride in our lives, we tend to rob God of His Glory. We strive to accomplish much, and often succeed in doing so. Once we get there, we are unlikely to attribute the glory to God.

The difference between pursuing leadership through service, and pursuing service itself is a matter of the heart. The person who is pursuing leadership has leadership as his goal, and the service is a means to an end. While you may be able to fake this for a while, it is not sustainable. However, a person who genuinely pursues service itself, with no ulterior motive, does not care if he becomes a leader. There is no hunger for power. No thirst for recognition. Their goal is servanthood, and this is where true leadership originates. It can’t be imitated. It won’t be forced.

Leadership is a worthy attribute and one that we should all aspire to. However, don’t consider service as another tool to help you on the way to leadership. Consider it the goal in and of itself. This is where truly great leaders are born. Don’t try to fake it. Don’t think you can make a “paradigm shift” and then move along on the same path. Take a long, hard, painful look inside yourself and ask what your true motives are. If there’s an ounce of pride, don’t take another step till you root it out.

God wants to use you despite of you, not because of you. [tweetthis]God wants to use you despite of you, not because of you. [/tweetthis]Ask yourself honestly “Am I pursuing leadership, or am I pursuing service?”. Consider “Would I be happy to only serve, and never lead?”. The answers to these questions may truly change your life.

 

*For more excellent parallels on how the life of Joseph shows God’s plan for our lives, read “From Dream to Destiny” by Robert Morris. It is highly recommended.