Today, our family (minus one) embarks on another journey to Guatemala.

We’re excited to be doing something a little different this year.  We are going with a group from our church (Christ’s Church of the Valley) to build two homes in San Raymundo with an organization called Casas Por Cristo.

Here are a few of the things I am most looking forward to this year:

  • Working with Casas Por Cristo – Casas is an organization building homes in Mexico, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic for families in need.  The first house we build in Guatemala in 2012 was a Casas house.  After building hundreds of houses, Casas Por Cristo has their act together, and I’m looking forward to learning from them, so we can build more homes in Santo Domingo Xenacoj and elsewhere in Guatemala.  I will be taking a lot of notes and taking a lot of pictures with the intent of learning to bring better construction methods to Xenacoj.  If I’m going to build 100+ houses in Guatemala, it will be important to develop “quality” and cost effective processes and building methods.
  • Serving alongside others from my church – The past three trips to Guatemala have been a family effort.  I think that has served our family well, but I’m also looking forward to the fellowship and connections that will happen with others who attend our church in Royersford, PA.  I believe we were made for community, and my past experience has shown that incredible things happen when we serve with a community of people.
  • Seeing German and Suzy Espana – If all goes well, German and Suzy will be traveling from Xenacoj to San Raymundo to join us for part of the building process.  This will be a great chance for us to see friends who mean so much to us, and I hope it will be an encouraging visit for both of us.  More than likely, German will be a big part of building 100+ houses, and this will give us an opportunity to talk and make plans for the future.

Last night, Leanne and I watched Living on One Dollar.  The documentary tells the story of four young men who travel to a village in Guatemala where they live on one dollar a day in an effort to learn more about the challenges of people living in extreme poverty.  If you get a chance, I’d encourage you to check out the movie.  The movie was a reminder of the people we serve and the uphill battle they face every single day.

I’m glad we watched the movie last night as it helps to prepare my heart and mind for the week ahead.  This will be my fifth trip to Guatemala, and I don’t want it to be routine.  I don’t want it to feel too comfortable.  As I’ve prayed on my previous trips, I pray my heart will break for the things that break the heart of God.  I pray my eyes, heart, and mind will be open to the lessons I can learn as a result of the experiences we will have this year.

As we head out later today, you can pray for the following:

  • Safety and health for our entire team as we travel and work
  • Open hearts and minds for all our team members as we head to Guatemala
  • God’s provision for the two families who will be getting new homes this week 
  • A sweet reunion with German and Suzy Espana

Here’s my talk for today’s presentation at the NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) Annual Conference:

NSPE 2017 Conference

Engineers Managing Engineers

Jon M. Stolpe

Friday, July 21, 2017

When an optimist looks at a half-filled glass, he sees the glass half full.  When a pessimist looks at the same glass, he sees the glass half empty.  When an engineer looks at the same glass, he sees the glass as being twice as big as it needs to be.

As engineers, we look at the world through a different set of lenses than the rest of the world.  Engineers want to get to the bottom of how things work.  They tend to be technical in nature.  While the rest of the world may see us as robots, we are more than mechanical devices going through the motions.

Engineers are people too!

For the next 50 minutes, I want to help you better manage the engineers who work for you.

Here’s our agenda for our time together.

First, we’ll look in the mirror to get a better understanding of who we are.

Next, we’ll spend some time talking about how you can get to know your team members better.

I’ll give you some tips for managing performance for your direct reports, and I’ll give you a powerful tool for managing your team members.

We’ll spend some time helping our team members develop a plan for their future.

And we’ll finish our time together brainstorming ways to encourage your team of engineers to be innovative.

Before we get started, I wanted to share a few things about me.  I graduated from Grove City College in 1994 with a degree in mechanical engineering.  After graduating, I worked for a small building automation company in north Jersey and Manhattan as a project engineer.  During my year and a half with the company, I installed building automation systems on the top ten floors of Rockefeller Center and the Liz Claiborne World Headquarters.  I moved to Landis and Gyr Powers which eventually became Siemens Building Technologies where I have been for over 21 years.  I started as a project engineer and became a project manager which gave me opportunities to work on projects all over the Greater Philadelphia area.  In 2000, I went back to school to work on my MBA at Penn State University.  For the past 10 years, I’ve been an operations manager.  I lead a team of engineers, project managers, technicians, and installers.  And I love my job!

I’m married with two teenagers.  And I have a passion for personal growth, leadership development, writing, and speaking.  I’m excited to be here today to share some of the things I have learned along the way which have helped me (an engineer) lead my team of engineers.

Getting to Know Yourself

If you want to be successful managing your team, it’s important that you get to know yourself first.

When we think of becoming better leaders, we think of tools and techniques. We think of books and seminars. We think of skills we must add or improve to connect with those we are leading and to help others navigate their paths to becoming stronger contributors to the overall good of the team. Much of our leadership development is externally focused.

How can we get our team member to do this? Or how can we get our team member to stop doing that?

In our quest to become better leaders, we often forget to look in the mirror.

Becoming a better leader starts by learning to lead ourselves first.

I don’t know about you, but my podcast feed is full of podcasts about leadership. My nightstand is full of books about leadership. And my blog reader is jammed with blog posts and articles about leadership. It’s great to feed our minds with great material, but we must learn to step back from time to time and develop habits to lead ourselves.

As a leader trying to figure it out, I believe self leadership starts when we take time to STRETCH ourselves. To help you see what I mean, here’s an easy way to remember seven keys to leading yourself:

  1. Still yourself.

Too many leaders believe busyness is a badge of achievement. In the rush to hustle more than the next guy, leaders forget how to stop and be still. Learning to still yourself takes practice. Start with a minute every hour. Or start with 10-15 minutes in the morning before the days responsibilities take over.

  1. Take note.

Become an observer of life. Keep track of what is happening. Keep a journal. Spend a few minutes at the end of the day capturing the details of the day. If we don’t write it down somewhere, we’ll forget it.

  1. Reflect.

It’s not just enough to still yourself and take note. You have to take time to reflect. For me, this means getting away for a couple of days once or twice a year. Reflection provides the opportunity to gain wisdom from what we have just experienced, and it gives the chance to ponder the future.

  1. Engage in key relationships.

One of the best ways to lead yourself is to open yourself up to feedback from others. When I think of key relationships, I think of my family, my close friends, and my boss. Who are the people who will help you see the things you need to see when you look in the mirror? These are the people who can help you take your leadership to the next level.

  1. Try something new.

It’s easy to fall into a rut when we are leading. In order to break out of our patterns, we must be willing to take a risk. Leading yourself requires you to willingly move past unproductive routines. Trying new things on a regular basis helps leaders learn things they may have otherwise overlooked.

  1. Community. Community. Community.

Whether you or an introvert or an extrovert, you need community and community needs you. By involving yourself in community, you gain opportunities to lead others outside your team. Community is also the place where you can be led by others outside your normal circle of influence. When you lead in the community, you gain valuable insights to lead better in your organization. If you want to lead yourself to become a better leader, get involved in your community today!

  1. Help others.

Leadership too often is a race to see who climbs the corporate ladder more quickly. If you want to be an effective leader, you must analyze your motives. Why are you leading? When your season of leadership is over, what legacy will you have left? The best way to lead with impact is when you lead with a servant’s heart. Find ways to help others, and your leadership will advance to a whole new level.

If you paid attention, you may have realized that these seven keys encourage leaders to S.T.R.E.T.C.H. As you lead in your organization, don’t forget to STRETCH by leading yourself first.

Getting to Know Your Team

Piece of Paper Exercise

Learning to Look for Differences Exercise

Tools To Help You Learn More About Your Team Members (and About You)

Myers-Briggs Temperament Index – My MBTI (I am an ESTJ.  I’m more of an Extrovert than an Introvert.  I rely on Sensing as opposed to iNtuition.  I’m much more of a Thinker than a Feeler.  And I’m more likely to Judge than to Perceive.)

Wikipedia:  The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an introspective self-report questionnaire designed to indicate psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.

The MBTI was constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. It is based on the typological theory proposed by Carl Jung who had speculated that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. The MBTI was constructed for normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences. “The underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivation.”

16 different types

StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Get book) – My Strengths (Harmony, Achiever, Responsibility, Disciplined, and Analyzer)

DISC Profile

Wikipedia:  DISC is a behavior assessment tool based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston, which centers on four different behavioral traits, which today are called: dominance, influence, support, and conscientiousness. This theory was then developed into a behavioral assessment tool by industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke.

There are many different versions of the questionnaire and assessment. Some date back to the 1940s while others are more recent, more accurate, and more advanced.

Communication Style Assessment

 

Whether you are a manager of direct reports or not, I hope you’ll find this list helpful in understanding ways to get better.  Success doesn’t happen by accident.  Success happens by being intentional, and this list offers suggestions – no, essentials – for being intentional with the performance management process.

10 Essentials for Enhancing the Performance Management Process:

  1. Start with regular one-on-one meetings. It’s important to meet with your employees on a regular basis.  These meetings provide an opportunity to touch base on performance issues and other business and non-business related items.  You can read about the power of one-on-one meetings in a guest post I wrote for Matt McWilliams.  Several years ago, I started having monthly one-on-one meetings with my team, and it’s been helpful for my team members and for me.
  2. Set performance targets. It’s critical that employees have SMART targets.  Targets should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.  At the beginning of each year, I sit down with my team members to set targets.  These targets align with our overall business objectives, and they also provide opportunities for individuals to grow personally.
  3. Quarterly review progress towards targets. It shouldn’t be a surprise at the end of the year when doing a performance evaluation.  I sit down with my employees once a quarter to review their progress in achieving their targets.  Doing this once a quarter provides an opportunity for my team members to make performance corrections that will help them meet or exceed their targets.
  4. Get feedback from others. I encourage my team members to ask for feedback from their peers.  And I get feedback from other managers and supervisors regarding the performance of my team members.  Before completing the annual performance management process, I meet in a roundtable meeting which helps to calibrate my overall assessment.  This meeting also provides extra insight into developmental action items I might want to suggest to my team members.
  5. Take time to write an honest and detailed assessment.  When I write evaluations for my team members, I want them to be fair, well-thought, and encouraging.  Writing this kind of assessment takes time.  I schedule time to carefully review the past year of activity.  I look at notes from my past one-on-one meetings.  I review previous results from the quarterly updates.  And I take into account comments shared by my fellow management team members.  A written record provides employees a tangible document to review as they seek to grow and improve.
  6. Meet with employee to review results. At the end of the year, it’s important to let your employees know how they have done.  Feedback provides information necessary to help them improve.  Feedback also keeps them doing the right things.
  7. Remember the good things. Make sure you praise your team members for the good things they have done throughout the year.  A pat on the back goes a long way towards encouraging the right behavior.
  8. Create a development plan correcting issues. As managers, it is our responsibility to help our team members succeed.  We have to give our team members help in getting better.  The performance review process is the perfect time to help employees get better.
  9. Discuss career progression essentials. Most employees want to know what it will take for them to get tho the next level in their career path.  It’s important to talk regularly to employees about their plans for the future.  What are their goals for the next 5 years or 10 years?  What do they need to do in order to be ready for the next steps?  These are questions that will help you help them.  Are their expectations realistic?  How can you help them?  The performance review process provides an opportunity to discuss essentials for career advancement.
  10. Do it again. It may seem repetitive, but you have to do it over and over and over again.  Doing this for only one year does not demonstrate a long-term interest in the performance of an employee.  Repeated year after year is essential to a successful performance management process.

Thinking About the Future

Mentoring

Cross-Training

Delegation

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.

Bill Gates

Being a leader isn’t always easy.

If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.  Right?

If leadership stress, exhaustion, and inadequacy are common, there has to be a solution.

I’m sure we could point to many things that make leadership easier – getting more sleep, exercising regularly, reading, learning, and finding a mentor.  These are all valuable actions a leader can take to improve their leadership capabilities.  There another solution that too easily gets overlooked and sometimes misused.

Delegation is what I’m talking about.

I’m not talking about pawning off all the unpleasant tasks on someone else and acting as a dictator.  I’m talking about spreading out the work, so a leader and team can be more effective which will lead to less stress, less exhaustion, and a deeper feeling of adequacy and fulfillment.  Delegation is “the assignment of responsibility or authority to another person to carry out specific activities (Wikipedia).”

It seems rather simple.  Spread the work out.  Ease the load of the leader.  Use the leadership talents of others in the community.  And make the community happier.

Why is delegation so important?

Here are six reasons leaders should delegate:

6 Reasons Leaders Should Delegate

  1. Delegation relieves stress and overload on the leader. Leadership can be lonely, and it can be a heavy weight to bear alone.  Delegation disperses the weight, so the strain isn’t so great on any one person.
  2. Delegation allows leaders and teams to get more accomplished in less time. If a leader tries to do it all my himself, it will obviously take him longer.  “Many hands make light work.”  By getting more people involved, more can be accomplished.
  3. Delegation frees up leaders for other tasks. When a leader is overwhelmed, he will often miss out on other tasks he could and should be performing.  By delegating, a leader opens up time and energy for other priorities.
  4. Delegation buildings a better team. When a leader tries to do it all by himself, he demonstrates a lack of confidence in his team.  This will demoralize a team.  Delegation done right provides an opportunity to motivate your team.  It also provides an opportunity to develop the skills and abilities of team members which will ultimately lead to a better team.
  5. Delegation generates more success. When a leader gets others involved, he taps into the ideas and skills of other people who might otherwise be overlooked and underutilized.  When a team is used to its fullest, success is a natural byproduct.
  6. Delegation prepares for the future. A leader will not be around forever.  Eventually, he will retire or move on to another opportunity.  It is good stewardship for a leader to prepare the next in-line leaders.  Grooming successors is an essential part of delegating, and it’s the best way for a leader to leave a legacy.

If you want to overcome stress, exhaustion, and feelings of inadequacy in your leadership, it’s time for you to start delegating.

Educational opportunities

Keeping Our Teams Engaged Through Innovation

My Shark Tank Experience

What other companies are doing

  • ATT Foundry
  • Adobe Kickstart
  • Linkedin [in]cubator
  • Whirlpool
  • Ericsson Ideaboxes

A chance to brainstorm

Confirming Your Learning

  1. Why are regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports important?
  2. What is one thing you can do to encourage innovations among your direct reports?
  3. Name three (or more) things you can do to improve the performance management process for your direct reports.

Remember, you are not leading a team of robots.  You are leading a team of people.  Be intentional as you lead and manage your team!

Questions, Answers, and Contact Information

I’m still here.

I realize it’s been a while (almost a month) since my last post.  I’m not ignoring you.  I’ve just had a lot going on in my life.

Drinking from a Fire Hose

I’ve officially been in my new job for one month as the Branch Solutions Operations Manager.  Have you ever tried to drink water from a fire hose?  Me neither.  But I get the impression that it’s like being in a new job like this.  Every day is non-stop.  By Thursday, I’m exhausted.  And by Friday, I’m definitely ready for the weekend.  Despite these feelings of exhaustion, I am loving what I get to do on a daily basis.  My department finished June with a record month.  I’m so thankful for my team!

Dynamic Marriage

A couple of weekends ago, Leanne and I attended facilitator training for Dynamic Marriage.  We will be facilitating our first class in the fall at Christ’s Church of the Valley.  The weekend did so much to reaffirm our marriage and to confirm our calling to help other couples strengthen their marriages.  The 9-week class we will be leading is based on Willard Harley’s book, His Needs, Her Needs:  Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.  If you have a great marriage, a good marriage, or a just okay marriage, this class is for you!

Rooftop Reflections

I’ve been diligently working on my next book, Rooftop Reflections:  Missional Thoughts of an Ordinary Guy in an Extraordinary Place.  I finished the manuscript last week, and I’m working to finalize the cover with a graphic designer.  I hope to release the book this summer.  The book has already received several glowing endorsements.  Here is one of them:

“Jon’s stories from Guatemala will inspire, move, and motivate you to consider how you can expand your horizons and serve others more deeply. I loved this heartfelt book and know you’ll love it as well. If you’re not careful, it just might change your life!”

Kent Sanders, writer, musician, creative coach, and professor. Author of The Artist’s Suitcase (kentsanders.net)

Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging

Finally, my blog, Jon Stolpe Stretched, celebrated a significant milestone this week.  10 years ago this week, the blog started.  The blog experience has STRETCHED me in more ways than I can imagine.  I’ve learned a lot of incredible things through my blog, and I’ve met some unbelievable people.  10 years is a start.  I look forward to the years ahead as I continue to share life’s STRETCH marks and as I hopefully STRETCH you.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Keep Stretching!

Jon

“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”

“Try to look at your weakness and convert it into your strength. That’s success.”

Zig Ziglar

Saturday night, Leanne and I went to the Walnut Street Theater for a performance of Saturday Night Fever.  We had a great evening in the city.  We started with sushi at Fat Salmon on Walnut Street.  Then we strolled through the historic district taking in Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell on a beautiful night.  We wandered back over to Walnut Street for some ice cream at Scoop DeVille before heading over to our show.

The show itself was excellent – filled with lots of music and dancing.  The audience was full of people who were excited to be there.  During the customary intermission, Leanne and I walked down stairs to Barrymore’s to stretch our legs and use the rest rooms prior to the second half of the show.  As we climbed the steps back up to our normal mezzanine seats, Leanne moved on ahead of me.  My legs were moving a little slow, and Leanne noticed.  My knees haven’t been nearly as flexible as they were, and it’s probably time I do something about it.

I am fairly active.  I go to the gym 4-5 times a week, and I want to remain active for a long time.  Unfortunately, my running and jumping over the years has taken it’s toll on my knees, and I haven’t taken all the measures I should have to keep my knees strong and flexible.  It’s time to take action!

As I was thinking about my knees, I realized my path forward might help others to overcome some of their pains and weaknesses.  Today, I’ll help you identify a clear-cut plan for tackling your area of weakness.

5 Actions to Help You Overcome Your Weakness

  1. Recognize my areas of weakness.  Obviously, I need to do something to improve the flexibility and strength of my knees.  What is your area of weakness?  If you need help finding it, ask your wife (or a good, honest friend).
    “Growth begins when we begin to accept our own weakness.”
    Jean Vanier
  2. Decide to do something about it.  I have a choice.  I can put up with my knees as they are knowing they may only get worse, or I can do something about it.  This is my choice, and I have to make the choice for myself.  What are you going to do about your weakness?  You can do nothing, or today could be the day you decide to change something in your life to positively move you forward.
    “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

  3. Seek out help.  I’m an engineer, not a doctor.  In the case of my knees, it’s time for me to seek out professional help – a physical therapist should be able to help me.  Who can help you overcome your weakness?  Schedule an appointment with them today.

    “Nothing makes one feel so strong as a call for help.”
    Pope Paul VI
  4. Follow the instructions.  See a physical therapist for me knees doesn’t do me a lot of good if I don’t follow his instructions.  I must be willing to take the time to stretch and strength train if I want to see real improvement with my knees.  What instructions do you need to follow in order to overcome your weakness?  Are you following the instructions?
    “It’s about discipline. It’s about following instructions. It’s about the execution of the plan. That’s what sport is.”
    Ian Millar
  5. Take preventative measures.  I’m confident my knees will get better if I take the first steps; however, they will quickly return to their current state if I don’t continue with preventative measures.  It’s easy to step with the instructions provided by experts once we feel we’ve arrived.  We must remember the actions we took to overcome our weaknesses, and we must be diligent in staying with these actions so we don’t slip into our old pains and patterns.
    “Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.”
    Bill Gates

What steps have you found helpful when it comes to overcoming an area of weakness or pain in your life?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

“Switching from one career to another can be scary, but it also can be a thrilling experience. Look at it as an opportunity to really go after what you want to accomplish in life and make a difference in the world. The key is to take small, conscious steps and prepare yourself for a successful transition.”

Jack Canfield

Today is a significant day in my career.  I officially start a new position as the head of a department responsible for providing building automation solutions throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, and Northern Delaware.  I’m excited about this step and opportunity to serve and lead at a greater level.  As I head into this new adventure, I’m working through a number of things I want to mark my leadership in this position.  Today, I’ve give you a glimpse into my head.

9 Essentials As I Transition Into A New Leadership Role At Work

  1. Stay humble.  It’s important to understand the legacy left by my predecessors.  It’s also important to recognize the experience and knowledge of those around me.  I must lean on my team.  I can’t do everything, because I don’t have time and I probably don’t have all the skills that my team members bring to the team.  I must set up a pattern for delegation and empowerment, so my team feels like they are part of the solution and like they are prepared to take on a greater leadership role in the organization when the time is right.  How can I lift others up today?
  2. Stay positive.  It’s easy to let the stresses and challenges of our work bring us down.  As a leader in the organization, it is critical that I remain positive.  I can be realistic in the face of adversity and still be positive.  What was great about today?
  3. Stay grateful.  Obviously, I’m thankful for my new job.  I need to make sure I express my appreciation to those around me.  I want to continue my practice of writing handwritten thank you notes as I move into this position.  I want those around me to know how much I appreciate them.  Who do I need to thank today?
  4. Lead with integrity.  Be truthful.  Expect integrity from my team.  “Always hand out the credit and keep the blame.”  Dave Ramsey  Recognize, admit, and take action to correct my mistakes.  Get others to hold me accountable to leading with integrity.  Have a led with complete integrity today?
  5. Have fun.  “They don’t call it [work] fun for a reason.”  Have you ever heard that statement?  There is some truth to that.  Work will not always be fun.  There will be challenges and serious conversations along the way.  As a leader, I have the opportunity to make sure my team knows it’s okay to have fun while getting the work done.  How can I have fun at my job today?
  6. Keep serving.  Moving into a bigger leadership role does not remove me from the responsibility (and privilege) I have to serve my co-workers and my customers.  In fact, an attitude of service is important to having a correct perspective when it comes to your team.  I am not just advancing my career and providing income for my family; I am responsible for my entire team and their families.  I want to lead from a servant’s perspective.  How can I help my team today?
  7. Keep listening.  A successful leader listens and gathers facts before giving their input.  In the midst of a demanding schedule, I must make sure I take time to listen to my team.  Keeping my door open as much as possible and having regular one-on-one meetings with my team members will be two of the ways I practice listening as I move into this new role.  What is my team trying to tell me today?
  8. Keep learning.  Leaders are readers, and leaders are learners.  I’ll continue to plug into leadership resources to help me become a better leader.  Thanks to a recommendation from a friend, I recently picked up two books which will help me as I transition into my new position:  The First 90 Days (Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels) by Michael Watkins and The New Leader’s 100 Day Action Plan (How to Take Charge, Build or Merge Your Team, and Get Immediate Results) by George B. Bradt, Jayme A. Check, and John A. Lawler.  What did I learn today?
  9. Keep stretching.  If you aren’t stretching and growing, you aren’t really living.  I look at this new career transition as an opportunity to stretch.  I don’t know what will happen in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, but I know that embracing the stretch will be critical to the success of my team and me.  Part of this stretching experience requires me to take action.  My leadership cannot be based on lip service; it must be based on action.  Actions speak way louder than words.  What do I need to do to stretch today?

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”

Harold S. Geneen

 

What am I missing?  What steps have you taken to become a better leader in your organization?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Several years ago, I had the brilliant idea that our family should become chicken farmers.  We ordered baby chicks from a good friend, and I set out to build a chicken coop – actually a deluxe chicken palace.  Our chicken coup had two floors, a four-seater nesting box, and spectacular picture window.

When our baby chicks arrived via the U.S. Postal Service, our adventure began.  For the first several weeks, we kept the chickens in the shed under a heat lamp.  Over time, the small baby chicks grew feathers and became big enough to move to the chicken palace I had constructed earlier.

Our chicken raising experience brought us many amazing stories and delicious farm-fresh eggs.

When we were getting ready for the baby chicks to arrive,I had a couple of challenging conversations with my son, Isaac. Here’s how it went:

On my way to my saxophone lesson with both kids in the car on Saturday morning…
Isaac: “Dad, what happens if we crack an egg and there’s a chicken inside?”
Hannah: Snicker…
Pause
Me: “Well, we won’t have to worry about that, because we aren’t getting any roosters.”
Another pause.
Isaac: “What do roosters have to do with it?”
Hannah: Snicker, snicker…
A longer pause.
Me: “Well, you can’t have baby chickens without roosters.”
Isaac: “Oh…”
Me: “Maybe, we should talk about this later.”
That evening while I was washing the dishes, Isaac is hanging around me…
Me: “You remember that conversation we had this morning about the chickens and the roosters?”
Isaac: “Yes.”
Me: “Well, maybe we should talk about that some more.”
Brief pause.
Isaac: “I think that will be an uncomfortable conversation.”
Me: “No kidding.”
A few weeks later, Isaac and I were alone in the car on the way to the mall, and we had a chance to discuss the 30,000 foot view of the fact that roosters and chickens were needed to have baby chickens just like dads and moms were necessary to have babies. We didn’t get into all the details, but this laid the foundation for more conversations.
As I think about this topic, I’m extremely grateful for the model my own dad gave me for talking openly and frankly about an “Uncomfortable” topic.
As fathers, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to talk with our kids about things that really matter in life.
If you are struggling when it comes to having the “uncomfortable” conversations with your children, remember these three things:
  1. Your kids will find out one way or the other.  Our kids are actually pretty smart.  They will find things out from friends, from the internet, or from other resources.
  2. Your kids deserve to hear the truth from someone they can trust – namely you.  You have a responsibility to talk with your kids and to teach them about life.  Too many parents shirk this responsibility.  They let their kids learn from others instead of from you.  You are both missing out when you rely on other sources.
  3. You don’t want your kids to get the wrong messages.  Let’s face it.  A lot of the sources outside of your house are simply unreliable.  Culture sends the wrong messages about sex, identity, and other things that really matter.

Have you been putting off an important conversation with your child?  Take time today to initiate that conversation.  If you are struggling with how to start, take time for yourself to plug into reliable resources and mentors to help you prepare for the conversations you should have with your kids.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Frederick Douglass

How have you handled the “uncomfortable” conversations with your children?  How did your father handle these conversations with you?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”

Thomas Aquinas

There is a deep longing inside all of us for true friendship.  We long for someone who will really know who we are.  We want someone in our lives who will accept us for who we are.  We need someone who will walk along side us when we are traveling the rougher roads of life.  And we desire someone in our life who will celebrate with us when something amazing happens in our life.

The need for friendship doesn’t go away as you get older.  In fact, I’d argue that the need for true friendship only increases as life moves forward.

Jane E. Brody wrote an excellent article for the New York Times on the challenges of male friendships.  In the article she shares, “Among various studies linking friendships to well-being in one’s later years, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that family relationships had little if any impact on longevity, but friendships increased life expectancy by as much as 22 percent.”

If you want to live a long, productive life,  you better make friendship a priority.

My friendships have changed over the years.

I remember when Mark Winteroth moved in next door to my first house in Carol Stream, Illinois.  Mark and I became fast friends.  I saw Star Wars for the first time with Mark.  Mark would always greet me with a hug when he saw me in my front yard.  I remember the time when I was over at Mark’s house for a play date.  Mark was in trouble for some reason right about the time we were eating lunch.  At one point, Mark let out a huge belch as he was heading to his room for a “time out”.  I was eating alphabet soup at the time, and Mark’s burp naturally made me laugh so hard the soup came pouring out of my nose.  I don’t know what the letters spelled as they came out of my nose, but it was an experience I will never forget.

We need friends who make us laugh.

When my family moved to Wheaton, Illinois, I was wondering if I would have any friends like Mark.  That wondering was quickly resolved when I met my next door neighbor, David Shutters.  David’s friendship meant the world to me.  I remember getting in trouble with David on more than one occasion.  For example, we thought it would be a great idea to nail bike tire tubes to the railing of Curt Brees’ tree fort.  Naturally, we then went to the ground and filled our pockets with rocks before heading back up the ladder to the tree fort.  You can guess what happened next.  We started shooting rocks from the tire tubes to the ground below.  It didn’t take long for one of us to break a window in the Brees’ garage.  This wasn’t the only time we got in a little trouble all for the sake of testing our boundaries.  My friendship with David pushed me outside my comfort zone on many occasions.

We need friends who get us to try new things.

When I was 8 years old, my family moved to Lumberton, New Jersey, and I was convinced I’d never find any friends like David Shutters.  Eventually, I started hanging out with several boys in the neighborhood – Billy McBride, Brad Zerbe, Stephen Coar, Shawn James, and Brad Kaufman were a few of the guys who made up the Lumberton Hollybrook “gang”.  We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood.  We played “war” in the woods behind Billy’s house.  We played street hockey in the bus-stop cul-de-sac.  We played Atari and Commodore 64 games.  There was something nice about knowing you had friends to hang out with when you got off the bus at the end of the school day.

We need friends who will simply hang out with us.

I had several friendships that blossomed through my time at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Holly, New Jersey.  Paul Braun’s friendship is one of the best examples of these friendships.  Paul was a year ahead of me in school (and he’s probably one of the smartest people I know).  We met at church, and I eventually started going over to Paul’s house to play after church.  We spent hours and hours together playing basketball, volleyball, and other backyard sports.  The Braun house always had some interesting things to play with in the basement.  We played for hours with the strobe light waiting for one of the kids to run into someone or something.  Paul was known for shocking his sister’s friends whenever they came over to the house.  Now, Paul has his doctorate degree in Materials Science Engineering, and he is a full-time professor at the University of Illinois helping the world become a better place through his discoveries and inventions.  Paul and I spend many hours talking about the future.  In fact, Paul was one of the big reasons I went into engineering.

We need friends who will listen to us and give us good advice.

When I was a freshman in high school, a family moved in across the street.  Little did I know how much this family’s move into Lumberton would transform my life.  The oldest son in this family was my age, and we first met in freshman AP English in Mrs. Roszek’s classroom.  Brian Willem was the nerdy ROTC guy who also wore JAMS coordinates, and I was the “Bible Geek” guy who new all the answers to the questions when we studied the Bible during this class.  Soon we realized we lived across the street from one another, and it didn’t take very long before we were having catches in the court, swimming in his pool, and running around the neighborhood.  Eventually, I invited Brian to SYNC (our church’s high school youth group).  Brian eventually came along, and he soon became a regular participating “member” of the group.  I realized how much our friendship meant when Brian sent me a note before we headed off to college.  The note read something about how much our friendship meant to him because I had introduced him to Christ.  Brian and I are still friends despite the miles and situations that separate us.

We need friends who we can encourage.

After high school, I journeyed west to Grove City College where I studied Mechanical Engineering.  Besides meeting my future wife, the biggest part of my Grove City experience was a group called AEX (Adelphoi en Christo – Brothers in Christ).  This was a housing group on campus made up of Christian men who have similar interests in extending their faith during their college experience.  The best man in my wedding, John Hackworth, was also my roommate for two of my years in this group.  The men in this group helped me process my faith for the first time as an independent men outside the umbrella of my family.  They challenged my thinking and helped spur me on.  This group was also the foundation for my leadership.  I was stretched through the leadership successes and failures I experienced as the President of this group.

We need friends who will spur us on.

Since graduating college, I have noticed that friendship is not as easy as it once was.  I have friends and friendships, but it takes so much more effort and intentional action to make friendships work as I balance life with a full-time job and a family.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have great relationships at work with people I could call friends.  I also have a long-standing tradition with a small group of camping buddies who make our annual pilgrimage to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania every Memorial Day weekend for the past ~25 years.  (I’m looking forward to hanging out with Brian, Andy, and Jeff this weekend!)  I’m also working on building friendships with a group of men who meet together every Friday morning in someone’s basement.  We have committed to meeting together for the next 20 years.  I believe these friendships will be important for the rest of my life, but I also recognize it will take time to develop these relationships.

I’m challenged by this quote I recently read in an on-line article, “Men can be funny about friendship.  They have friends, buddies from high school or college or later.  But by middle age, if you really look at those friendships, a lot of them are sort of on the shelf.  Work and family take a lot of time and guys can drift into a wider social isolation.  That can have health consequences down the line.  The U.S. surgeon general says isolation is a bigger American health problem than cancer or heart disease.”

And this is why friendship is such an important topic.  This week, I’ll be sending out a few email messages about friendship that will STRETCH your perspective on your friendships, your marriage, and your parenting.  If you want to make sure you get these messages, simply fill out the blocks below to get on the Stretched Newsletter list.

Who was your best friend when you were a kid?  What do you value or remember about that friendship?  What does friendship look like in your world today?  How do your friendships make life better?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Helen Keller

I remember watching my daughter in her toddler years as she learned new things every day.  She often said, “I can do it all by myself!”  She wanted her independence at an early age, and she has continued to pursue this independence into her collegiate career.

She is not alone in this pursuit of independence.  I’m a person who wants to figure things out for myself.  I don’t like the feeling of having to rely on others.  Frankly, I want to be in control.

This pursuit of independence is a blessing and a curse. It’s great to be able to do things by oneself; however, we miss out on the opportunity to rub shoulders with others when we become too independent.

Society tells us to be self-reliant.  Individual accomplishment is recognized and rewarded.

Here’s the problem:  Our pursuit of independence can push us away from the community for which we were made.  As we shy away from community, we miss the opportunity to collaborate with others, to build life-giving relationships, and to explore areas of life that we simply would miss on our own.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Jim Rohn

With whom are you spending the most time these days?  Are they lifting you up?  Are they STRETCHING you?  Are they encouraging you?

Are you spending time with anyone who is causing you to grow?

 

If you are a man looking for this kind of community, check out my Stretched Men Group by clicking HERE.

 

If you are a woman looking for this kind of community, check out one of these links:

 

If you are an entrepreneur looking for this kind of community, reach out to my friend, Ellory Wells, by clicking HERE.

 

If you need help finding a group, let me know.  I’d love to help you connect with others who can STRETCH you!

 

This week I’ll be sending out a series of emails about the importance of being in this type of community.  If you want to make sure you get these emails, sign up here:

Don’t go at life alone.  Decide TODAY to do life TOGETHER with others.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:12

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Mary Pickford

Have you ever wanted a “Do Over?”

I remember playing games as a kid, and asking for a “Do Over” when things didn’t go the way I wanted the to go.  One of my friends or I would yell, “Do Over!”  And if our friends were feeling generous they would let us start over again.

Sometimes in life, it feels like we could use a “Do Over.”  Maybe you a fresh start in a relationship.  Maybe you need a new beginning along your career path.  Maybe you to hit the restart button on fitness or nutrition.

You are not alone!

We are officially 1/3rd of the way through 2017.

How did you start the year?  Are you on track to meet the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year?

Or have you given up?

Life keeps us busy.  And too often, we find ourselves simply busy being busy.  We aren’t making the progress in life we’d really like to make, and we don’t even know it.  We give up being intentional, so we can keep up with the mundane every day tasks that distract us from reaching our real potential.  We feel stuck.  We feel stalled.  And we even feel lost.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Now is the time for a fresh start!

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24 ESV

This week I’ll be sending out emails to those on my email list on the topic of RESTART.  The emails will help you get the fresh start you need to make the rest of 2017 all that it can be.  To make sure you get these emails, simply fill out the form below.

“I know people who grow old and bitter. I want to keep making a fresh start. I don’t want them to defeat me. That would be suicidal.”

Robert Wyatt

 

In what area of your life do you need a “Do Over”?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

When our kids were little, they were terrified of dogs.  I remember visiting my parents in Dallas, TX one time, and my parents’ golden mix, Amber, had to be quarantined to her crate most of the time we were there, because our daughter, Hannah, was absolutely sure Amber was going to bite her head off.  Amber might give her a good lick, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Whenever we visited someone who had a dog, our kids would crawl up our legs into our protective arms to make sure they were safe from the crazy four-legged creatures who were wagging their tails at them.

My wife and I were determined to do something about this phobia.  After all, our kids couldn’t live in our protective arms forever.  They were growing quickly, and my arms wouldn’t hold them forever.  Also, dogs can smell fear.  Many times a dog will go after people who are afraid of them.  Our kids had to learn how to stand up to the furry four-legged beasts that would cross their paths in the future.

So my wife and I signed up to foster a Seeing Eye puppy.  A few weeks after signing up, we received a phone call indicating there was a 8 week old black Labrador puppy waiting just for us.  We said yes, and we soon opened our home and our hearts to a square-headed black fur-ball named Iso.

When Iso joined our family, it didn’t take long for our kids to get over their fear of dogs.  Soon they were playing with Iso and commanding him not to chew on the furniture, the walls, and their toys.

Iso grew and grew, and our hearts grew fond of the dog despite his early destructive forces.  He chewed the paint right off our metal hot water baseboard radiators.  He chewed a hole or two in our kitchen cabinets.  And he kept us up many nights unhappy that he was chained to our bed.  (Seeing Eye puppies are taught to stay close to their “person” at all times, and the training begins with the puppy raisers.)

Iso went with us everywhere.  He visited the mall with us.  He went camping, and he even went fishing.  Actually, we caught him once.  This was a terrifying experience for all of us.  Somehow his tongue collided with a fishing hook.  The squeal he let out was unforgettable.  Thankfully, a real fisherman came along with his fishing tools, and we were able to pull the hook out of his tongue.

My wife and I often questioned whether or not he would make it as a Seeing Eye guide dog.

When he was a year and a half, we received a call from the Seeing Eye (in Morristown, NJ).  They were ready for Iso, and they were confident that Iso was ready for his official training to become a guide dog.  With many tears, we released Iso back to the Seeing Eye where he was matched with a trainer who worked with him for 9 months to prepare his for his purpose – to guide a blind person.

Our family visited the Seeing Eye for Iso’s Town Walk – his final exam.  His performance was amazing as he guided his blindfolded trainer through the streets of Morristown.  We were sure we would receive word that Iso was matched with a blind person.  We waited, and we waited.

While we waited, we moved into a brand new house.  Gone were the chew marks that reminded us of our puppy friend.

Shortly after our move, we received a phone call from the Seeing Eye.  Due to a large crop of puppies, the Seeing Eye was being more selective, and Iso was being dropped out of the program due to his extreme friendliness.  As a puppy raiser, we had the first opportunity to take him back to become our Forever Friend.

I was not so sure this was a good idea.  After all, we had just moved into a brand new house, and I was not thrilled about the possibility of having him back in the house where I was sure he would cause havoc.  I was not the only one in the family, and I was outvoted three to one.

I made the journey up to Morristown to pick him up.  On the way home, we established some ground rules.

When I walked him through the door at our new house, he was quickly embraced and welcomed back into the family.

And honestly despite my initial apprehension, I soon let him into my heart as well.

Iso quickly adjusted to his new digs.

He chased the neighbors cat up a tree one time.  I remember chuckling inside as we leaned a ladder up against the tree to rescue the cat.  “This dog is crazy!”

One time, I woke up early one morning to find that he had eaten the braided rug that welcomed guests into our front door.  This was not a happy moment.  It took a few days, but Iso eventually passed the carpet.  It’s a little gross but the carpet came out his rear just the same way it went into his mouth.  Like I said before, “This dog is crazy!”

We liked having Iso around the house.  He always provided the initial rinse of our dishes while I was putting them in the dishwasher.  He greeted us with his tail wagging whenever we returned home after trip to church, the grocery store, work, or anywhere else.  He was always glad to see us.  And he was especially always happy when it was time to eat.  One cup of food in the morning, and one cup of food at dinner time.  We really didn’t have to have a clock.  Iso knew when it was time to eat.

When he was 9 years old, I thought we were going to lose him.  I came home from work one night to find out that he had eaten one of my dress shirts I wore to the office.  What in the world would make a dress shirt appetizing?  I’ll never know.  We waited a few days to see if he would pass it, but we soon discovered that Iso was not feeling well.  In fact, he seemed to be quite ill.  When Leanne took him to the vet, the vet quickly ran an X-ray and discovered a football-sized lump of fabric and other material lodged in his stomach.  The vet explained that she had to perform emergency surgery before Iso died.  We weren’t given the option of putting him to sleep, and before we knew it, Iso was wearing the cone of shame and our bank account was $3,000 smaller.

Labs are crazy dogs, but they are also loyal and true.  Iso loved to be with us when we were home – especially when we were eating popcorn.  He hovered around us to make sure we threw several pieces of popcorn his way.

He had a few visits to the vet for various intestinal issues.  With a few pills, a bland diet, and some time, he always seemed to bounce back.

The last few years, he became more sedentary.  He slept way more than he was awake.  He also seemed to be growing some cysts and fatty non-cancerous growths and tumors.  The vet didn’t seem to worried about these.  As the days and years went on, he slowed down even more.  He took his time getting up and lying down.  And his hearing seemed to diminish too.  But Iso always responded to the word “Treat”.  He loved his Milkbones.

Friday afternoon while I was out in the garden and in the shed, Iso seemed to have some type of seizure or stroke, and he couldn’t move or stand without assistance.  Our family had some big decisions to make, and the main decision seemed obvious.  It wasn’t fair to let Iso suffer any more.  He couldn’t stand.  He wasn’t interested in eating.  His head even moved to his right as he tried to find his equilibrium.

After much thought and discussion, we decided it was Iso’s time.  Isaac retreated to his room to let out his emotions.  Hannah seemed to be rather understanding and non-emotional about this situation.  And Leanne and I struggled to say our goodbyes.

I loaded Iso in the family car, and we journeyed to the 24-hour animal hospital (HOPE) in Malvern, PA.  We knew what we had to do, but we know it was going to be hard.  The people at HOPE were amazing.  They gave us time to be with Iso, and they explained what would happen when they injected him with the chemicals that would end his life.

Iso wouldn’t let the doctor get to his arm where the catheter had been placed, so I had to hold his head while the vet injected the potions.  Tears rolled down my face.  Leanne and even Hannah were crying, too.  (Isaac stayed at home to avoid the trauma of the whole situation.)  Iso peacefully left us.  After a few minutes with him, we left the hospital in silence.

It’s so hard to say goodbye to those who attach themselves to your heart.

That was Friday.

Today is Tuesday.

We miss Iso.  We miss him when we arrive at home to a quiet house.  We miss him when we wake up in the morning.  And we miss him when we put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

Our pets become part of our lives.  They can provide some incredible challenges, and they can provide amazing companionship.

Someone on Sunday commented that Iso would be in doggy heaven.  I don’t really know if that’s true or not.  What I know is that our lives were greatly impacted by the black Labrador who invaded our house over 13 years ago.  We will remember him with a smile and perhaps some more tears.  We are thankful for the opportunity to have had this furry friend in our family.

And if you are wondering, our kids aren’t afraid of dogs anymore.