Archive for January 2016
We all function best when we are in the place where we best fit. So the question for you is two-fold: Are you where you best fit? How do you know? Share your thoughts in the comment box.
Early in my ministry experience, I was working as a Christian school teacher while also serving as the volunteer junior high youth director in my church. Because I was teaching junior high and high school courses at school, and the school was affiliated with the church where I was serving, I found myself interacting with a number of the same kids in both the classroom and the youth group. Each responsibility seemed to be an equally difficult yet rewarding job. After some time, I realized that I was impacting the same type of young people (and, in some cases, the same people), but in two different contexts with two different methods. This realization led me to some self-reflection: if both roles provided a way for me to impact young people, but in different ways, which way was best suited to me?
As I thought through this, I started thinking about the skillset and capabilities required for each role, as well as my own personal strengths, abilities, and interests. It seemed that both responsibilities gave me the same opportunity for impact, but one was in a more formal, structured way, and the other much less so. Meanwhile, I was learning that I functioned better in the more structured context. The result was that I figured out where I best fit, and that understanding shaped my direction for the next 25 years (and still going).
I Corinthians 12:12-19, in speaking about spiritual gifts, provides a good lesson on the same idea in organizations:
12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
One of the points in the passage is that everyone is a different part and fits in a different way, and it is the combination of the different parts that makes a whole. Sylvester Stallone, in the movie Rocky, said it this way when, in stating why he fit with Adrian, he said, “She’s got gaps and I’ve got gaps, but together we ain’t got no gaps.” Jim Collins said it like this: get the right people on the bus, and into the right seats. All of these make the same point – not everyone fits in the same place or in the same way, so people need to be where they fit. They need to be working in a role and in a manner that best fits them, and in doing so, they function better and the organization functions better. The team and the organization will be more complete, and the work will be done more effectively.
Therefore, one of your responsibilities as a leader is to help people be where they fit. That may mean providing appropriate training to improve them where they fit, moving them into a different role or capacity where they fit better, or helping them to leave because they don’t fit and need to be someplace else (that’s often the hardest move to make, but in the end is better for everyone, including the person who needs to be freed up to find the place where they do fit).
So one of your jobs is to put people (including yourself) where they fit. In order to do that, you have to know them, and you have to know the requirements of the job. Remember, what you are actually doing is developing people, helping them to be the best they can be, find fulfillment, and make a difference. And that happens when they are where they fit.
Be intentional about knowing your culture, knowing your community, and becoming a part of it, an insider and not an outsider. Embrace it, understand it, and immerse yourself in it. Don’t spend your time fighting it. Don’t try to be where you’re not. Don’t try to make here, there, or there, here. You are where are, so don’t try to make it someplace else.
I grew up in a rural Midwestern community, and had very few opportunities to travel outside of the Midwest. I loved where I lived, and thoroughly enjoyed those things that were part of the unique surrounding culture, things like Coney Dogs and Vernor’s, Ginger Ale, snow days in the winter, water skiing in the summer, and the brilliant beauty of the changing colors of Fall. But then, in my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Europe, traveling to seven countries in two and half weeks. I was given the privilege of experiencing new cultures, and I threw myself into it – I ate waffles in Belgium and pastries in France, I bought a watch in Switzerland, I toured castles and Nazi concentration camps and watched a Glockenspiel in Germany, and I stood on the mountainside in Austria where Julie Andrews sang the opening song in “The Sound of Music.”
The result of this trip was that my eyes were opened to new experiences beyond what I had grown up with, and learned to enjoy new worlds. Without completely understanding the importance of this growth opportunity, I learned the value of immersing myself in new cultures, and I came home with a desire to fully enjoy every place I would live or visit in the future. So when I married into a Latin family, I embraced the café con leche ,rice pudding, mofongo, tostones, and arroz con pollo, and I welcomed the new traditions, like celebrating Three Kings Day. When we moved to Philadelphia, we looked for the best place to get a Philly Cheesesteak, and ran up the stairs at the Museum of Art to reenact the iconic scene from Rocky. When we visited New York City, we made sure to get a pizza from Famous Original Ray’s and a cheesecake from Junior’s, and when we visited Chicago, we ate Chicago Dogs and Giordano’s pizza, visited the Navy Pier, and shopped on Michigan Avenue. Most recently, when we moved to a college town in Texas, we began to enjoy TexMex food, BBQ, and tacos, and threw our support behind the college team.
One of the life lessons I have learned is that each place I have lived or visited in my life has a special uniqueness. Every place has it’s own regional cuisine, particular cultural features and traditions, seasonal beauty, and identifiable characteristics. No one place has it all, and even though you can bring ideas and things that you like when you go someplace new, you can’t transplant everything you like from one place to another, so I have learned to immerse myself in the culture and community wherever I am, choosing to take advantage of what makes that place what it is. I see the sights, I eat the food, I embrace the traditions, I support the businesses; in short, I choose to enjoy and become a part of where I live.
The same principle is true for organizations. No two are the same, and each has its own culture, characteristics, and community. Even though, as a leader, you play an important role in shaping organizational culture and can bring in new ideas that you learned and implemented elsewhere, it is also incredibly important that you understand the culture in which you function. You can’t transplant history and culture (I know; I tried and it blew up in my face), but you can affect it if you first understand it. Therefore, you can’t and shouldn’t make it something it’s not. Instead, realize where you are, embrace it, understand it, and immerse yourself in it. Become a part of the organization, an insider and not an outsider.
In your organization or business, be intentional about knowing your culture, knowing your community, and becoming a part of it. Don’t spend your time fighting it. Don’t try to be where you’re not. Don’t try to make here, there, or there, here. You are where are, so don’t try to make it someplace else. Learn what makes your context what it is and enjoy it, and use it to the advantage of your organization.