5 for Leadership (9/23/13)

images-2Here is a fresh 5 that is two days late from my normal posting. I had the privilege to speak at a student conference over the weekend and had a great time of interaction. This week we take a look at leadership caring, leadership mistakes, leadership opportunities, leadership development and ministry in Italy. All things leadership-enjoy!

The Biggest Mistake of My Life  “Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?” This was the question that Ron Edmondson’s son asked one day of his father. You might find the answer surprising.

Caring or Care-taking?-A Fine Distinction  “In this blog I write a lot about caring in leadership.  I write about it because I strongly believe that if leaders care about people, their efforts will be rewarded in a multitude of ways, both intrinsically and extrinsically.” Gwyn Teatro does a great job in distinguishing between the attitude of caring and care-taking in leadership. This is a must read.

23 Great Thoughts on Leadership Development: A Frontline Festival  This comes from Karin Hurt. “I’m delighted to present the September edition of the Frontline Festival.  This month’s focus:  Leadership Development.  I encourage you to read the insights and share your perspectives.” This is a great resource!

David, Goliath, and Cows Looking At New Gates  This comes from the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell. “Cows run from new gates. There’s no path. It’s unfamiliar. People are like cows looking at new gates, when it comes to opportunities.” Dan challenges our assumptions about new opportunities–this will give you a shot of courage.

Italy Trip Recap  As many of you know my family spent five years on mission in Italy. They were great years of growing and learning. They were great years of better understanding leadership in another culture. God is at work in this nation. The Gospel Coalition Blog put together a short video highlighting some of what they see God doing in the incredible country.

There are the 5 for this week–sorry it were a little late. Saturday will get us back on track! Have a great week!

The Culture of Horn Honking

medium_5475747169This is simply meant to be a light-hearted post, nothing worthy of deep thought or reflection. I am an American who lives in Italy and just returned from a 13 day visit to India. I am fascinated by different cultures and how societies work. You can often pick up on differences by how different cultures utilize similar means. For this post I will explore the use of the car horn.

In the U.S. I will argue that Americans largely use their horns to warn or complain. We honk when we want to make people aware of danger. We honk when we feel a great wrong has been done to us on the road. Someone has violated the law (as we see it) or someone has made us very angry with their driving methods. But on the whole (maybe apart from New York City) we are not a culture that regularly communicates through our car horns. That is different from Italy and India.

I have lived in Italy for the past five years. And now we are actually in transition to return to our home culture in the U.S. Italians love their cars and their car horns. It was a little unsettling when we first moved here to constantly hear car horns. My observation is that Italians use the horn as a regular means of communication, but mainly out of being annoyed. If you wait more than two seconds after a traffic light has turned green, you will get a long blast from a car horn behind you. Italians are a very passionate people. Therefore their communication is passionate as well, verbally and through their car horns. But it doesn’t mean anything negative. They simply express their “in the moment” feelings readily. The car horn is just an extension of their present feelings. You have to understand this here or you will think everyone is simply rude. But they are not, they are just temporarily annoyed with you and letting you know. You can still be best friends and enjoy a cappuccino together.

India has almost a billion people. Apparently, every one of them owns a car. I have never seen this kind of traffic or heard so many horns in my life. But my observation is that the communication pattern is different. Americans honk out of anger and “injustice.” Italians honk out of annoyance and to simply express their temporary emotion. Indians see driving like Americans see snow skiing. At least this is my grid for understanding their “car honking” culture. It is like an American snow skier simply saying “on your left” or “on your right.” Skiing etiquette dictates that you let the skier in front of you know that you are about to pass them on the hill and to let them know which side you are on. I think it is the same way for Indians. They drive all over the road and use any lane available to them, no matter which way the direction of traffic is suppose to be going. But they will clearly let you know that they are “on your left” or “on your right.” Their facial expressions never change-for the honker or the one being honked at. The trucks even have hand painted signs on the back that say “please honk.” They are not angry or annoyed. They are not informing you of some law you have broken. They are just using skiing etiquette. For the passive passenger-like me-the whole experience can be quite frightening and confusing. But once you see how skilled the average Indian driver is to navigate traffic in his own context-and you see more clearly the “horn honking culture” at work-you can relax-a little!   That is just how I see it.

Here’s to life in the fast lane, going the same direction, seat belts buckled, using our horns to their greatest end!

(photo credit)

The Vatican Under Fire and Moral Authority

The headlines each day carry something related to the Catholic Church being under enormous pressure in light of the sexual abuse charges by priests around the world.   I live in Italy-the vortex of the Catholic world.  On the whole, Italians are suspicious of the Catholic Church.  I often hear university students speak of the prime minister, the mafia, and the Catholic church being in cahoots together regarding all things Italian.  At best, the Catholic Church is seen by most Italians as irrelevant to the lives of everyday people.  And honestly, they have over 1000 years of history to validate some of their claims.  Over Easter many parishioners were bothered that Pope Benedict did not mention the scandals at all.  People want to know what happened on his watch while a Cardinal in Germany.  Some pundits have already claimed that this is the end of the Catholic Church.  I don’t pretend to know about the demise of the Catholic Church-I do know that the cathedrals here are more empty than full these days.  But I actually believe that the current controversy is a primary lesson in leadership.  The Pope is losing moral authority.

Leadership is about influence and always includes authority.  In leadership there are two possibilities regarding authority-moral authority and structured authority.  Structured authority is that authority which comes with position or title.  People follow and obey largely because they have to.  Moral authority-or what I like to call granted authority-is that authority which is given to you by your followers because they want to follow and obey you.  Structured authority goes with the title or position-the other type is earned-every day.  Leaders earn granted authority through their authenticity and character.  And it comes just as much from admitting mistakes and dealing with real problems as it does from making progress in the mission or seeing success.  As the elected head of the Catholic Church Pope Benedict has structured authority-but he is quickly losing moral or granted authority.  People may continue to “follow” by code of conduct or association-but he is currently aiding the abiding notion that the Catholic Church is irrelevant by not acting in a more determined way towards these abuses.  God will preserve His Church-by that I mean the whole body of Christ.  But I am saddened that people may miss Jesus because of the church.

Fast Coffee-Slow Food

medium_6968187518There are many cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy. We lived in Italy for five years. One notable difference is the importance of relationships in Italy and how they are conducted. I call it the “fast coffee/slow food” connection. Most people realize that in the U.S. we have developed a “slow coffee/fast food” culture. Over the past 50 years Americans have moved towards a fragmented family and a dietary nightmare called “fast food”. Meals are taken as quickly as possible or only for strategic purposes. Thus why families rarely eat together and the invention of the “power lunch.” But over the past 10 years and the advent of Starbucks we have also begun to develop a “slow coffee” culture. The coffee shop mentality has returned in the U.S. This is often where we catch up with people, even our children at times. The follow up to the power lunch has become the “power coffee” appointment. Yet I have to admit that Starbucks can be quite loud and distracting. While I really enjoy their coffee, the very environment can threaten my ability to really connect at a deeper level.

In Italy they do the opposite. There are caffe bars on almost every corner. They are small, often with only a counter bar. You enter, you order your espresso or cappuccino, you pay, and you leave. The whole experience may take less than five minutes. Ah, but meals, that is a very different story. There is “riposo.” This is a pause from work for a two to three hour lunch. And the evening meal often lasts two to three hours also. Italians take their food and their meals very seriously. Meals are done in a very particular order for dietary purposes. Every region has its own specialties that are not to be missed.

But more than that, life is done around the table.

Relationships are nurtured around the table.

The largest room in our 800 year old home was the dining room.

You take acquaintances and colleagues to coffee.

You have meals with your true friends and family.

The home and the dinner table are sacred.

We noticed that doing ministry in Italy requires trust and time. Italy can be a suspicious, non trusting culture, and for some historically good reasons. But we have also noticed that the walls drop and trust is built in the home around the dining room table. Conversations go much deeper and spiritual truth is better received around the table. While Italians are certainly known for loud, boisterous conversations, there is an inescapable focus that takes place. There is one conversation, even if five people are having it at the same time. We rarely conducted ministry events during those days without food and a home setting.

I know a lot of ministry happens in Starbucks these days in the U.S. But I wonder how much of it is truly effective in terms of building a relationship of trust. I think I like the “fast coffee/slow food” environment of Italy better. For one, the food is amazing, but so are the opportunities to take time to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Invest in someone over a long, slow meal!

(photo credit)

Amanda Knox and Character

Yesterday Amanda Knox finally took the stand in her murder trial here in Italy. Amanda and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, are on trial for the murder of a British student, Meredith Kercher, back on November 1st, 2007 in Perugia.

Amanda, her boyfriend, and another man already convicted of the crime (Rudy Guede) were accused of killing Kercher while taking part in a bizarre sex and drugs game the night of the incident.

Amanda gave conflicting testimony during the investigation phase–but now claims that she was under a lot of pressure from Italian authorities and that they are to blame for her misleading claims.

The crime and the trial has been a huge deal here in Italy–and has gained notoriety in the U.S. I don’t know if Amanda is guilty of any aspect of this murder or not–but I find one particular aspect very intriguing and it runs to our broken human nature. Amanda expects others to extend her credibility out of a reservoir of flawed character. Read Amanda’s court room testimony as to her “true” alibi for the evening of November 1st: “She said she checked her e-mails at his place before the couple had dinner, watched a movie, smoked a marijuana joint, made love and fell asleep.”

Think about this–first, she already committed another crime. Possessing and smoking marijuana is against the law here in Italy–just as it is in the U.S. (Yes, I know there is a medicinal provision that exists in the U.S.–but not in Italy). Second, after only being in the country two months as a study abroad student, Amanda had an Italian boyfriend and was having sex with him–and this was probably not the first time. Third, the investigation and trial has revealed without a doubt that Amanda kept a very questionable stable of friends–guilt by association? No, but it certainly points to a lack of judgment. It is always interesting to me in our society that while we want to legalize drug use and allow people to maintain whatever moral lifestyle they choose–we inherently question people’s truthfulness when these extenuating factors exist. Think of any famous trial in the last quarter century and you will see the same thing. Deep down we actually believe that we are created with a moral conscience–with a moral compass–though deeply flawed, still active. In other words–good people largely don’t do heinous crimes–but bad people do. When we observe bad or illegal behavior in other areas of a person’s life it becomes really difficult for any of us to extend moral credibility in another area. Yet the accused always expects us to simply buy what their selling–even though their character doesn’t back it up. Character does matter–and we all know it–whether we are followers of Christ or not–it is in us. We are glad to extend credibility to those who demonstrate honorable character–we are immediately suspect when our observations do not back up the proposed claims of innocence–and so it will always be.

Character has everything to do with integrity–meaning we are the same people inside and out–there is a moral consistency to our lives that people can trust–we are not one person in one situation and another person in a different situation. Compare Job 1:1 and John 8:43-45.

Amanda cannot remotely demonstrate that integrity–therefore she is suspect. I don’t know if Amanda Knox is guilty of this crime–but her character has eroded her credibility. She deserves a fair trial–she does not deserve unquestioning trust and believability.

The Beauty and Culture of Calcio

Recently I took my son and daughter to a Fiorentina soccer game. Fiorentina is the Serie A soccer team for the city of Florence. The team has been around since 1926 and people in this area are passionate about “football” and the Viola, as Fiorentina is known for their signature purple jerseys.

There are 20 teams in the top Italian league known as Serie A–and the top four teams at the end of the year get to play in the European Champions League next season. Fiorentina made it this past season–but also made an early exit. In my opinion they tried to add to many new players and it took most of the season to gel. But as of last week they qualified for next year’s Champions League as well. So it has been really fun to watch them.

We have been to six games since living here. Slowly I have caught on to the intricaies of the game and have really grown to appreciate the beauty of the game. Calcio, as it is known in Italian, is a game of angles, speed and skill. It is really fun to watch a good team that has been together for awhile–to see them do amzing things with their feet and find the appropriate angle every time as they advance the ball down the field and score a goal. Equally as fun is watching the ultra fans keep up the team chants and flag waving all game long. In Fiorentina’s stadium these ultra fans sit in the Fiesole Curve–pictured at the top. They come early and stay late and really do have an impact on the players motivation.

Calcio in Italy is very much like Italy–out of apparent confusion comes beauty. Out of suspicion and distrust comes a certain amount of honor (four years ago there was a major cheating scandal that affected several clubs–including ours). Out of an attitude of low hope for change comes an unrivaled passion for the sport and all things Italian. Out of country that is still largely divided by city state thinking comes a unified zeal when the national team plays–and wins the World Cup–as they did in 2006.

The Italian fans are very warm towards us as Americans–who certainly don’t hold the same level of knowledge and historical appreciation for this game in constant motion. They kindly explain what needs explaining, share their food with us inside the stadium walls, and help us get pointed in the right direction when its time to go home.

By the way–Fiorentina lost today 2-0 to AC Milan–but we are still in Champions League for next season–here’s looking to 2009-10. Forza Viola!


A couple of weeks ago I decided to run an errand and headed out to Obi’s. Obi’s is the German version of Home Depot–I needed a new toilet seat–not high class stuff–but necessary. As I rounded a curve there was the Polizia Stradale–the Italian street police–running a routine drivers license check. The policeman stepped out into the road and motioned me over. I willingly complied–thinking that my Texas license and my AAA international license would suffice. I was wrong. After the police realized that I had owned my car for almost two years they made a flurry of phone calls and radio calls. There seemed to be some confusion over my fate. After some 20 minutes (and one breathalyzer test for alcohol–of which I passed with flying colors) I was told that I could not own and drive a car for over a year and not obtain an Italian drivers license. My fate? They would have my car towed to the police station–I would ride with them in the squad car–where my wife would meet me with other documents showing my valid residency. So off we went. I ended up spending some 90 minutes at the station waiting on Carrie and for all of the paper work to be completed. Finally I was told that my car would be towed to my house and signs would be posted on it (see above)–and that I was not to drive it for three months. Then sometime after 12 months I was to look for a notice in the mail which would inform me of my court date–where I would show up with my lawyer and hear the amount of my fine. 3 MONTHS! 12 MONTHS! LAWYER! I told him I have a family and that we need our car–every day. I told him that we thought the other licenses would suffice. While they were very nice–they were not sympathetic to my plight.

I began to sheepishly ask what happens if I start up my car and take it somewhere–I mean it is sitting right outside my window in our driveway. He said that if they caught me out driving my car they would confiscate it for good. OK–good enough for me. My favorite quote of the day was, “American justice is like a rabbit–but Italian justice is like a snail.”

Essentially I have been grounded–I feel like I am 16 all over again and got caught smoking in the boys bathroom. As I thought back over my escapade I also realized that I have been driving longer that one of the police officers has been alive. It’s not that I am not in the wrong–according to Italian law I am–but the punishment seems a little extreme–not to mention that Italy is about the only Western European country who does not have a reciprocal license process with at least one state in the U.S. The next day one of my friends told me that I could go to Naples and for a mere 250 euros I could “buy” a drivers license–things are done a little differently in the south. That would seem to be adding fuel to the fire.

Oh well–next week I am off to register for the Autoscuola–this is a private agency that prepares you for the licensing exam in Italy–for about 500 euros. By the way–I never got my new toilet seat–that could prove to be the worst part of this whole dirty little crime.

A Day at the “Hospital”

Yesterday I had surgery here in Florence, Italy. I had to have a sports hernia repaired-a nagging little injury that resulted from preparing for the Florence Marathon last November. My wife and I had debated whether to get the surgery done here or wait until we were going to be in the States this summer. I had actually met with three other physicians trying to get a clear diagnosis and in the process found out that the total recovery time was around 10-12 weeks–meaning that I could do very little exercise until August. So we decided to press on and get the surgery done in Italy. I am home now and resting–trying to get over the initial pain of this procedure. But it was the experience itself that I thought was worth blogging about.

First, the surgery was done at the Villa Cherubini (pictured above)–only in Italy would you have surgery done at a 250 year old villa. But what we didn’t know is that this was totally a private “hospital”. You see in Italy we have socialized medicine–meaning that you go through a system of making a request and waiting for a response of when and where the surgery will eventually take place–this can be a six month wait. We decided to speed up the process a little and got a referral–but not knowing that it was totally private–and therefore instead of being free–it cost a pretty euro to get this thing done. Word to President Obama and Hillary Clinton–there is a reason that private practices and hospitals have become a thriving industry here–completely socialized medicine doesn’t work very well–even the Italians flock to private medical clinics and hospitals to get things done in a more efficient manner. But we were still caught off guard–misplaced expectations.

Trying to get surgery done in two languages was a lot of fun too. At one point I was asked if I was allergic to any medicines–I said, “Yes, I have allergies–tree and grass pollens.” That received a very strange look from one of the physicians. Eventually it got corrected–but you hoped your less than stellar Italian got the pain location right and that they would make the incision in the correct place.

Two different men came in to shave the area of the incision–always embarrassing. Two different women came in to check my blood pressure. Then the anesthesiologist came in to describe how conked out I would be while they took care of Mr. Hernia. I told him I wanted to be more out than alive. He was really nice and cheery–I suppose you want a happy anesthesiologist. Then a priest came in to bless us. He was quite large and seemed to have a really horrible toupee on. He came in while the anesthesiologist was in the room–and he wasn’t sure who the patient was–so he told my wife and I that we were both “covered.” That was comforting.

Finally the moment arrived for me to be wheeled into the operating room–my doctor showed up who was going to perform the surgery, Dr. Batigniani–he has been great about everything and really nice–and came highly recommended. Still I felt compelled to remind him where the pain really was–I didn’t want a great scar for nothing. An hour later I was recovering and watching Camp Rock in Italian on TV with my wife in our private room. It was only about 2:30–but we had to wait until 7:30 to be released. I did get an awesome Italian meal at 7:00–only in Italy would you get a really good meal in a hospital–food is a passion here.

Finally we were back in our casa around 8:00 p.m. They were so nice they even let me leave without paying–the administrative offices had closed for the day. I was home in time to watch the European Championship of Soccer between Manchester United and Barcelona–Barca won 2-0.

In all reality I am a hospital wienie. I have really only had one other procedure done my whole life–and that was 30 years ago. So all in all–to do this in another country and in a second language was a decent experience. God is faithful and we are grateful!

Italian Fashion 2008

I am not a fashion guru by any stretch of the imagination–just ask my wife. But having lived in Italy for a little over two years now one has to pay a little more attention to what is “in” and what is “out.”

My aim here is to make sure you are in the know. Here is what I have learned so far. Apparently each year the fashion industry selects one color that dominates the fashion year. I think it has something to do with making money. This color change seems to take place on September 1st–which also coincides with scarf wearing season here–even if it is still 80 degrees. Sometimes the colors for men and women are the same–sometimes they are different. We arrived in 2006 and noticed that all the women were in something brown–and the men were all in some version of muted mustard yellow. In 2007 the men were consistently wearing muted burnt orange pants. I felt like I had just been dropped into a University of Texas alumni meeting. I’m actually not sure what the women were wearing. Give me a break–I was still trying to get the courage up to wear anything muted mustard yellow from the year before.

Well–while there is still time and you still have a small amount of disposable income left–I am here to let you know that the fashion color for this year–for both men and women–is PURPLE! Now I don’t want to appear disgruntled–but let’s face it–men don’t look good in purple–even if it is muted! But every major fashion house here in Florence has their windows filled with purple–Prada, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbanna, Armani, Versace–even Brooks Brothers. For men there are purple pants, purple ties, purple sport coats, purple dress shirts, purple sport shirts, purple scarves–even a few pair of purple shoes. Women look good in purple. Men look like over grown eggplants. But hey–far be it from me to hold you back from being fashionable. Maybe I’m not that secure as a man. Maybe next year I can get in my two euros to Nicola Trussardi to go for something in the realm of muted Crimson. That I would wear. Roll Tide!