Leonard Bernstein

Are You Willing to Play Harmony?

“There are plenty of people who want to be first violinists, but to find someone willing to play second chair — in any section of the orchestra — is a problem. But without a second, there is no harmony.” — Leonard Bernstein

Leaders, quite naturally, feel most comfortable leading. It’s where we’re gifted. There’s a certain fulfillment that comes with taking charge of a project, developing a strategy, putting a team together, and seeing it through to completion.

A problem that many organizations face, however, comes when you have to deal with those “special” few leaders who can’t — or won’t — do anything but lead. As in: If I’m not in charge, I’m not there.

The best leaders understand — and embrace — the idea that sometimes your contribution to a project is not to call the plays, but to help the play-caller executethe plays.

Or, as Mr. Bernstein might say, there are times when — no matter how gifted a leader you may be — it’s your job to play second chair, and to add a little harmony to the outcome.

When you find yourself involved in work in which first chair is already in place, don’t quit the band, don’t stage a coup, don’t pack your bags and go home.

Instead, seize the opportunity to be the kind of second chair you wish you had in every project you pursue.

You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about playing melody when you discipline yourself to play harmony once in a while.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…(Colossians 3:23)

The Power of Influence

In The Secret Message of Jesus, author Brian McLaren tells a story that illustrates the long-term power of influence.

It began with a call he received one day from a man he didn’t know, saying he was the father of Scott Crabb.

Brian thought for a few moments and remembered Scott as a teenager he counseled at church camp years earlier, when Brian was still in college.

He said, “As I recall, I taught him to play four or five chords on the guitar — C, F, G, and A minor.”

“That’s why I’m calling,” Scott’s dad replied. “You told my son something else.”

Brian said, “I used to tell people if they really want to learn to play, buy a guitar but don’t ever put it in the case. Leave it out, and they’re more likely to pick it up and play it when they sit in front of the TV or whatever.”

Mr. Crabb said, “Yes, that’s what you said. And that’s exactly what Scott did. He went on to major in classical guitar in college. In fact, he received a master’s degree in guitar performance. During his studies, Master Segovia heard him play and invited him to be one of his last students.”

Brian writes…

A smile spread across my face. To think that a teenager I had helped become interested in guitar had gone on to become a student of the greatest classical guitarist ever!

Mr. Crabb ended the conversation saying, “Last week my son had his master recital. Master Segovia was there. As you can imagine, I was deeply proud, and I thought back over the years and remembered you. I decided to look you up and tell you that one of your students went far. You got Master Crabb started in his profession.” [Adapted from The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren, page 76]

The details we rarely discover…

The difference in Brian’s story and most of our stories is that Brian got the call; he heard the results of his work. Most often we don’t.

It’s great when we see people we’ve led to Christ enter the ministry, or we see them living successful lives, happily married, with strong families.

Typically, however, you don’t the get the update. You won’t know the full story of the power of influence you’ve had until you get to heaven.

On earth, it’s usually the last influential person in line that gets the credit. But God sees the whole process; he recognizes the role you play in the lives of others.

As Paul said…

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. (2 Corinthians 3:8)

Today you’ll have the chance to be such an influence in the life of another. And even though you may never hear how the story ends, the difference will be made.

The seed you plant will grow.

The plant you water will grow.

The lives you touch, even in a small way, will be changed.

Marie Byrd Land

Two Steps to Taking Charge

It’s amazing that even today, surrounded as we are by satellite technology, there are places on planet Earth that remain unexplored and uncharted.

And, even more amazing, places that remain unclaimed.

Such as Marie Byrd Land, named in honor of the Admiral’s wife. It’s located in West Antarctica, and covers an area of 620,000 square miles — that’s more than twice the size of Texas. Though it has been partially explored, no sovereign nation has laid claim to it.

I guess that means it’s up for grabs. If you’re looking for a new place to call home, keep it in mind. Especially if you like a mild summer. Average temperature in July is right around 14° Fahrenheit. Winter is a bit cooler, they say.

Far more significant than Marie Byrd Land, I can think of yet another territory that remains unexplored, uncharted, and even unclaimed.

It’s the week that lies ahead. Your week. Whenever you like, you can claim it as your own and make of it what you want.

As each new Monday comes your way, a new world of opportunity opens up. Just as we begin the new year with a new resolve to accomplish greater things, we can begin each new week with new resolutions and new plans.

Adding and subtracting.

As you stake your claim for the seven days, consider how these two questions might help you chart your course.

a.) What is one thing I need to subtract from my life? Which sin … which self-defeating behavior … which destructive attitude shall I get serious about leaving behind, once and for all — starting this week?

b.) What is one thing  I need to add to my life? Which new approach of faith … which new step of obedience … which brand new attitude do I need to begin to demonstrate — starting this week?

We lay claim on our lives by doing with intention the best things, and making every effort to abandon the worst things. Adding one and subtracting the other each and every week is a good place to start.

Make this week your week: yours to claim, yours to own, yours to live.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

John Wooden

Legend or Critic?

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was once asked his opinion of former Indiana coach Bobby Knight. Wooden would only respond…

“I think Bob Knight is an outstanding teacher of the game of basketball, but I don’t approve of his methods. But I’m not a judge, and I’m not judging Bob Knight. There is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us, it hardly behooves me to talk about the rest of us.”

I think he understood what Henry Kaiser once said, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”

Wooden, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 99, has shown us what a legend looks like.

He was not only a gentlemen on the court, he also set records that may never be broken. His 10 national championships, his 88 game winning streak, his phenomenal winning percentage, the players he groomed for stardom in the NBA — this is his legacy; he had no reason to add the title of “outspoken critic” to the list.


In your life and mine, in your work and mine, there are a number of potential (even so-called “valid”) targets of our own outspoken criticism.

If we’re not careful, they can take up all of our time and attention.

And if we’re not careful, we can be sidetracked into thinking that our opinions are more important than our actions.

It’s what you do that ultimately makes a difference. Talk isn’t enough. Opinions aren’t enough. Criticism, no matter how on-target or how well-articulated, is never enough.

You prove who you are by the way that you live.

Paul asked…

So why do you condemn another Christian? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)

Let’s strive, then, toward leaving a legacy built not upon our estimation of others, but upon our own measurable accomplishments.

Criticize less, do more.

That’s what a legend looks like.

Encourage One Another Daily

Who Needs Encouragement

Truett CathyTruett Cathy (founder of Chic-fil-A) once said, “How do you identify someone who needs encouragement? Answer: That person is breathing.”

You can be sure that every person you encounter today will benefit from a good word. You may not be able to solve their problems, but you can give them a little extra fuel for their journey.

How do you offer encouragement? Here are a handful of suggestions.

Remember that you can’t give encouragement when you’re talking about yourself. Especially when you’re talking about your problems. Sometimes we try to give others a little perspective on their problems by telling them how bad ours are. It doesn’t help.

Point out what they’re doing right. They probably already know what isn’t working, and they probably already know what they’re doing wrong. Tell them what is working. Tell them something good about themselves. Don’t worry, they won’t get big-headed about it.

Tell them what you see for them in the future. Tell them how things can be. Remind them of what God can do, how he can transform any situation for his glory, how he can transform any person into the image of Christ, how he can use anyone to accomplish his purpose.

Give them an example. An example other than yourself, that is. Tell them about a friend who had a similar problem and was able to overcome it. Or how a business leader dealt with adversity. Or how another Christian’s perseverance ultimately paid off. Tell them a story that will give them hope.

Offer to help them fine-tune their strategy. When you say, “If you ever want feedback on anything, I’m here to give it,” they will probably come to you for feedback — if they sense your sincerity. It is then that you can ever-so-gently point out the things they’re doing wrong. It is then that you can help them improve their approach and correct their mistakes.

Just remember: first, they need encouragement.

Isaiah said…

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with an anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but he will save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4)

Connie Mack

How Worry Affects Leadership

Connie Mack will always be remembered as one of the greatest personalities in baseball.

After coaching the Philadelphia A’s for 50 years, he retired in 1950 at the age of 87 as the winningest manager in history.

Books could be written, and probably already have been, on the management techniques of Connie Mack. Leaders have a lot to learn from his example.

One management technique: he refused to worry.

Early in his career, when he realized how worry was threatening to destroy his ability to lead — especially worries over past defeats — he forced himself to get so busy preparing to win today’s game that he didn’t have time to worry about yesterday’s losses.

He summed up it by saying, “You can’t grind grain with water that has already gone down the creek.” This colloquialism is probably lost on most of us, but it is Mack’s way of saying what Paul said …

But I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:13-14)

It works.

The act of preparing today keeps your mind off yesterday’s regrets and away from tomorrow’s uncertainties.

So give your attention to what is really pressing this day … and press on.

Noisy Problems

Noisy Problems

Noisy ProblemsThere’s a story about a farmer who called a restaurant owner, asking if he was interested in making a deal on some frog legs.

“I can bring you hundreds,” he said. “There’s a creek behind my house that’s full of them. They drive me crazy night and day.”

They negotiated a price for a hundred frogs, and the farmer went home.

A few days later he called the restaurant owner and cancelled the contract.

“Turns out there weren’t hundreds of frogs in that pond. There were just two. But those two frogs sure were making a lot of noise.”

The same can be said about our problems.

And our critics, too.

There may not be that many of them, but they sure are loud.

Successful leaders learn to ignore the croaking of the critics. They also learn to ignore the derisive ribits of this problem and that.

They learn, instead, to focus on the promises of God:

“Lo, I am with you always…No weapon that is formed against you will prosper…though I walk through the shadow of the valley death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

If you’ll listen, you’ll find that God’s promises — the ones spoken in his still, small voice — can ultimately drown out the noise generated by the cares and concerns of this world.

Inspirational Leadership

Inspirational Leadership

We tend to equate leadership with authority. We measure the extent of our leadership by the number of people we can tell what to do.

Leadership is more than this. It’s not about hierarchy, it’s about influence. For this reason, you can be a leader no matter which rung of the ladder you’re currently standing on.

John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Today as you deal with those in your organization above you and below you, remember that your challenge as a leader is, through your words and your example, to inspire others to take another step toward excellence in their work and in their spiritual lives.

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Goal to Go Ministry

Goal-to-Go Ministry

Paul Dietzel, former head coach of LSU, said, “You learn more character on the 2 yard line than anywhere else in life.”

He’s right. Depending on which side of the ball you’re on, the 2 yard line means you’re right on the edge of success or failure.

That’s when it’s time to dig in, to make a final surge for the score or a last minute stand against defeat.

In ministry, as well as in life, you often find yourself on the 2 yard line — just this side of success, or just that side of defeat.

And often it’s a combination of the two. That’s because life, unlike football, makes it possible to be both places at once.

Consider the challenges you’re facing today. What does victory demand you do? Push harder here? Stand tougher there?

Either way, it’s time to dig in. Time to persevere, to persist in doing good one more day, making one more effort to accomplish that to which we have been called.

Let us not become weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:10)