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Lead On: A Life Worth Living

Lead OnI just got back from a leadership conference put on by the students of Region III in the National Indoor Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA) and let me tell you, it was thrilling.  I almost didn’t make it here though. The only reason I learned about this conference was because I started training to be a student manager at the Student Activity Center (SAC).

I received an email about a conference coming up and there was an informational meeting. The conference was called Lead On, so I figured it might be something I would enjoy (being a leadership minor and all). I attended the meeting a little unsure about what it might be, but after hearing the significant role these conferences have played in peoples lives, I decided I had to go.  Fortunately enough for me, I was awarded a scholarship that covered the cost of the conference, so I could save some money while still being able to attend this conference.

Our Keynote speaker was brilliant. He was a storyteller, engaging us in the experience of past, telling us about his mentor and the great learning experience he had, sharing the challenges he faced growing up and—most importantly—the impact sports had on his life. He started off, and after a few formalities he said, “The real world is a lot like a sports team. Through sports we learn how to lose, not blame others, be humble, and  never give up (I cannot stress enough importance on these few words). I hold a record at my school that has never been broken,” he says with a sure laugh. Of course we’re all curious to hear about what it is that his impressive feat is; what has he remained undefeated in—all strong leaders are great at something. I was poised on the edge of my seat, hanging on for the words that followed. “I hold the record for the most games played, 88, and least goals scored—zero.” We all enjoyed a hearty laugh, helping to break down the tension between the speaker and audience. What a great way to remind us that he is not awesome at everything he does. He made several other excellent points. Knowledge that can be applied to anyone, in any position of leadership, at any point in life; here they are:

  1. Sport is education. At first I thought I heard him wrong, then I realized that I had heard him right. He spoke about the way we can learn through sports about various character traits such as integrity, hard work, and leadership. These are not just values you use on the field, but values you carry with you throughout your life.
  2. Assistants make suggestions, coaches make decisions. In athletics there are coaches and assistant coaches. Assistant coaches typically specialize in area in order to give good advice to the coach, enabling him to make the best decisions; these are only suggestions. Ultimately a coach must make the decision and live with the consequences. In a way, we are our own coach. We alone must make the final decision and live up to the consequence. Surround yourself with mentors, people who inspire, and those you wish to learn from (assistants), but you alone must make your mind.
  3. Your values will outlast you. If all you care about is winning, or rather do not care at all about winning, the game is simple. You will cheat to win or you will be satisfied with the status quo. But when you desire to win and play with integrity and honesty, that is truly difficult.  “There is no disgrace in losing, only losing Disgracefully.” There is no shame in failing when life is lived  with passion and integrity. The truth is what you value will come out on the court, whatever you truly value will be shown by your actions.
  4. What will people say about you when you have passed away? What are the things that people will share at your funeral? How will you be remembered?
    -Think about that for a moment. Will they say how they were impressed with how much money you had, the trips you took, the material possessions you had? No. They will remember you for who you were.
  5. Work Hard. Support your teammates. Always, always, always work hard. No matter where you are at and what you are doing. Give everything you have and give it all to the people that you are with. We often forget about our teammates in life, yet, they remain there. Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, these people are your teammates in life. They help you accomplish your goals. Support them and do what you can to help them.
  6. Whenever things go well, give credit to everyone else. It feels good to get praise. Heck, I’ll be the first to admit I love getting some accolades even if all I did was a small part in the greater picture. We all love to be recognized for our accomplishments, and as a leader our job is so important that it doesn’t need to be recognized. If you’re a great leader, you will get more praise than you deserve, so share it with those around you who deserve it.
  7. Take the heat when things go bad. Your first reaction may be to jump back from a fire or some dangerous criticism, but what if you knew your subordinate was right there? You would jump in front and protect them. Just as you might protect someone from harm in a physical situation, it is also a leader’s responsibility to protect them when things go wrong in the work place. Because the truth is, if they made a mistake it is a mistake your decisions allowed.
  8. Listen and be true. Listen to your followers—players, teammates, coworkers—with an open heart. Give them your full attention. Look them in the eyes, sit there, and just listen. Care about what they have to say. And just when you think they’ve finished, wait 10 seconds; they just might have one more thing. Listening is crucial because you need to show your followers that you care. If you don’t care about them, they wont care about how they perform for you.
  9. Trust your instincts. We are all faced with decisions in which we feel we know what is right, but may not make the right choice. When I was thinking about signing up to come to Lead On I felt as though I knew I should go, but I didn’t want to spend the money. Thankfully I caved and signed up (and got a scholarship).
  10. Confront others in person, don’t talk behind their back. If you tell someone they are doing a good job, you should mean it. Don’t tell them they are doing a good job then speak with the other players, workers, or followers as if you had never said that. Your credibility will be diminished greatly. Not only will the person who finds out feel hurt and unable to trust you anymore, but the other group members will know you are dishonest as well.
  11. Stay focused. As a leader focus is the key the of opportunity. Without focus, it will not matter how hard working you are, how much you listen, how much credit you spread, etc.. You must have a vision that you come back to,  a constant reminder of your goals and the commitment you have made. No matter what happens, you come back to your vision and take steps to make it happen. Keep your focus.
  12. “The minute your people quit bringing their problems to you is the minute you stop being their leader.” When people take their problems somewhere else, they stop looking up to you (or don’t think you care). As a leader we need to encourage followers to bring their problems to us. This helps show that you care about them and your desire to be a part of their life.


I had never gone to a professional conference before. I was a bit nervous to go too, but it fired me up as a leader and was a great experience.
What are the great experiences that you need to take advantage of in your life that you might be a little hesitant to commit to?


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Platonic Relationships

(This post is co-written by Luke Dehart and myself)

Growing up I was not your typical boy. I didn’t like to spit, wasn’t interested in sports, nor did I adapt many of the habits other boys did at my age. Not to say I didn’t have male friends, I did, but in a group setting it just seemed so much easier to fit in with girls. I think there were a few reasons for this, the big one being emotionally availability. In small groups at church there is this feeling of expectation, a pressure to share. But when I was in groups of women because of the perceived gender difference it was expected that I be “the tough guy”, allowing me to safely remain emotionally closed off in attempts to protect myself.

They did not ask about how my life was, where my spiritual journey was, or if I was experiencing any difficulties—perhaps because they didn’t think I would respond— feelings are supposed to be discussed with other men, not women.

In church we tend to polarize guy-girl relationships. If we talk to a member of the opposite sex about feelings, we should only do so in pursuing a romantic relationship (with the goal of marriage). If we are hanging out with too many girls, we may be called flirtatious and told to get more guy friends.

Shouldn’t women be able to trust the men that are in their life to be supportive? I think we can do better at this — I can do better at this — Platonic relationships are tricky. Because men and women were created different, communicating effectively and making sure you are on the same page is no easy task.

If you’re interested in having platonic relationships, then there are some guidelines/rules that  you might find helpful. Maintain a safe emotional distance between the other person by deciding not to talk about breakups, romantic interests, or whatever it is that might stir up feelings and jeopardize  the [platonic] relationship.

When platonic relationships bloom, they can be a truly beautiful and beneficial thing, but, how do you know whether or not you should pursue a platonic relationship with some one? Below are some thoughts that may help guide your decision.

  1. Belief: Can men and women be friends? You first have to believe it is possible. It wont matter what I tell you, because what you believe, you will.
  2. Reason: Why do you want to be friends?  Are you are trying to fulfill an unmet desire for intimacy? I suggest you to fulfill that need elsewhere or else you might find yourself in a one-sided friendship. Forming a friendship with someone you work with is a logical reason.
  3. Circumstance: Do you have class, athletics, service, work, or some other point of contact? Your shared circumstances serve as a starting point for the relationship. If the relationship itself is the focus, chances are feelings will develop.
  4. Accountability: It’s important in all areas of our lives, however, having it is crucial that you are accountable if you plan on being in (or maintaining) a platonic relationship. Create environment that keeps you accountable to ensure success. Hang out in group settings, always stay in the public eye, and have those (same-sex) friends who call you out if they believe you act inappropriately, never hang out alone.
  5. History: Have you been friends? Were you romantically involved at one point in time? If so how has your friendship changed, developed, and matured?  Have you found yourself wishing for a romantic relationship with this person? It is difficult to form/maintain a platonic relationship with past romance. Time may heal wounds, but it does not wash memories away. Old feelings usually resurface in some form and will have to be dealt with.
  6. Honesty: At some point in time you will have friends of the opposite sex in which feelings start developing and you will have to decide to pursue a deeper relationship or not. If you do decide you would like to date the other person, talk to them about it that way you both are on the same page.. if not, but feelings persist, consider changing the dynamic or stepping back.
  7. Maturity: The biggest problem when it comes to opposite sex friendships (or relationships of any sort) is immaturity. Try to understand why the other person is behaving the way they are. What are they feeling? What has been going on in their life? Use those critical thinking skills that are so often lacking in society, because if you don’t, you probably will end up with a lot of frustration. 

    —If you have friendships that do not line up with the guidelines above, I would seriously recommend re-evaluating those relationships and why you are in them.

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Humility not humiliation.

What if we all strive to make everyone feel welcome in our lives? What if we truly dared to be open and transparent, how would that change us? How would the world see us? More importantly, how would that change the world? These are the questions I think about… but today, I want to focus on just one, what if we build others up with our words?

As a Christian, I know my actions will influence the way other people  see Christ. Because when we dare to call ourselves followers of Christ other people believe us, regardless of our actions. However, it is our actions that people use to discern who is trustworthy, honest, fun, genuine, hardworking, generous, and empathetic. Just because I am a Christian does not mean all these things magically come to me.As a human I have a sin nature, a natural love for that which is sinful and displeasing to God. It takes hard work to develop the right habits and change my attitude to keep moving forward—but it can be done. People can and do change—regardless if you see—the way they live their lives.

So why am I writing about this? I’m writing about this because our culture sees disrespect as a weapon to wield, to break down their opponents, using their shattered remains to build upon their foundation of confidence.

This a story answers that question:

Anna is five years old, running up the playground steps when she sees other kids playing a game of tag, she gets excited at the thought of being able to play with them and make friends (because when you’re 5 everyone you meet can be your friend)! She asks the boy who was it, lets call him Ron, if she can join. “You can join, but you have to be it first.” Anna quickly accepted the offer to play, as she was full of excitement and a new challenge. But her excitement soon turned into apprehension as Anna quickly realized that she was the only girl playing in this game of tag, and the other boys were a grade older and much quicker than she anticipated. They soon began to ridicule her calling her slowpoke, telling her she should just quit, and even suggesting that boys are better than girls. After a few minutes of not being able to catch anyone, Anna ran over to her mother crying and looking for comfort.

Today is the first day of high school for Ron. He’s been looking forward to this ever since he was in the 6th grade and after his reign on the playground as the most athletic 8th grader he was excited to move on. Although, part of his reign as the most athletic had to do with constantly belittling his peers and using coercive tactics, he thought nothing of it. But after a couple weeks of high school, Ron was sorely disappointed with the way things went. He was no longer the big man and his monopoly on athleticism had dissolved. There were a lot of other kids who were faster, stronger, and even smarter than Ron was; soon he found himself on the other end of the spectrum. In gym class he was bullied and pushed around, told he was stupid, slow, and worthless (much of the same things he spread in his middle school years). As a result he became bitter and hated school. He hated the prospect of learning, it was pointless wasn’t it? He didn’t want anything the hierarchy which he used to be on top of. He thought of suicide at times, struggling to cope with the bullying and the anxiety that it caused.

People told him college would be different, so he held out in hopes that it would be. It was, a bit. The difference was that some people had grown mature and made decisions to become successful. Not as many people were tearing each other apart trying to build themselves up. He met some particular people, in fact, who seemed to do quite the opposite. They were building people up. Ron will call this group of people his friends. After hanging around them so often, Ron found his anxiety disappear as he no longer feared being bullied or rendered socially inadequate. He became confident and open to new things and ideas. After about a year he asked one of the men, Jim, why they were all so different.

“Well” Jim said, “in short the reason I am different is because of someone I met many years ago. This man challenged me to look at my life and what I was living for. He asked me if I was satisfied with what I was doing—I wasn’t. He told me that someone had something better for me. He said that Jesus had something. An accepting love that would wash away all of my past failures.” Jim paused for a moment, looking down then over at Ron shaking his head as if he did not believe the words he was about to say, yet he was grinning ear to hear. “I didn’t believe him at first, so he invited me to his church; I went. After thinking about the message that was shared that Sunday morning—living a purpose filled life—I realized I didn’t have a reason to live.” He paused again as to reinforce the importance of the words he was saying. “Later that afternoon, I called the man who had invited me to church and asked him how to become saved and we prayed together right then and there on the phone.”

Jim looked up towards the sky, it was a bright sunny autumn day. The leaves were changing and a cool Michigan breeze rolled off the water. “That moment my life was changed.” With a brief look of confusion and interest Ron asked, “What do you mean your life was changed?”.
“Up until that moment my life was all about me. I did whatever it took to build myself up, it didn’t matter if I had to break other people down and humiliate them—it was all about me.” He looked down a little; you could hear the regret in his voice. “Because I found God and his love I was changed. I saw that when we were struggling in life we were called to build each other up, encourage one another, and help lift each others burdens. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.”  -Ron accepted Christ as his savior that day.


What do you think? “Pfft… It’s just a story, life isn’t like that.” You’re right, this is just a story, the truth is, anything can happen. God can choose to work through us in many ways, ways beyond our wildest dreams! The question is are you living in a way that God would choose to use you? Either your life does look like this or it doesn’t. Either you routinely build others up with your words or you tear them down. Build others up. I can’t count the number of times I see people put down others in order to build themselves up and create some sense of security. It is sickening. What’s worse? How often this happens among Christians. People who claim to follow a loving God, yet are still breaking other people apart to build themselves up.

Do you build others up or do you tear them down? Are you known for your encouraging words, or do people laugh and expect your criticism? Do you dare to call yourself a Christ follower? Live like it and you might be surprised at just how much God does through you.

How could living differently change the world? What if every Christian lived to build others up and share Christ’s love?