Go Ugly Early

Go ugly early.  ~Doug West

Let me tell you about Doug West.  I first met Doug when I was…about a year old.  He was the youth pastor of Gold Beach First Baptist Church.  My parents moved to Gold Beach so my dad could work with his father in the family business of Knottingham Appliance Service and Repair (or some name similar, I was only a year old after all).  Through some connection my parents rented the parsonage right above the church and we were part of that congregation until we moved 3 years later.

Then we connected with Doug again when he was the Director of Camp Tadmore, somehow my father was in touch and would help out repairing fridges and things for Doug as service (if I got this wrong I’m sure my parents will correct this statement, so it may change).  But I didn’t know Doug well, though I’m told we would hang out with his family from time to time.

When I ended up attending college at Western Baptist College in Salem, Oregon I was surprised to be stopped in the hall by a teacher.  Turns out it was the same Doug West, he brought me up to speed on our past and sent along greetings to my parents.  Small worlds get smaller sometimes.

Doug was an interesting fellow.  His life was spent in service to believers all around the world.  He had a heart for missions, but more than being in the field his dedication was in training and mentoring mission minded Christ Followers.  That work got him to Western Baptist (now Corban University) and into a job where he organized and taught students about youth camp counseling and then sent us on the road for the summer as Western Baptist Camp Teams.  Being on a Camp Team was awesome.  For 8 weeks you and 3 other team mates drove a rented mini-van all over the place going to camps and serving in any capacity needed and you were rewarded with: 1. 8 weeks of hard work and rewarding fun and 2: A tax free scholarship for school the next year.  Better money than you could earn in that time working at home and almost all the expenses were covered, it was a win-win.

You also had to take a leadership class the Spring Semester where you would all focus on leadership and youth counseling while working on a lesson or two that you could teach and then spend time with your assigned teams.  Doug was pretty amazing at team building; he would take most of the semester getting to know us and then, unbeknownst to the new kids, put us in teams according to our strengths and weaknesses.  Made for some awesome memories and team building throughout the summer.

Now on to those three little words.  Doug had some great quick hitting sayings.  One of them that I cherish is “Go ugly early.”  Think about it in the context of leadership.  Going ugly is not a nice and pretty inspirational statement that makes you want to work harder or lead better.  But that statement has saved me from some pretty embarrassing consequences, though it didn’t save me from some immediate shame or remorse, but in sticking to that code of leadership I was able to lead through failure. (Side Note: I know this isn’t Doug’s original saying, I know that it sometimes has other meanings, but to me the importance pertains to leadership).

To “Go ugly early” is to own your error, or the errors of your team, before anyone else can catch you or use them against you.  It means not hiding, or trying to explain it away with excuses, but instead it is to bring it to light and own the issue fully.  In Simon Sinek’s most recent book, “Leaders Eat Last,” he gives an example akin to this philosophy about 2 marines in officer school.  Both marines fell asleep during a watch session but one would not admit to his error until he was given irrefutable proof while the other admitted error immediately and owned his actions.  Both marines faced punishment, but the first marine was facing being kicked out of officer school while the other pulled extra duty and received the trust of his classmates and instructors.  One tried to avoid punishment and hide and one went Ugly Early…who would you trust more?

And that is the key to Going Ugly Early.  None of us are without fault or error.  We will all screw up sometime and to different degrees.  And with increased responsibility in leadership over organizations and teams the errors can be very ugly and costly indeed.  But to own the issue for the team, or for self, that is a testing point of leadership.  Readily admitting failure and working toward correcting that failure will show in action, to all who are watching (and people are ALWAYS watching), that you are a leader who is above reproach.

Doug passed away all too early in his life.  Frankly some of my best teachers in this world have passed away too early in life.  But they did not go before God used them in very lasting ways in my training.  Doug died while on a mission trip in London, supporting and encouraging missionaries in the field there.   He gave other tidbits of wisdom which I’m sure I will share later on, but for now please take this as your own: Next time you screw up, or something happens that you think would be embarrassing if it got out, just Go Ugly Early.  Own it, fix it, and lead through it.  It won’t be easy, but it will conclude faster and earn you respect especially when compared to the opposite actions that just bring delayed justice, guilt, and degradation of trust.


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On Leaving Well

The transition I find myself in, having given notice to one community and gearing up to move into a new community, has been harder than I’ve ever experienced.  It’s not really the physical move that is challenging, but instead it is the desire to leave well and understanding what that means.  There are a few books I’ve found about leaving, but they are usually around coping with the loss of a relationship, or leaving a relationship, or stopping a habit.

In some way I guess those all apply, but I didn’t find a book talking about leaving a job, one that you love, and doing it well. Oregon makes it easy with the no-fault no-notice type of state we are.  But that’s not leaving well to me, that’s just leaving.  Instead I think leaving well is similar to the time it takes to cure concrete which can look dry very quickly but if pressured will potentially give way, or be scarred, by the impending force.

I think leaving well requires time for everyone to transition and feel part of the process.

I think leaving well requires time for everyone to transition and feel part of the process.  It takes time for concrete to truly cure and it takes time for people to become acclimated with pending change.  When I gave 90 days notice I was told that was a bit excessive by a couple people.  “Pull the bandaid off quickly and let people get over it.”  Why didn’t I do that?  Because we’ve poured a lot of concrete over the last 3 years and I don’t want to see it get marred before its set.

I’ve been in the situation where a boss or leader abruptly left.  Either the day before they were there and then gone, or when they gave notice and were still gone in 10 short days (2 weeks is standard and acceptable right?).  Usually there is a grave feeling of, “Whoa this is going to suck…how does this affect me?  How will I be okay through this?  What will this mean to my job?”  Instead when faced with the decision to leave I chose to follow Mike McLaran’s advice: “Always leave a place better than you found it.”  Okay, I know that isn’t solely Mike’s saying, but it is applicable and sticks in my head because he always said it to me.

Like I said, we’ve done a lot of work over the last three years.  If I just up and left quickly I fear the implication that would have on the Chamber (staff and members), the questions that would raise in the community,  and my own personal reputation.  I’ve told many business people and leaders in McMinnville that the Chamber is a strong entity and I meant every word.  I’ve told the members that the Chamber is not the staff or board, but the members…all 465 of them.  And I believe, in the eyes of the general community, the chamber has regained a place of relevance and leadership for the future of this area.

As I go through this process I realize I’m learning another lesson that was seeded by Mike.  On the fateful morning when he passed away suddenly I, along with many others, thought “Oh no, what are we going to do!  Mike can’t be gone…too soon…we weren’t ready…we didn’t see this coming.”  But the reality is that Mike had been leaving well for quite awhile.  He had been meeting and mentoring many, he had been replacing the work he was doing with others who were then supported by him.  The difference in his last departure was the absoluteness of it all…we can’t call, we can’t text, we can’t meet for coffee to be encouraged.

One image of leadership, in my mind, is not one person in front of the group pulling them forward; leadership is from the front-middle encouraging, coaching, calling out hazards ahead, running with the group and if they start to lag it is slowing down and encouraging them to go farther.  So when I imagine leaving well in my mind it is in a group of people moving down the beach.

My mental image of organizational leadership (just the first part on the beach). From Chariots of Fire, 1981 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082158/)

People have told me that I have big shoes to fill, but when I look back I see not one set of foot prints in the sand but a lot of feet that we’ve gathered to all go in the same direction under the same mission and vision.  This group, the Chamber, will not deviate as I leave because another leader(s) will rise up in the group and continue the work of moving them forward and encouraging them on.

Speaking of multiplying leadership, you should read this book!
Speaking of multiplying leadership, you should read this book!

Leaving well just means that I’m moving from front-middle to the rear and soon I will veer my course from the group to join another group.  And what I learned from Mike was that when a leader leaves well they are not merely replaced by one leader, but they multiply and many leaders are spurred on to step up to set the pace and direction.  His passion and training did not go unheeded and instead created a wave of new leaders who, at his departure, are spreading out throughout communities all over to lead like Mike exemplified. A true leader trains and works for the day they are to be replaced and their replacement should never be one person, but a group of people who are all inspired to be leaders.  These leaders will grow the group running down the beach, each encouraging one another and spreading the passion and vision in action.

My greatest desire is that the McMinnville Chamber does not lose speed or course or vision, but instead new leaders in the organization will step up and continue the good work that was started.  The question is who will it be?  I have some ideas, but I’m not saying any names.



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A Rumor Once Spread…

My favorite little farm on Zenith Road had another great saying posted last week.

A rumor is as hard to un-spread as butter.

A quick search online came up with a bunch of “anonymous” listings of this statement//quote.  I don’t know who originally stated it, but if you know please let me know.

I thought I would test the saying.  Cold butter spread on cold bread, went on smooth, but wouldn’t come all the way off the bread no matter how hard I tried.  I ended up eating a piece of bread that resembled a large slice of swiss cheese.

We can all think of how this saying is reflected in our words spread around at work, with friends, or people we know.  But if we look deeper, in our social media age, the term “rumor” could be replaced with a status update.  In this time of political and social turmoil the Status Update has become the most influential and widely spread “rumor mill” in our society.  A status update is as hard to un-post as butter.  Totally makes sense now.

The question I find myself puzzling over: For what reason do we find it important to post our inner most thoughts on a public site that was originally designed to help us share life and stay in touch?

Might I propose that the thing we desire most, that we thought social media might solve for us but hasn’t, is that we just want to know we are being heard (maybe the same can be said for blogging, I don’t deny this).  But instead of making sure we have time to sit and talk with one another face to face we post our feelings in the most unemotional way possible…which ironically usually causes the most emotive responses in disagreement or agreement, often vehemently.

I reflect back to an earlier post in which I call out the unintended consequences of social media.  But even those whom I consider insightful friends, with whom I can have fantastic conversations and even dive into potentially divisive topics, these people can be drug into this status update rumor mill of the 21st century.

Beware that what you post on social media is as potentially igniting as a rumor or misspoken fact.  It can quickly spread and will remain forever, even when you think it is deleted, it will be there…somewhere.

A social media post is as hard to un-post as butter is to un-spread.  Post wisely my friends.


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