The #1 Principle of Team Leadership I Learned from Screen Printed T-Shirts

The more I read and learn about leadership the more I realize we are all leaders and we learn the most complex leadership theories anecdotally and even subconsciously. Then there are those of us, like myself, who pay thousands of dollars to learn how to categorize what we all know from experience in hopes to help in difficult leadership situations.

One of these subconscious, experiential lessons hit me a couple of days ago. I had just finished reading one of the best management and team leadership books on the market, Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis, and many of his conclusions are things I had already known and experienced, only he was able to find a trend among many teams and articulate these lessons more clearly than I could in my head. Bennis points out that “Great Groups” have a distinct culture and need to express this culture in some way.

I attended a small college in Iowa for my undergraduate degree, and this undergrad experience in Iowa taught me the most important team leadership principle that Bennis wrote about: a team creates it’s own culture and the subsequent artifacts. In Iowa (and probably other places, but especially NW Iowa) these artifacts are screen printed Hanes T-shirts.

A team creates it’s own culture and the subsequent artifacts, like screen printed t-shirts.

Every group on campus had a t-shirt; in fact I’m not really sure who didn’t have a group t-shirt. I still have hideously designed t-shirts that I’m so connected to that I can’t give away–and it’s been 5 years since I’ve walked across the graduation platform! The form, the artifact, t-shirts in this case, isn’t important; it’s the function the t-shirts represent that’s important. These t-shirts functioned to show to all nonmembers which “Great Group” I am. The t-shirt declared how I impact campus. Whenever I now don the coveted “Coly” beanie, I am instantly reminded of the Great Group of RA’s in my residence hall Colenbrander in 2008–2009.

We didn’t first have the hats and then create the tight-knit culture. We had to prank the campus together. We had to compet with–and against–each other. We had to pray with each other. We had to cry together. We had to lead other men in our dorm together. We had to create our own nicknames, roles, jokes, and vocabulary. Then could the “Coly” beanie become the symbol that united us outside of our dorm; and now unites us thousands of miles apart.

Artifacts, like Hanes t-shirts, are the mark of a Great Group and those artifacts serve to celebrate the distinct culture that no one else will ever understand, but will never be able to remember not existing. I may be out of touch with society, but I’m alarmed at the lack of team culture that should create these artifacts. From my perspective, we all try to go solo in our groups and miss out on all the benefits of creating a Great Group, like screen printed t-shirts.

What are the artifacts of your Great Groups?


What the $#!+…Christians and Swearing

A number of days ago a friend and I parted ways. It was rather abrupt but I’m not all that disheartened, some friends are just friends for a season. What gets to me though was the nature of the parting. This individual swore in a comment on my facebook status. No big deal, I removed the comment and asked this party to keep it clean on my page. The response sent my mind reeling and my heart searching for a reasonable position on believers and swearing:

Do you think those fishermen in Jesus’ day sanitized the way they spoke?

I don’t know, did they? Does it even matter?  First, swearing isn’t a primary theological issue, obviously. (If it’s not obvious to you that this isn’t a primary issue, go read your Bible now. Seriously.) This isn’t even a secondary or tertiary issue or fourth-order issue. It’s like a hundredth-order issue. There are some great reads for you here and at The Gospel Coalition if you would like to learn more about open handed/close handed issues (read and watch these for swearing). Second, this isn’t my first battle on the topic either, it’s my third; I find myself stuck in this pendulum that swings between sides on this issue. The first was when I worked at a warehouse in Cherokee, IA as a 17 year-old fresh out of my homeschool bubble. The second was over the course of my two year stint working seasonally at Hard Rock Casino/Live during my junior and senior year of college. Now I’m two years out of college and it comes up again, weird.

In my circle of friends there are a few that occasionally swear. There are also some who swear regularly. Right now it seems to be trendy for my generation of believers (oftentimes second generation believers) to be sold out for God and still be “allowed” to swear. This leads to some questions: How should Christians approach and respond to swearing? What should our stance be? Freedom in grace? Abstain from the appearance of evil? Wholesome talk? Encouraging? Permissible but not beneficial? I firmly believe we should evaluate our stance on swearing and not allow culture to define what is permissible to speak but rather be intentional and in control of what is spoken.

I’m going to share with you my working theology and intermingle some Scriptures that I’ve mulled over regarding this swearing issue. This question is more of a matter of fruit produced and the intent of the heart than a “what can I do as a Christian?” issue (Ephesians 4:29, Luke 6:45).

Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

When considering the place of swearing in my life I like to take a step back and consider the situation and audience objectively. Will this bring them encouragement? Will they feel refreshed, renewed, or preserved by what I am speaking (Colossians 4:5-6)? Will this word(s) show them love or will they be jarred, left to wonder what was going on in my mind (John 13:35)?

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt… Colossians 4:5-6

By this they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

Most often I cannot see a beneficial response to swearing. I actually feel like I’m giving in to peer pressure. But I believe there’s something deeper to consider and that’s what Jesus brings to our attention in Luke 6:45: out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (paraphrase). If what I am saying is swear words, what am I thinking? What evil is pervading my heart if the sludge that becomes visible is repulsive? I understand the tongue is restless and is impossible to tame (James 3:8), but not trying to tame it seems like a sin of omission to me.

Could I swear? Sure; but like Paul I would argue that not all things build up. Am I loving those around me by swearing? Am I representing Christ well (to my utmost?) when I swear? Is it for the glory of God? Would Christ swear?

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1: 23

Bottom line, I don’t swear. I think it’s ugly, gross, and wasted verbiage. Is that a biblical mandate? Not an important point. Although it is permissible for me to swear (for what are words other than meanings we assign to consonants and vowels?), for the sake of those I am trying to reach and for some weaker brothers and sisters in the faith (to whom swearing might be a stumbling block), by the power of the Holy Spirit I strive to refrain from swearing. Furthermore, I try to be intentional with every word I speak and not allow myself to be swayed by culture–even and especially Christian culture.

Do I still interact with believers (and unbelievers) that swear? Absolutely. Why? Because this ISN’T a deal breaker. My love for them and my passion for making much of (glorifying) Christ in my life outweighs this hundredth-order issue. People matter, not my opinions. Duh.

What are your thoughts on swearing? Please share, I am eager to learn other views.

Knights of the Round Tables.

At Panama City Beach

Taylor & Andy (one set of roommates), then me and Curtis (another set of roommates)

I have been reflecting quite a bit lately-mostly due to my desire to see how God has worked in my life in the past, and how he might work in me in the future. Strategic planning for my life (and marriage).  Anyway, one of the areas that is most prevalent in my thoughts is my spiritual journey. I recently watched my Spring Break DVD from 2007 with my three friends and me; this spring break trip was the culmination of our first year of intentional community together.  We were two sets of roommates from two different dorms, participated in the same sport, and had one goal: to be accountable in all areas of life in this intentional, intimate community.  We called ourselves the Knights of the Round Tables.

Psalm 133 reads, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”

Basically, living in community and unity, with brothers is a very good thing. What we, Andy, Curtis, Taylor and myself, did as knights was greatly beneficial for each of us individually, but also corporately.  Let me start by explaining our name.  At our college (Northwestern Orange City, IA) everyone eats in the cafeteria, which is oddly broken into two rooms.  The main room is full of regular rectangular tables, and you would sit in your “group” (West, Heemstra, Colenbrander, Football, Goofball, and if nothing else, where ever there was room).  The second room was full of round tables, for banquets.  But one would go to this room for a few reasons: 1) do devotions (to show you’re more spiritual, of course), 2) to eat with your significant other (and maybe even to do devotions…), 3) to have a purposeful conversation/meeting.  In case you’re wondering, we went back there to eat and talk.  We all ran cross country, and gravitated towards each other, and started eating a meal together, back at the round tables, initially to talk.

As time went on, we naturally began discussing theology, girls (somewhat), Scripture, and we ended with prayer requests and prayer. That was the first time I ever prayed in community consistently.  It was awkward at first, unnatural, and I was terrible. But it grew me, it challenged me. It provided a place where I could share what I was struggling with, thinking about, and what some highlights had been.  It was unique, I had never experienced that before–and I am indebted to each of those men for their willingness to sharpen and put up with me.

At the beginning of the spring semester we decided it would be nothing shy of awesome to go on Spring Break 07 together. So we did. We drove 22 hours to Atlanta to paint Andy’s uncle’s fence. We drove some more to be with Curtis’ family, and then went to Panama City Beach, FL with them.  Finally we drove back to snow-filled Iowa. The trip was not only fun, but a unique experience for each of us. I wish I could say we are all as close now as we were on that trip, but we’re not, and that’s okay.  Three of us are married to our college sweethearts, two are in seminary, and we each live in different states. It’s not sad, just different.

Where my present musing ties in, is thinking about how beneficial those conversations and life experiences were, and how great it was to walk alongside three other like-minded brethren in a similar life experience. And then I realized if it was important to me then and now, why don’t I have a similar community that I am walking with? Sure I am married now, and it might look different–but should it look different?  Should it still be important? Should I strive to be intentional in community?

My answer is yes, of course-why would that change? But what does it look like now is the conversation my wife and I have had for the past year of our marriage.  And we’re not sure. But I regret not thinking about it as seriously as I am now, sooner. I’ve wasted time that could have been spent investing, being invested in, and walking together through life intentionally as I did with these Knights’s I’ve briefly mentioned.

Enough of me–what does your current community look like? Your friends, your network, your roommate? Are you intentional? Are you asking the hard questions no one likes, but that propel us to Christ? Are you learning more about who you are, how you are, and how Christ is making himself perfect in your weakness? I would love to hear your thoughts.  By the bye, I am not done with this topic, as I have my three-strands-of-cord brothers to talk about! But that’s more about lifelong intentional brotherhood.