That’s Interesting (and Important)

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We’re all going somewhere. We don’t always think about where we’re heading or what our final destination is, but we’re all heading somewhere.

In a conversation with a friend, we started talking about how the world works.  We looked around and saw lots of interesting, fun things that ended nowhere good. That’s part of the enemies plan: to entertain us out of and away from anything of lasting value. The Bible says lasting fruit comes from connection with Him. At the same time, we know that people who desperately need Jesus (all of us 🙂 aren’t aware of it. We’re constantly looking for other things and misplacing our ultimate desire for God as a desire for _______ (you can fill in the blank).

So, we devised a plan, to help people go from “interesting” to “important.” We were doing this in Chinese, so I want to give a shout out to the fun Chinese phrase we came up with: 從有趣到有意義. We decided that many times people aren’t really interested in what’s important. They settle for what’s entertaining, or what’s urgent, or what’s on their Facebook feed. We too easily settle. But what if there were things that were meaningful but started with something interesting. I see examples of this in things like Aroma’s weekly event, Coffee Talk, where students “interested” in learning English begin to discuss meaningful topics. The challenge, however, is in doing both sides with excellence. Some people want to focus all their energy on the meaningful side and end up with something that’s not interesting at all. Others like fun, but have nothing meaningful on which to focus.

I dream of a day when people with meaningful work to be done can see an increasing number of people investing in their work creating pathways from “interesting” to “important” for society. I believe it will take a number of things:

  • We need understand the meaning of important. It’s not always the most urgent. It’s not always what’s in front of us.
  • We need to stop shooting charities in the foot. Read Uncharitable or watch the author’s TedTalk for more on this matter.
  • We need to free ourselves to think creatively about how to approach the important issues.
  • We need funding models that allow interesting and important to co-exist.

Here’s to interesting and important together towards a better future!


Leadership Development: 7 Must-Have Relationships

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Learning and growth is a lifelong experience. God’s training in our lives is useful for more than we know. Our word “discipleship” comes from the word “discipline.” God disciplines his children for their benefit so that they’ll grow into all He has prepared them to be (Hebrews 12:8). Discipline isn’t punishment, it’s growth. In my context (Aroma Coffee and Church), we want to walk with each other through a process of training and preparation for the greatness God has planned for each person. Although no process is perfect, we seek to strategize a method for preparing leaders through three stages of discipleship. Each stage has different trainings, opportunities for service, and overall outcomes.

Leaders in Training will follow a process similar to this. We know life is complicated and busy. We’re not trying to inundate our people with a long list of things to do. In fact, we believe much of this should happen in the context of relationships and life connection. Thus, we’re outlining a list of 7 major relational steps. Leadership development is done in the crucible of relationships, not by accomplishing a list of tasks or attending a number of classes. In the context of these relationships, we learn about life and leadership. We are formed into the character of Christ and learn to walk in the capacity of our gifts. We clearly define vision for your life and see how that fits into our ministry contexts. These seven relational steps were outlined for ongoing discussions in our coffee shop and church.

As you read through this, imagine yourself in your own context. Then, ask yourself where you’re at and what it would take for you to pursue the next step in relational leadership development. 

  1. Crowds are people who are attracted to something but might not even know why. To these people we say, “See you Sunday.” Our hope is that if you’re aspiring in leadership you would regularly make it to church on Sunday. Don’t forsake the fellowship of believers (Hebrews 10:25). Here you’ll learn about your identity in Christ and be challenged to receive from Truth in Scripture, sing songs to Jesus, and pray for each other.
  2. Friends are people who are interested in a little deeper connection. They are willing to go deeper with God and people through Small Groups. The early church cherished these small meetings as some of the most transformative times of life (Acts 2:42-47). Some people became believers in this context. Others grew deeply in their personal life and longing for loving each other. We also encourage you to go through a new believer’s class, get some basic discipleship understanding and form a habit of reading the Bible and praying everyday.
  3. Committed people are willing to Serve in an area. Some forms of service are wildly life giving. We will get to those soon. But first, we want to encourage you to serve somewhere in Aroma. Choose a simple place. Remain committed there for a season. Show God and those around you your willingness to stay committed to him even without accolades or fun mountain-top experiences (Matthew 10:42). Oftentimes, this is where people begin to sense a life calling. When we respond to what God is doing by humble service, He shows up in amazing ways. Committed people serve together.
  4. Followers go through a season of Learning and Growth. We realize that we have committed to something way beyond our own capacity. It stirs in us a hunger for more. This is where your character formation continues in Spirit and in Truth. We want you to understand more about spiritual gifts, walking by the Spirit, and living in the fullness of God. In this time, you read through the entire Bible, read other books, go to trainings, and spend time discussing leadership together, including how to make strategies and handle difficult situations and people. It’s at this time, if you haven’t already, that you need to grab some kind of a mentor figure and hold on to them tightly. Have at least one person in your life of whom you can ask questions and who will support and challenge you on your journey.
  5. Family is a strong word. We’re reserving it for a group of people who have made a deeper commitment to the Lord and each other. These people have covenanted together. Even Jesus had a process of walking with people from being merely friends to becoming followers and eventually family. In this season, we encourage you to make a commitment to a track of intimacy in relationship and ministry preparation. This includes things like joining a Huddle, committing to being a Core Member in small group or going through a year-long training called Support Team. During this time, you form more mentorship relationships and begin to fill something called the Table of Support, an outline for how to maintain healthy mentoring relationships. You open yourself to challenge from others. You show their ultimate willingness to submit and surrender to God by submitting to the leadership that God has put in place at Aroma.
  6. Core describes a group of people who go through another season of extended Learning and Growth. Like the disciples Peter, James and John, core people are taken to greater depths in their walk with God for a purpose, similar to the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). They had special experiences with Jesus and as such they were given more difficult responsibilities. Jesus always takes us through seasons of invitation and challenge. His ultimate goal is that we would be shaped into His image, to represent Him to the world so that Heaven can come to Earth and all people on Earth can go to Heaven. During this season you grow in your capacity for ministry in a particular area through things like training certifications and deep coaching relationships. You develop a high capacity for leadership and see yourself as long-term leader in The Aroma and beyond.
  7. Faithful Creators are people who pursue a legacy. They live for something beyond themselves. They long to see their [spiritual] children’s children flourish. They live out a full Table of Support, initiating and sustaining relationships that fill their life with meaning and purpose. By this time, you are learning to pass on your character and capacity to those around you, raising up others (Ephesians 4:12) to do the greater works Jesus promised (John 14:12). As you humbly walk before God, you are given increasing authority for the purpose of raising others up and serving the people.

Where do you fit in right now? Are you simply showing up as a member of the crowd? Or have you shown an intense interest in covenanting together with your people even to the point of producing legacy beyond yourselves?

That’s a S***** Move


Sometimes, as leaders, we have to make decisions that people disagree with. Sometimes, we’ll be pegged as out of line or even mean. Your job isn’t to make everyone like you. It’s to be a steward of the gift God’s given you. In leadership, that often means we’ll be called the “S Word.”

Before you click “dislike” or unsubscribe, please understand me. The S Word I’m referring to is “shrewd.” It’s no fun to be shrewd, because it means that you’ll have to deal with difficult situations, say things people don’t like to hear, and ultimately be held responsible when tough times come.

But, it means you have a backbone. It means you’re willing to make tough decisions and have difficult conversations. It means you’ll stay in it long enough to see the process through. It means you don’t abandon people or projects. It means you work hard (and smart) to find the best way to get the job done. It means you walk in excellence.

The shrewd manager mentioned in Luke 16 was commended because he knew how to deal with difficult situations in a way that benefited him. He was wise enough to know the outcome of a situation and a way to make it positive in the end.

You can be like the shrewd manager. In fact, Jesus challenges us to make tough decisions and be generous just as the shrewd manager was. Don’t settle for less than excellence just because it’s easy. Being shrewd isn’t easy. When you settle for less in the beginning, the end will come back to bite you in your rear end. Here are three ways we can learn from the shrewd manager and begin to walk in a shrewd (spelt e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-c-e) manner:

  1. Pray. The shrewd manager didn’t do this; but it’s our secret sauce. When we begin with prayer, we’re tapping into Excellence Himself. We’re allowing God to speak to us. This realigns us with His vision, reminds us of our identity in Him, and resets us on the path of excellence.
  2. Make tough decisions sooner rather than later. The shrewd manager sat down immediately and figured out how to position himself with his boss’s debtors. He didn’t wait, and you shouldn’t either. I love to procrastinate. All that does is make it more difficult when I finally get around to making that tough decision. I’m committing myself to making the tough decisions earlier in the game. It makes it easier for me and for others.
  3. Hang in there. The shrewd manager knew that if he was to stay alive for the long haul, he needed to prepare. He did that and the outcome was his boss’ commendation and preparation for the next step. Brian Johnson says, “Cool is cool as long as cool is cool; but excellence lasts a lifetime.” Don’t quit when it gets hard. If you’re prepared well, you’ll be able to keep going.

I want to be known for making “S***** Moves.” I hope you’ll join me.

Face the Facts; Keep the Faith

A long time ago, I read a book in which the author penned, “Great leaders can face the facts and keep hopeful expectation for the future” (Collins in Good to Great).  I’ve been challenged to do that even more recently. The fact is, there’s a lot that I can improve on as a leader and manager. I recently got some fantastic feedback based off a book called 42 Rules For Your New Leadership Role.

I asked a key leader in each area of Aroma along with two people I knew would give honest feedback beyond their role to give ratings to each of the 42 rules. It was tough feedback, but filled with clear, actionable data to move forward on. Here are four things I suck at and a brief preview of how I plan to improve them in the next quarter:

  1. Set your milestones. It’s hard to reach a goal if you’re not sure what the goal is. I often fail to be specific in setting goals. Another book offers a great way  to outline clear goals: “From X to Y by Date.” If I can be clearer with a goal that is a “WIN” (What’s important now), people are going to know more clearly how to focus their work. This is highly related to Boundaries for Leaders. What’s important right now? If I don’t clearly say what’s most important, I have no right to be frustrated when people aren’t making forward progress on that a particular issue. It’s time for focus and clarity.
  2. Tune up your team and Launch 1:1’s that actually drive performance (2 combined). I work with many amazing people. I’m excited to see them continue to grow. I put these two together, because they’re intimately connected. As one leader recently challenged me, “You have to be spending more time with your key people.” I often turn those times into sessions that are longer than they need to be. Again, being clear about expectations at the onset allows people to focus on what’s most important. Spending tim with each person on the team is highly valuable. It’s good for their health, mine, and their future growth both personally and for the organization.
  3. Run unmissable meetings. Sometimes, I don’t even want to go to the meetings I call. That has to change. Meetings need to be compelling because they have unmissable information, healthy debate, decisiveness, and a small dose of engaging humor.
  4. Model healthy paranoia. As a big-picture, idea guy, I sometimes get annoyed when people ask things like “How’s that actually going to happen.” Fortunately, these people haven’t given up just because I’ve been rebellious. I’m learning, through more than one source, that healthy paranoia is more than useful!

I actually got a rating a little higher than an F. The good news is I passed. The great news is I still have tons of room for growth. I’m looking forward to this next season.

I encourage you as a leader or manager to ferret out feedback (one of the 42 rules) from people that you work with. It’s one of the toughest, but most fruitful, ways to learn and grow personally and professionally. If you’d like to know more about the book, the test I created, or how you can grow as a leader and manager, please drop me a line. Here’s to your success!

One Breakthrough You Can Have Today

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Our brains are much more powerful than we even know. Perhaps, Lucy wasn’t that far off. A blended thought I had recently came as a result of reading Boundaries for Leaders. In it, Henry Cloud outlines how chemicals in our brains interact based on how much hope we have.

Many of us struggle when something negative comes. We begin believing it’s personal (our fault), pervasive (we do it all the time), permanent (there’s nothing we can do about it). The truth is, many of these are untrue. But we end up hurting ourselves. Our brains actually release a fight or flight chemical that causes our brains to shut down. We get less creative and produce less results. Being aware of these negative thoughts, and taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) can help immensely.

Conversely, when we live in hope and optimism, our brains release chemicals that actually increase “executive functions” including creativity, goal selection, planning and organization, initiation and persistence, flexibility, execution and goal attainment, and self-regulation. As a believer, you are invited to be the most hopeful person on the planet (1 Corinthians 15).  I welcome you to allow Christ’s hope to come into you. It’s not wishful thinking.  It’s true hope rooted in the resurrection and reassured that God is going to do something, and He’s going to do it through you.

It’s science.

The Power of Positive Thinking is a short book (available in free online audio) that continues some of these thoughts while giving some really specific ways of walking this out in everyday life.

3 Ways To Enrich

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I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing new interns and coffee shop workers recently.  In the tons of phone conversations, email exchanges, and face-to-face interviews, there are a few themes developing.  I promise you’ve heard this before.  It’s just a good review.

  1. Attitude: The number one most important thing I need as an employer or team leader is for you to come to play with a  great attitude.  Days are tough.  They’re tough for all of us.  But when they tough days come, we can choose to get bitter or choose to get better.  I’ll go with the latter.  Moreover, instead of spending all your time being the one who worries about whether not the other person is accepting you, just be the one who reaches out with a  stellar attitude. You be the one who goes the extra mile.  I’ll be more than grateful to train you, empower, and pay lots of bonuses! But it’s tough to train, empower and bonus you into having a stellar attitude.  I need you to come to play with it!
  2. Communication: Please talk to me.  Please talk to customers.  Please talk to others.  If you can’t talk, I don’t know if we can work together.  The toughest thing for me is when you won’t tell me what’s wrong. I don’t mind listening to problems, because I’d rather try to fix them (see #1).  I also know that a lot of hassle can be saved when we just agree to communicate with each other.  In fact, I’m willing to argue that 1) you can’t communicate enough, and 2) communication is excellent for the bottom line.  Just the other day, we had a bunch of orders made wrong in the shop because we weren’t willing to communicate with each other and double-confirm orders.
  3. Proactive Thinking: If I want a robot, I’ll buy one.  I’m not paying you to be a robot.  I’m paying you (whether it’s financial pay or other rewards) to be you, the one who thinks beyond the step just in front of her.  I’m paying you, and training you, and empowering you to be the one who goes above and beyond.  Perhaps, Seth Godin says it best when he says there is a great get-rich-quick scheme:Enrich your world by creating value for others.Enrich your health by walking twenty minutes a day.

    Enrich your community by contributing to someone, without keeping score.

    Enrich your relationships by saying what needs to be said.

    Enrich your standing by trusting someone else.

    Enrich your organization by doing more than you’re asked.

    Enrich your skills by learning something new, something scary.

    Enrich your productivity by rejecting false shortcuts.

    Enrich your peace of mind by being trusted.

    The connection economy pays dividends in ways that the industrial one rarely did.

To those of you who do this consistently, I thank you!

Your Teammates are Making (or Breaking) You

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The other day I was thinking about all of the new people we have joining us at The Aroma. This year we have three new interns and a bunch of Taiwanese people who are joining us in our ministry! But there are a few people who, I feel like, have been around FOREVER.

The new people, the fresh fish, bring an aspect of vivacity. They have different past experiences than I do. They have different cultural backgrounds, and different aspirations. In a word, they are “fresh.”

The people who have been around forever, the tenured tigers, are the ones who know how to get things done. They have more language, more cultural understanding, and more connection to the overall vision of what God is doing here. They sacrifice day in and day out, some of them for years to see the realization of what is happening at Aroma. They are, in a word, “tenured.”

And God uses both of them in POWERFUL ways at the Aroma.

What do you need on your team? More fresh fobs or more tenured tigers?