Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Change of Phase - Organizational Transformation

I am not a physicist, but I don't let that keep me from speaking authoritatively about things I don't understand. Here goes.
I am amazed about the truth that we find in God's creation that we can apply in many ways. A few weeks ago, I heard someone talking about energy and what was required to change the phase of different kinds of matter. (Yes, strangely enough I listen to such things.) I learned some interesting things about water in the process  As water warms up or cools off, it either releases or absorbs energy. When water changes from ice to liquid to vapor, it has to absorb energy. When it changes from vapor to liquid to ice, it releases energy. So far, so good.
The amount of energy required to heat up water is not a constant. At 0 degrees Celsius, water changes from a solid (ice) to a liquid. This requires 80 calories of energy per gram of water for that change to occur at 0 degrees. The change from solid to liquid is referred to as a "phase change." Then, it takes 1 calorie of energy to change the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree, so if I have 1 gram of water, it will take 100 calories to raise the temperature of that water from 0 degrees Celsius (the freezing point) to 100 degrees Celsius (the boiling point). The liquid remains liquid during this entire range of temperature. But then something amazing happens at 100 degrees--water starts to boil, and the liquid begins to change to vapor. The change from liquid to vapor IS a phase change, and in order for that to happen, the water must absorb an additional 540 calories of energy per gram of water. So, at the risk of oversimplifying to the point of inaccuracy, I'll just say this. It takes 1 calorie of energy to raise the temperature of one gram water from 98 degrees to 99 degrees. It takes 1 calorie of energy to raise the temperature of one gram of water from 99 degrees to 100 degrees. But then it takes an additional 540 calories of energy at the 100 degree point to cause the liquid to convert to a gas.

The lesson is this. Consider the organization. Revolutionary change is not the same as evolutionary change. When the change is only temperature, we can keep doing what we've been doing...just a little bit more of it. But when the change is one of phase, much more energy is required to compel and sustain the change. We cannot bring about transformational change in organizations unless we are prepared to commit the extra resources necessary to make that transformation (the phase change) occur. And if water is any indicator, the extra amount required to induce the phase change is many times greater than what is needed for incremental change.

We are going through some changes in my work environment at this very moment. For the past several years, we have essentially tried to warm up the water, not vaporize it. But now, we are going for the phase change, and our leaders seem to embrace the reality that this will require much more than a gentle nudge of the gas valve. Sadly, too many organizations want something for nothing, which is like trying to boil water without enough heat. Even if you do achieve it, you can't sustain it.

If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten. Yup.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Quiet Survivor: Leadership Lessons from Airports

Even though my experience pales in comparison to many others, I have spent a fair amount of time over the last few years in airplanes.  Spending time in airplanes means spending time in airports. Nobody goes TO airports...they go THROUGH them, and usually we do that as quickly as possible. And even though I love to travel, my personal definition of most major airports is "a place characterized by horrendous logistical nightmares and massive human interaction."

What do people do in airports? They read, sleep, talk, eat, walk, run, and shop...but mostly they wait. Personally, I enjoy watching people. Just like snowflakes, each one seems different. Sometimes I try to imagine who this person is, what they do for a living, where they are going, and why they look so serious. But more than that, I love to look at how people interact with their environment. I began to realize that perhaps the snowflakes actually do fall into certain categories or types. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the airport is a living laboratory of human interaction and leadership/followership style.

If memory serves, during the last year or year and a half, I have spent some time in the following airports: Atlanta, Beijing, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Guatemala City, Hong Kong, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Shanghai, Tokyo-Narita, Tulsa...and Northwest Arkansas Regional. (Perhaps I've forgotten a couple.) Based on my most recent empirical research (i.e., my last few trips which included one 10-hour layover in Houston), I have identified the following typology of people. This is a work in process, so I may add more in the future.

  • Clueless Wanderer:  The CW can be seen walking rather aimlessly through the airport, veering to the left and right, usually squinting to read signs that will give some hint as to where they should go. CWs eventually wander up to someone in a uniform (whether it is an airline rep, cosmetics salesperson, or custodian) to ask some basic question like, "Where is Continental?" Clueless Wanderers should not be allowed to travel alone.
  • Fighting Victim:  FVs are easy to spot. Something has just happened, and they are ready for a fight. Many FVs simply like a good fight, so if they have been traveling all day, they have probably been fighting all day. Maybe they missed a connection, didn't get their complimentary beverage on the last flight, were refused an upgrade, or simply didn't like the way that the flight attendant addressed them. Fighting Victims always assume that the entire reason for the airline's existence was to exploit them, and they are ready to stand their ground.
  • Determined Leader:  The DL is usually spotted leading a mission team or some other group of people. This is the type of person who never gets tired, and if they had a flag, they would always be waving it. They are out in front of their people, explaining the process and blazing the trail...whether the group needs or wants the help. Most Determined Leaders need to be the boss and are compelled to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise to the world. Don't step out in front of them!
  • Tired Pilgrim:  The TP is often seen wearing a rumpled business suit with the collar open. They are usually on the tail end of a long journey, and they simply want to get home. They are often spotting talking on their cell phones (either reporting in to the company or to a spouse). They don't have any desire to interact with the world around them...they just want to get home, put on some sweats, and rest.
  • Temporary Tenant:  The TT is pretty obvious because you usually trip over one or two of them around every gate. The TT may be a young parent traveling with several children. They essentially "claim" an area of land in the gate area and make it home, complete with blankets, toys, and games. Stepping into this area is like stepping into someone's ask permission first (and only if you want to). Temporary Tenants travel with lots of stuff so that they can manage the troops during the journey. They are usually pretty self sufficient and are not dangerous unless threatened.
  • Oblivious Obstacle:  The OO is a threat to the wellbeing of others. They are usually fully absorbed by a smart phone, a book or newspaper, a phone call, a map, or anything else that can capture 142% of their attention and discernment at any point in time. Unfortunately, they also tend to be moving. They will not get out of your way. It is your responsibility to avoid them. They have no interest in knowing anything about you or that you exist. The best survival strategy is to give them a wide berth.
  • Frightened Runner:  I've spotted a FR nearly every time I've been in an airport. They are always moving fast, and they have a look of panic on their faces. There is only one reason that a person becomes an FR...they might miss their flight. You are never an FR if you have plenty of time or if you already missed your flight, but only when you may miss it and don't really know. FRs often travel in packs which may include a Determined Leader. If the FR group is a family with children, at least one adult FR is out in front and the other is trying to get the children to run faster. FRs often struggle with the question of which is more important: catching the flight or seeing the children again.
  • Unintelligible Mumbler:  I don't have a lot to say about this person except this: keep your distance. The UM is generally rather quiet and keeps to themselves. They usually talk to themselves, but nobody can really understand what they are saying. They are in their own world. UMs are almost always adults and have generally "checked out" of normal society. The UM probably doesn't want us in their world, which is good, because we probably wouldn't want to be there either.
  • Quiet Survivor:  Of the whole list, this is probably the healthiest personality type I've seen. When the announcement is made that a flight is cancelled, the cacophony begins. Fighting Victims raise their voices and declare the incompetence of the airline. Determined Leaders leap to the forefront to bring salvation to their group. Temporary Tenants extend their leases. Tired Pilgrims head to the bar. Clueless Wanders bump around asking what happened. The Quiet Survivor knows what to do next, and they proceed to do it. You oftentimes don't really notice the QS, because they are quiet. In fact, they want to stay that way. They are courteous and professional to the beleaguered ticket agents.

As always, life is an opportunity to learn. As I identified these different types of people in my airport laboratory, I realized that I could related to these types in other contexts as well. I've known leaders who are good examples of each type. Clueless Wanderers are leaders who never really understand where they are or where they are going. Fighting Victims always have a chip on their shoulder and prefer to fight their own personal battles rather than those of the organization. Determined Leaders micromanage the daylights out of you. Tired Pilgrims are burned out people who just want to finish the day and go home. Temporary Tenants set up shop but make no long term commitment, and the "shop" they set up is usually self serving. The Oblivious Obstacle never sees his people because his head is into other things. The Frightened Runner is on his way somewhere and is afraid he'll miss it. And the Unitelligible Mumbler? He is confused and frightening!

I would not suggest that there is only one "right" form of leadership, but I like to hang around with Quiet Survivors. They get the job done without undue drama. I see at least four characteristics of the Quiet Survivor:

  1. They are prepared for the journey they are on. They know how things work and how to negotiate the obstacles.
  2. They are aware of what is happening around them. They watch the signs and listen to the announcements. They filter out the noise and capture the signal.
  3. They focus on solutions instead of getting trapped in the problem or getting lost in the mess.  
  4. They remain committed to the goal instead of reacting to the moment. Honestly, the whole purpose of being in an airport is to get out of the airport, not to win some kind of battle.

I like Quiet Survivors. They remember that they journey is not the same thing as the destination. The destination is where we want to end up, but how we handle the airports both shapes and reflects who we are when we get there.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Miracle of the Christmas Turkeys

Photos by Joe Walenciak

Every Friday night, the good folks of Iglesia Bautista Cristo es el Camino take a hot meal to the families who live in the shanty towns outside of the Guatemala City garbage dump.  A typical Friday meal may consist of beans, rice, bread, and something hot to drink.  Between a hundred and a hundred fifty people show up to enjoy one of the best meals they will have all week.  There is singing and a party-like atmosphere set against the backdrop of the filth, trash, and mountains of recyclables that have been recovered throughout the day.

For the last several months, JBU has been planning a special Christmas food distribution for Friday, December 23.  With the help of the good folks at La Barraca de Don Pepe, we bought 20 turkeys and made the world's largest pot of Russian salad.  Along with turkey and salad, each person would received bread, a fresh apple, and a box of Kern's fruit juice.  The folks at the church said we should be prepared for 200+ people, although something told me that we were not thinking big enough.

Layla de Perez helps children with plates
We bought 400 plates at PriceSmart which we thought would be enough for Friday night and some other upcoming events.  On Friday about noon we picked up the 20 turkeys, and Cecy Quinonez spent the afternoon slicing and deboning.  I have never seen turkey carcasses picked so clean!  Cecy reminded me that the people would probably want the bones to make soup, so I pulled out a handful of Walmart bags that I always carry on trips, and we put a bare carcass and a handful of fat and skin in each of 20 bags.  Cecy counted enough portions for about 220 servings.

The least part of it!
When we arrived, it was clear that we would have a large crowd.  After a time of prayer and singing, the food distribution began.  Enrique told everyone not to push...that there was plenty of food for everyone.  My faith was not as strong at that point.  We could not see the end of the line.  I told Cecy we had a LOT of people, but she refused to turn around and look, continuing to place very generous portions of turkey and salad on each plate.  She was afraid to see how long the line was, but instead of rationing, she seemed to be giving larger and larger portions!  The environment was happy.  There was music.  Children were playing, and everyone was so happy to receive such a special meal in such generous proportions.  Everyone seemed oblivious to the truth that only we knew...that we had enough food for 200 people and there were clearly more on hand.

Cecy kept filling the plates and refusing to turn around and look at the line.  Every time I handed her another tray of turkey meat and looked at the multitude of people still waiting to be fed, I became more uneasy.  We kept opening more packages of plates, too, including those we intended to use for the next two events.  Cecy kept serving what seemed to be bigger and bigger portions.  I noticed that we were down to the last couple of trays of turkey and the bottom of the pot of salad.  And then it happened.  We saw the end of the line.  Cecy still would not turn around and start adjusting portion sizes.  She just kept serving.  Finally, she picked up the VERY LAST serving of turkey and scraped out the VERY LAST remnants of the Russian salad and put it on a plate which we then handed to the VERY LAST person in the line.  With only a handful of plates left, we realized that our 200 servings of turkey had somehow feed nearly 400 people!  The same God who multiplied the loaves and fishes can apparently do the same thing with turkey and Russian salad!  We stood there amazed, just letting the whole event sink into minds and hearts, realizing that we had just seen a miracle.  God loves his people!

Then we remembered the bags of bones.  We had 20 of those, and I had stood there in the Quinonez home and held each bag, watching the stripped carcass and handful of fat and skin go in each one.  Ladies gathered around, and once again we gave the last bag to the last woman.  Just enough.

We say that all of these things come from God's hands.  We say that, but then we act as those we are providing.  We plan and take responsibility for outcomes, but the reality is that "God gives the increase."  Why should we be surprised when God acts?  And when God demonstrates that he loves his children, why do we not expect that?  And just about the time we finally think we have wrapped our minds around the extent of God's amazing generosity, we realize we have not.

That happened to us.  We had "packaged" the "miracle of the Christmas turkeys" and had told the story of God's goodness.  The following Friday night, we returned to the settlement with a more typical food distribution and a more typical crowd.  Suddenly we were approached by one of the ladies who took a bag of bones, and she informed us that we had made a mistake.  "What mistake?" we asked?  She proceeded to insist that we had given her a bag full of turkey meat instead of bones, fat, and skin.  She claimed that there was probably about a half of a turkey in the bag!  I kind of dismissed that until a second woman approached us a little bit later and thanked us!  She said she arrived to her shanty and opened up her bag of turkey bones, only to find about a half turkey inside.  I can't make this stuff up.  I just tell what I saw.

God loves his kids.  We walked into this thinking, "We are going to do something special for the people."  We walked away praising God for his provision and for the privilege of witnessing the miracle of the Christmas turkeys.

What Have You Gotten Me Into?

Photos by Joe Walenciak

I'm going to speak to a group in February about the work we are doing in Guatemala.  Jeremiah 20 is the scripture I was given.  I'm not sure the last time I spent much time reading Jeremiah, but I have really been enjoying this.  Jeremiah was out prophesying (which is what prophets do), and Pashur the priest had him beaten and put in stocks.  After his release, Jeremiah declared judgment on Pashur and on the people of Judah.
And then something remarkable happened.  Jeremiah started complaining to God.  And what an amazing complaint it was!  It was a five-point complaint;

  • First, Jeremiah ask's God, "what have you gotten me into?"
  • Second, Jeremiah says that God is soooo good there is no way he (Jeremiah) can remain silent!
  • Third, Jeremiah is frustrated that everyone is waiting for him to make a mistake so they can catch him and ridicule him.
  • Fourth, Jeremiah declares that God will triumph!
  • Finally, just when we are expecting a big positive finish, Jeremiah curses the day he was born!

This has left me doing a lot of processing.  What have you gotten me into, God?  It doesn't are amazing.  But when I tell people how amazing you are, they turn against me.  Of course you will win, God.  Oh, why was I ever born?!?!

At first glance, I began to wonder whether Jeremiah was mentally sound, but then I began to realize that Jeremiah is probably sharing what is in the heart of anyone who has ever responded to a calling from God.  God usually throws us into the middle of things we never expected and allows us to be used in huge ways.  The more we do that, the more we find ourselves in someone's crosshairs.  And even though we know that God loves his people and will be victorious, our human frailty sometimes leaves us yearning for escape.

I swore I would never be a teacher.  I never wanted to travel.  I never had much interest in the Hispanic world.  And now God has me up to my ears in ministries in Guatemala!!  Lord, what have you gotten me into?  In the midst of all that, there is one incredible story after another, and I just can't keep them to myself. God is doing amazing things.  It is amazing, though, how many people out there seem to be watching for me screw up, and they usually don't have to wait too long.  I know that God is in control, but sometimes I wonder what a "simpler" life would have been like.  Wow.  So Jeremiah went through the same struggle.

We are not called to be happy, but we are called to be faithful and grateful.  When we choose to be grateful, I think that God helps us experience joy in what we do.  But even the most joyful people sometime curse the day they were born.  

This picture in this blog is a young lady named Angelica at the Guatemala City garbage dump.  She is poor and hungry and subject to all kinds of dangers, and sometimes I wonder why innocent children suffer this way.  Where are God's people that they allow such things to happen?  Someone has to do something!  Oh, wait, I am someone.  We are all someone, and everyone of us is simply one decision away from making a huge difference in someone's life.  We may wonder what God is getting us into...certainly nothing we ever expected...but then again, if it was part of our own plan, we would probably have taken credit for the whole idea!  I've seen such amazing things in Guatemala, and sometimes when I try to share them, I get some amazing, generous responses.  I also hear a lot of criticism and see what can only be defined as jealousy.  I know that life would have been much easier if I had just stayed home and sat at my desk...but I also know that this is not the life I would have wanted.  If I could go back, yes, I would do some things differently, but I would not trade my life for anything.  In very tired and frustrated moments, though, I admit that I sometimes wish that I was not up to my ears in Guatemala!!

God is good, and he loves his children.  Pray that his church will love the world like he does.