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The Purpose, Partners and Plans of Paul

We’re in Holy Week and today is Maundy Thursday, so I thought it appropriate to post about a sermon my friend Jason Folkerts preached at our church a little over a month ago.

Jason preached on Acts 18:1-4. To me, the four verses seemed like an unimportant introduction to the rest of the chapter, but in Jason’s hands, they uncovered the most important thing about Paul’s mission to take the good news of the Gospel beyond his nation.

Purpose

“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth (18:1).” Athens was the intellectual center of the world. A place where the scholar and theologian Paul would have felt right at home.

What would cause him to leave Athens for a port town like Corinth? His was following his purpose that we learned about in Acts 9:15. Pursuing his calling necessitated that Paul leave the familiar and comfortable for something new and uncertain.

Partners

“There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. (18:2-3).” Paul didn’t go to Corinth and try to do it all on his own. He got partners from the city and worked with them.

As Jason pointed out, when God is up to something really good, it’s rarely around one person. Even someone as influential as the Apostle Paul had partners that he worked with throughout his ministry.

Plan

“Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks (18:4).” Lastly, Paul had a plan for accomplishing his mission. Every sabbath he went to the place where practitioners and seekers of religion gathered for debate.

I like the word “every” at the start of verse four. To me, it shows commitment to the plan. I think of Paul on the days he didn’t feel like going to the synagogue, but doing it anyway out of commitment to his plan. His plan wasn’t just a dream. He built a routine.

So, the Apostle Paul had a purpose that was bigger than himself, he joined with other people to complete the important work, and he followed a plan.

How did that turn out? Maundy Thursday is a celebration of the Last Supper, when most of the Christians fit around one table. Today, Christianity has almost 2.5 billion followers. That would require a little bit bigger table.

You are the creative

I just finished reading Crushing It! by Gary V. I have pages of notes from reading it, but one that stood out to me was this big change in the 11 years since he published Crush It!:

In 2009, I devoted only three lines to the idea that “you can even make the learning process part of your content.” It was an aside, a possible solution if you were young or still building cred. Since then I’ve come to realize that, actually, the learning process should be your content.

He goes on to write that, as you are building your personal brand:

you don’t just have the ability to generate unique pieces of creative—you are the unique piece of creative. Don’t worry about getting people’s attention by plotting a poetic YouTube video or writing four drafts of a snappy Facebook status post. Instead, use every platform available to document your actual life and speak your truth. Let people learn who you are, then let them watch you develop into who you want to become.

In order to be interesting, you don’t need to be wildly creative, because you are the creative. This definitely rings true in my life. My content is the best when I’m learning something for the first time. When I’m bringing others along on my learning process.

Follow the advice of Gary V. Don’t just be creative. Be the creative.

Finding order in chaos

In his book, Better Under Pressure, Justin Menkes has identified three traits that enable the most successful business leaders to operate in challenging times: realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos.

The ability to find order in chaos seems most applicable today, so I want to focus on the two elements that make up that trait.

First, is maintaining clarity of thought. In times of stress, the best leaders don’t just tolerate the stress. They use it to motivate themselves and the people they lead to focus on the right priorities.

One of the biggest temptations in the midst of a crisis is to become consumed by it to the point that all you can focus on is what’s right in front of you. As Menkes writes, “You’ve got to be thinking about how it’s going to be when you come out of it, not just six months from now, but six years from now.”

That’s where crises can actually be useful tools – if used correctly. They can help the leader focus the team on the essentials of the business and pursue them relentlessly.

Second is being driven to solve the puzzle. Business today, in a rapidly changing marketplace, is little more than a never-ending series of puzzles to be solved. As Menkes writes, “there is always a critical puzzle to solve.”

Successful leaders get curious in a crisis. How can we get through this and come out stronger on the other side? How have people navigated something like this before? What’s the next step?

I’ve talked to dozens of business leaders over the past few weeks, in various stages of the ability to find order in chaos. And here’s the takeaway: it wasn’t their circumstances that influenced this most directly.

One calm leader I talked to was at the head of a company in a good state – still doing some business, no debt, good cash position, and he was methodically meeting the crisis of COVID-19. Another, had completely shut his doors and furloughed is entire staff. He was also confident that they were in a good spot and was focused on applying for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program.

That’s the message of Menkes’ book. Leaders can’t control their circumstances, but they can always control how they respond to those circumstances. How you respond to a crisis – from a small personnel issue to one as a big as a new coronavirus – determines your ability to lead.

Can’t fish? Mend your nets.

When storms come and fishermen can’t go out to sea, they don’t sleep in. They don’t wander the beach, skipping rocks into the surf. They mend their nets.

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot the past week as many businesses either ground to a halt or slowed significantly as social distancing became the norm. Just like fishermen, we get hit by storms that are out of our control.

So, how do we respond? Destructively or constructively?

I know some people caught in a destructive response. They’re blaming this or that politician for bungling the crisis (victimization). They’re glued to 24 hour news. They’re spending hours on Facebook and Twitter (distraction). They’re paralyzed by the crisis and just hoping that it goes away before their business does (inaction).

That’s not how we want to act. We want to be constructive in at least one of the following ways:

  1. Develop your processes. Most businesses think they’re too busy to build out their systems and operating procedures. What’s your excuse now?
  2. Deep clean your business. If your restaurant is shut down, now’s the time to return it to what it looked like before you opened. Maybe even some maintenance?
  3. Train. On new or old skills. Brush up on the fundamentals. Learn something new. If you’re looking for suggestions, try the free Crisis Survival course that my company released.
  4. Read. It’s no secret that I like to read. On a typical week, I finish two books. Over the past three weeks, I’ve finished 13. Why? My nights are free from all of the family stuff in my normal schedule and I’m not filling it with Netflix.

What does “working on nets” look like for you? Go do that. And you’ll be ready to fish again when the storm ceases.

Pandemic as Portal

In the FT yesterday, novelist Arundhati Roy wrote:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

Roy was primarily talking about her native India, hoping that the mishandling of the pandemic by the country’s political leaders would become a portal to a better world. I know little of Indian politics, but my experience in American politics has left me less than hopeful that the end result of COVID-19 will be meaningful government change.

What is undeniable though is that consumers will change and force businesses to change with them. Something of this scale and duration will leave its mark, changing attitudes and behaviors long after it’s worst is behind us.

The challenge for businesses will be determining which consumer changes due to COVID-19 are temporary and which are permanent. Restaurants, who have quickly ramped up takeout and delivery, may find that consumers prefer this new way of doing things. Likewise for auto dealers who started picking up their customer’s vehicles and dropping them off after service.

What about telemedicine and other increases in video communication? Will consumers after the pandemic prefer talking to a nurse on Zoom rather than visiting a busy clinic surrounded by other sick people? How about the meeting with my financial advisor? Will I prefer Facetime to a drive across town, especially in the winter?

Consumers have changed in many obvious ways during the global pandemic. Which changes are likely to stay and which will go away once commerce starts flowing again?

Remember that today’s customer experience innovations become tomorrow’s baseline expectations. Start preparing for those expectations today.

Never Waste a Crisis

Never waste a crisis. Depending on which Google link you follow, that was first said by Niccolo Machiavelli or Winston Churchill (both of who I enjoy immensely, BTW). Whoever said it, it’s been on my mind these past few weeks during the economic slowdown caused by the government response to COVID-19.

It was also a frequent theme in Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others, which I read while trying to discern what leading in this crisis would require of me.

In the book, author Justin Menkes tells the story of a new CEO who was facing almost insurmountable problems. But, instead of correcting the problems, “he embarked on changing the whole organizational culture to one that focused on putting forth excellence in every aspect of the business.

Most people resist change until forced. That’s why, as a business leader, you should never waste a crisis. The CEO mentioned above used the crisis to force the kind of tectonic shift in the company that made it less susceptible to future crises. As Menkes writes, he “fixed the cause of the problem, and the problem itself went away.

How are you going to make sure you don’t waste this crisis? Have your people grown complacent and in need of a motivational purpose? Have they become siloed and lacking a rallying cry to unite them? Have they gotten sloppy and ready to be called back to excellence? That’s the role of the leader.

Don’t simply respond to the crisis. Use it to become the kind of organization that is impervious to crises.

There’s a lot more to say about this book, and I will likely say more here. If you want more now, I recorded an episode of Mastering Your Mindset on Better Under Pressure:

Who am I? Why am I here?

It’s that line, spoken in the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate, that made Admiral James Stockdale, famous. But it’s an obvious question. What am I planning to do here on this site? Why start a blog in 2020. I thought those were so 2002?

Nathan Schock preparing to teach Sunday School
Nathan preparing to teach Sunday School

If you know me, you know that I’m a life-long learner. In fact, that’s an understatement. I’m President & COO of FiveFour, a training company where I’m constantly learning, teaching and creating training content for the development of our many clients.

But learning is more than just my occupation. It’s part of my faith (the picture here is of me preparing to teach Sunday school) and my hobby. I also read novels at night in an (often futile) attempt to settle my brain for sleep.

For the past seven years, I’ve read at least a book a week. Two years ago, I increased that to two books per week and last year it was three. If you want to know what I’m reading, check my out on Goodreads.

Those books, along with the many articles and podcasts I consume on a regular basis, and the things I learn running two companies, will form the cornerstone of the content I post here. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place. I hope you’ll hang out for a while. And come back.