12 Tips to Run Your First Long-Distance Race

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I am a runner.

Running is some of the best thinking and down time I have in my life. It’s the one time where I’m the most removed from all the pressures of the world and able to clear my mind and concentrate.

As a leader, I’ve found it to be a huge part in my leadership development. I think when I run.

Just to give you a point of reference — a good week for me would be to run about 30-40 miles total. My favorite distance is about 5 to 7 miles. I run at a moderate pace — somewhere between 9 and 9:30 minute miles. I have completed 1 full marathon and more half marathons than I can count. My goal is to do one more full. I’ve intended to the last few years and schedules haven’t allowed it, but hopefully I can still plan in this direction. I don’t run a lot in really cold weather, but my goal is to remain fairly trained for a half. (I’m told if I can run 8 miles comfortably I can run a half. And, I’ve found that to be true.)

What some who know I run don’t know is that I was a previous anti-runner. I ran years ago, but then in my 30’s I had even made the statement, “I hate running. I’m a good walker.”

I continue to encounter people who are where I was. They think they are “too old” or past the running days. So many times I hear — “You wouldn’t catch me running unless I was being chased.” We”ve got to get you guys some new lines. :)

But, most of the time those people are just like me. They never really got into the habit of running. And, that’s what it is. You don’t start by running a half. It is a gradual build before you are inspired to enter to run a longer race. You might set a goal to run a 5K — or even a 1 mile fun run. No shame. Start where you can.

So here are some suggestions — just to consider. I can’t oversell the benefits to me of a discipline of running. I miss it during the harsh winter. Maybe it’s something you should consider.

Keep in mind these are an amateur’s perspective. You should obviously check with your doctor and the experts. And, believe me, there are lot of experts.

Here are 12 tips to prepare to run a race:

Training makes all the difference. I did finish my marathon, but I wasn’t adequately prepared. I won’t do another one until I’m sure my schedule will allow me to complete all of it. Don’t race if you aren’t prepared. Period. It’s not good for your body or your mindset towards running.

As a side note, running for me is down time, so I run alone. You may need to run with a group. Find a friend or a group and encourage them to join you if you need this support.

Follow a training schedule that matches your schedule. The Internet is full of online schedules. Research until you find the right one for you. I have consistently used Hal Higdon’s and they fit well with my weekly schedule.

If you have to skip training one day, don’t skip the long runs. You need the long day every week. These days are vital to stretching you for the final big day. You’d be better to push your schedule back, in my opinion, than to miss this day. If you have to alter the long run to another day — do that — but don’t skip it.

You may gain weight initially while training. This was surprising to me. And, frankly disappointing at first. You will have an appetite like never before. If you aren’t careful, you will justify eating much more because you are running so much. If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll need to have a plan for what you eat too.(The good news is you WILL get to eat more!)

Keep running. In the beginning, before you are truly committed, run even if you don’t feel like it. That’s hard, but you have to do it. Even if you don’t run as far as the schedule calls for that day — just run. You must push through the desire to quit. The joy of running will come. This is one of those “you just have to experience it to believe it” things. Keep at it until it sticks.

Remember it’s a “marathon not a sprint”. Even if it’s for a shorter run, don’t frustrate at where you are today. You’re not going for speed at this point. Pace yourself. A lot of times you’ll feel like you can run faster, but you can’t just yet. Don’t be afraid to start slow and build. You’re going for distance and to build the discipline of running. Keep pushing forward and you’ll increase over time. Celebrate each step of progress.

Shoes matter. I’m tight with money when it comes to spending on me, but I have discovered that having the right shoes and replacing them often is a key to lessen injuries. This is a place where I learned the hard way to invest. Even best is a good run shop where they can analyze your running pattern and help you find the right shoe.

Learn to stretch. I’ll get some push back on this one, because there are so many opinions. But, for me, I stretch the first mile of a long run. I may do a few stretches, but I am ready to get started. I just start slower until I’m ready to run my normal speed. Many say the best stretching is after you run. And, I’m not the best at this either, but I keep working at it.

The rest periods in your schedule are important. Once you start to enjoy running — and that will come — you will be tempted to run even when the schedule gives you an off day. Don’t do it! Your body needs the rest to prepare for the longer runs. Again, trust me on this. These are good days to do something different. I like to use weights or ride my bicycle on these days.

Run a shorter race first. >If you are training for a full marathon, try to do a half-marathon first. If a half is your goal, try a 5K. It will help if you’ve experienced the adrenaline of a race.

Don’t let your head play tricks with you. Running for long periods of time is as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Fight through the mind games. Listen to your body — of course. Check with a doctor — all those things. But, don’t let your mind be your enemy.

Prepare to celebrate. Once you cross the finish line, no one can take that feeling away from you!

You can do this! Obviously some reading this post are not able to run a longer race — or run at all. But, some of you have just been making excuses. I’m encouraging you to go for it! Run. Run for life!

10 Leadership Statements That Often Come From A Heart Of Pride

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“Pride goes before destruction…” Proverbs 16:18

We are all capable of pride. Some of us more than others.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years — mostly from my own personal growth and experience —

Many times what may appear to us — or we may label as — a leadership style or personality is actually a leader’s personal battle — and sin — of pride.

And, pride is very dangerous.

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 26:12

Here are 10 leadership statements that often come from a heart of pride:

“I need to know everything that is happening around here.”

“If I don’t do it — it won’t be done right.”

“Look what I’ve accomplished.”

“I know all there is to know about this.”

“They’ll do what I say or else.”

“If I left all this would fall apart.”

“Did you hear about what I said/did?”

“I don’t need anyone looking over my shoulder.”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“I don’t need anyone else’s opinion. I know I’m right.”

So, what can we do leaders?

How do we battle a pride pastors?

We above all else — guard our heart. (Proverbs 4:23)

We let people in — we value others. (Romans 12:16, Philippians 2:3)

We recognize who we are and who God is. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

We remember that we are created for His glory — not our own. (Isaiah 43:7)

It’s a constant battle.

As leaders, we’ve been given a platform. We have the opportunity to build a name. We value our work done for the good of others. And, God can use the voice we develop for His good. He does it everyday.

No denying that.

But, we must be careful not to let pride be the motivation in building our seat of influence. Or in taking credit that belongs to Him — and should be shared with others.

Someone said humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. (And, others more.)

That should become a discipline of our life.

Thankfully God gives “grace to the humble”. (James 4:6)

And, wisdom.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

I’m in the battle with you. To His glory, let’s lead well.

Tortoise and Hare Principle in Organizational Leadership

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A few years ago I was running in Philadelphia. It is one of my favorite cities in which to run. I love the Fairmount Park System, because I can run for miles in new territory.

On this particular day, I set out to explore a several mile loop around a portion of the park. Shortly into my run, I entered the park in front of a young college-aged girl running at the same pace with me. (I assumed her identity based on the college sweatshirt she was wearing — and the proximity to a local college.)

We had been running at the same pace for about a half-mile when she apparently became impatient with my pace and decided to run faster. She gave me a look that seemed to speak “get out of my way old man” and quickly disappeared from my sight. I continued my steady pace through the park and encountered her again a couple miles later. She had looped around the park and was heading back, still continuing at her faster pace. We smiled at one another as we passed.

And, then the story took a change in my favor.

After 3 or 4 miles I returned to the place we had originally met and who did I see? My college “friend” was walking, out of breath, holding her stomach and in obvious pain. She couldn’t finish the track.

I realize some people are sprinters and some are long-distance runners, but I have to be honest. As the old guy, I got a boost in my adrenaline when I was still running with plenty of fuel in my tank.

Now, before you think I’m awful, the reason I share is that it reminded me of an important leadership principle.

It’s the tortoise and the hare principle.

There are certainly times an organization needs to sprint. Run like a hare.

Organizations need times of stretching to take leaps forward. Healthy organizations continue to grow. That requires fast decisions at times — the ability to adapt quickly. Momentum is built when energy and excitement combine and things are running at full speed ahead. Every organization should continually have periods of sprinting.

But, that can’t be the only pace of a healthy organization.

There are also times the organization needs to slow the pace down to tortoise speed.

It may sound boring to a driven leader, but long-term, sustainable health of an organization depends on establishing systems and strategies. And, as much as we may resist it — even structure. Yes, structure.

Take a church plant, for example. In the initial days, it seems like a sprint. Everything is new. Exciting. Fast-paced.

But, over time, to continue as a healthy church, at some point there becomes a need for structure. Systems need to be implemented. There may even be a need for a few rules. Yes, rules.

The fact is most of us would rather sprint. I wished I could that day in Philadelphia. It can almost become “cool” to be sprinting — so much so that we never really attain a healthy foundation upon which to build long-term, sustainable growth. And, hopefully all of us ultimately want to finish well. Go the distance. That requires that we learn to pace ourselves — like a tortoise.

You can’t sprint forever.

Be honest.

What pace is needed most right now in your world — tortoise or hare?

7 Things I’ve Learned About Successfully Leading Change

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Bottom line: Every organization — whether a church, business or nonprofit– needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy.

But here’s the thing about change. If you’ve ever been in leadership you know this.

Change is hard. Very hard.

And, it’s especially hard for some people. In fact, in my experience, the most common reaction to change — at least initially– is rejection or rebellion.

And, that’s what makes change difficult to lead.

Learning to lead change successfully may be the single most important challenge of any leader.

I’m not an expert. But, I’ve led some change. Some successfully. Some not.

And, along the way I’ve learned a few things.

Here are 7 principles that can help you successfully lead change:

Establish trust.You can best lead change from a pre-established trust in your leadership. New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of major change early unless that change is vital to the organization. Major change will be easier if the leader has established some credibility.

Introduce change early. This is where “early” comes into the process. People need time to warm up to the change that is coming. The less you surprise people the greater your chance for success can be. Change always comes with an emotion attached and giving ample notice allows people a chance to acclimate those emotions.

Communicate often. Inform people along the way by keeping them updated with the progress during a period of change. Include the good news and the bad news in these updates. Hold nothing back. I’m not sure you can over-communicate. And, use different means of communication to make sure you catch everyone and every style of listener.

Widen the distribution. Get buy-in from as many people as possible. Sometimes leaders have to lead alone. People can’t understand where you’re taking them that they need to go, but may not even know yet or want to go. But, those times of loneliness should be rare. Wherever possible, include others in decisions concerning change.

Follow through on commitments made. The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep. Be true to your word.

Be consistent. You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where you are as a leader, what you are thinking, and why you are making the decisions you make. And, pay attention to the word “why” — it’s critically important. People need to learn you and seeing a consistency in you over time and testing and they more they understand why the more accepting they will be of change.

Change continuance. Do not make change a rare occurrence. Build a culture of healthy change so that it will be more naturally accepted when it comes. That takes time. And experience. You need some wins so people learn to trust you when you are trying to lead change.

There are a few things I’ve learned about leading change. What have you learned?

3 Reasons a Leader Should Never Respond to Criticism in Anger

What do you mean?!

Over the years in leadership, I have experienced my fair amount of criticism. When I was in business, it could come from employees, former employee, customer, supplier, or the public. When I served in political office, every vote seemed to bring critics from the opposing side. Now, after being in ministry for over a decade, I have learned that criticism comes from outside and inside the church. 

And, with an added bonus, we now get to receive criticism through online and social media — making it so much easier to deliver. (Please read my sarcastic, poor attempt at humor in that last sentence.)

I suppose criticism is a part of culture — a part of our nature. And, because I work with lots of leaders who receive criticism, I’ve addressed it a number of times on this blog.

Here’s the reality. With every decision a leader makes some people will agree. And, some won’t. Now I spend most of my time on this blog thinking through how we can be better leaders. And, we should spend most of our energies there, in my opinion. But, learning to navigate through criticism is a part of leading. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve watched as the way a leader receives criticism begins to shape the leader. I know young pastors, for example, who give up on a church because of a few very vocal critics. I know some politicians who grew so tired of the criticism that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. In fact, in my opinion, some of the best people never run because they don’t want to face the critics.

Our first reaction to criticism is to lash out in anger towards it. 

That’s natural. As, natural as it is for some to criticize, it is normal to want to defend ourselves. Especially when we feel the need to correct inaccuracies and promote the truth. 

While I believe we should always speak truth in love and correcting false statements against us may have a place, I do not believe responding to criticism with immediate anger is ever appropriate.

Here are 3 reasons why:

It’s not right.

I always hear the example of Jesus in the temple, but Jesus wasn’t dealing with their criticism of Him, but their misuse of the temple. (And He apparently took time to think through His response according to John 2:15. He made a whip. How long does that take?) I view Jesus’ response as a very calculated, righteous anger. That’s much different than the spur of the moment rise of emotion anger.

It may be true.

That’s a hard reality, but the fact is that as difficult to receive as criticism may be, maybe even based on faulty information at times, often there are things in the criticism for us to learn. I have found that even in the most unfair type of criticism, and from people who don’t have a clue how to be nice when giving it, there is sometimes something I can learn. Even if it’s nothing more than how to handle mean people. (Because often mean people have a story that has made them so mean — and the answer to dealing with them might be grace, and truth, delivered in love.) We have to be willing to humble ourselves to examine where we might be wrong. It takes time to analyze the criticism before we know how to respond with the appropriate emotion. And, sometimes, the right response will be anger — but I’ve found those cases to be rare. (See Psalm 139:24, or Matthew 7:1-5)

It doesn’t work.

That’s the bottom line leadership principle. Responding to an emotional person with another emotion backs people into a corner and ultimately produces even more criticism. The leader who wants to lead well through criticism will take a more calculated approach.

Jesus offers a great remedy for handling criticism. Consider Luke 6:27-28. Jesus said we should bless those who curse us. What if the next time you receive criticism you stopped and prayed for them? And, while you were at it, prayed for your response. That may take a few minutes, an hour, or a day.

The way to navigate through criticism in leadership greatly depends on our response — especially our initial response — to it.

I realize that’s often an unnatural response, but with discipline, and practice, a leader can learn to better handle the critics — and — hopefully — keep leading.

10 Permissions a Great Leader Grants

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Does your team have permission?

To dream – Give your team permission to dream the seemingly impossible. The lid of possibilities will often be when your sense of realism trumps your sense of imagination.

To fail – People need to know they can mess up and still have another chance on your team. Do they?

To have fun – Let’s get this party started! Work hard, but take time to laugh along the way.

To experiment – It might work. It might not. Let’s give it a try.

To ask questions – People only know what they know. Let them ask about that of which they are unsure?

To collaborate- Build a team. That’s the healthy view of leadership. Isolation can lead to destruction.

To gain recognition – Those who own all the acknowledgement limit people who will ever attempt to achieve it.

To be challenged – People perform up to the expectation. Seldom beyond.

To own – Ownership leads to stewardship. The more you give people a seat at the table the more responsibility they will assume for overall results.

To create – Original thoughts are welcome here. Are they? Make sure your team knows it. And, believe me, they will.

Where do you need to permit?

How a Young Leader Develops as a Leader

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This is a guest post by Tyler Crosson. Tyler is student pastor where I serve. He’s an excellent communicator and has a passionate heart for Jesus and for ministry. He knows God is preparing him to a more lead role in a church and it’s been fun to watch him in this journey. Part of our development time together led to me asking Tyler to write this post.

I am a young leader. The kind that desires to not only improve my own leadership capacity, but one day grow into a great leader in a great position. I recognize that I have a long way to go in developing my own leadership skills, and I recognize that I have plenty to learn about leadership in general. There are many excellent resources out on the topic of leadership, and I definitely try to be the kind of leader that is a reader. There are books, articles and blogs, the one you’re reading is the best (Ron is my boss, so I figure a little plug for him serves us both :) ). If you’re anything like me, the vastness of it all seems a little overwhelming and a little impersonal.

One day, through a discussion about leadership with Ron, I stumbled into what has served as a gold mine of wisdom and has changed the way I pursue learning about leadership. I wish I could call it a secret, but I’m willing to guess that this method is also staring you in the face. Want to know what the “secret” is? Here it is: leaders. Yep, leaders. All over my city, and I’m guessing leaders are all over your area, too. Good leaders. Some are even great leaders!

I decided to tap into this gold mine of leadership wisdom that is in action right here in my community. People that are busy making the community I’m invested in better every day. Here’s what I did: I asked if I could meet with some of these leaders. Earth shattering, huh? Yeah, not really. I just began to seek out people that I (and others I trusted) appreciated as leaders, and I asked for an hour of their valuable time. I let them know that I respected their leadership and I simply wanted an opportunity to ask them a few questions about their leadership in an effort to learn for myself.

I take 7 questions into the meeting (which seems fitting, since Ron is a 7 points kind of guy), and I have yet to struggle to quickly fill an hour of time in discussion.

Here are my questions:

1. What are some of the biggest learning curves you have had as a leader?
2. If you were me, planning for a lead role one day, what words of caution would you give me?
3. What are some words of challenge or encouragement you would give to a young leader?
4. What’s the biggest stress you deal with as a leader?
5. How do you navigate change?
6. How do you handle criticism?
7. Who do you think I should meet with next? (this one keeps the gold mine available)

I ask those in no particular order. Rarely do I even get through all the questions, and I have yet to find someone that wasn’t willing to share. In fact, what I’ve found so far, is that the leaders I’ve spoken with genuinely want to see young leaders in their community succeed, too. And remember how reading books seemed impersonal? Well it would hard for these meetings to be less personal. They are face to face! I get to hear their successes and their failures. I’m grateful they are willing to allow me to grow with them, even through their mistakes. I’ve learned to not fear failure because of how much you can grow from it. Every one of them has reminded me of the priority of leading my family first. Many encourage me to network well, which is awesome because that is taking place at every meeting! I’ve been reminded of the importance of listening, developing trust and relationships in order to move people along a vision. They have taught me the importance of being a lifelong learner and seeker, and are helpful in providing more resources or leaders to seek.

I honor them by communicating my appreciation for their time, their work and effort in our community and their wisdom. In turn, they seem to genuinely want to invest in me. And invest in me they do (some even bought my lunch…bonus!). The wisdom they share is valuable. If I’m being honest, this is a strategy I will probably try to use the rest of my life. Wherever I end up, there will be leaders. I’m guessing there are leaders where you are, too!

That’s my secret. I hope it serves your journey in leadership, too.

What question would you ask a leader if you sat down with them? Or what piece of leadership advice would you offer to a young leader?

What You Can Do To Be Productive On A Snow Day

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We had a snow day this week. As I type this, actually two snow days. Who knows if there will be more?

If you’re wired like me, a snow day can be very disruptive to what you hoped would be a productive week. My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.

I’m not sure it has to be that way. I’ve discovered if I can give a few hours to work on a snowy day at home I will feel incredibly productive, and keep from feeling miserably behind when I can get back to work.

Here are some ideas to be productive on a snow day:

Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time? Spend some time putting a strategic plan together for implementation.

Life planning. Work on your life plan. Here’s my easy version. (There are better ones.)

Encouragement. Say a prayer — ask God to lay some names on your heart — send an encouraging note or email to them. Spend some time crafting a life-giving note.

Read. Find a challenging and instructive book. Take notes as you read.

Get ahead. Work on routine projects that you know you’ll eventually have to do. It’s a great time to catch up on the routine so you can be more effective on return.

Maintain. Keep up as much as possible. The computer makes us so much more connected. One good smart phone almost brings our office home. Returning emails and phone calls when possible help you go back to the office with less stress and feeling more on top of things.

Relax. Have some fun. Rest. Prepare for a more productive day in the future. Even build a snowman. (That’s the hardest one for some of us.)

What ideas do you have?

And, if you’re wired opposite of me — enjoy the couch — or whatever it is you do. No pressure from me.

4 Reasons Every Pastor Needs a Good Pastor Friend

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Every pastor needs at least one good pastor friend.

I’m thankful to serve and have served in churches with a good number of staff members I consider not only co-laborers, but friends. It’s a blessing to do ministry with people you actually enjoy being with each week. But, I also have several good friends who are pastors in other churches. And, it’s like gold in my pocket for me.

Just like only a police officer can fully understand the work of another police officer; or only a nurse can fully understand the work of another nurse — only a pastor can fully understand the work of another pastor.

That’s not to say a pastor shouldn’t have friends who aren’t pastors. Absolutely. I have many.

But, every pastor needs at least one pastor friend.

A part of my online presence affords me the tremendous opportunity to interact with dozens of pastors every month. One thing I’ve observed in recent years is that many of the pastors I encounter aren’t really looking for advice on how to lead a church. They are looking for a friend.

Sadly, many pastors don’t have any friends — not the kind who know them well enough to speak into their life. Perhaps even sadder is that some don’t seem to want one until they really need one.

And, I don’t know all the reasons pastors avoid close friendships. (I know some and maybe that’s the subject of another post.) But, so many pastors — in large churches and small churches — feel isolated in ministry.

I know some large church pastors who don’t even socialize or know their church staff. I know some smaller church pastors who don’t have anyone else serving with them during the week and haven’t made friendships with other pastors.

It simply isn’t healthy. And, it’s probably not sustainable. Isolation almost always leads to something undesirable, whether ineffectiveness or total destruction.

Here are 7 reasons every pastor needs a good pastor friend:

Accountability – Here’s the fact. Many pastors could hide if we wanted. We have flexible schedules. And, that’s just one example of where we need accountability. We need people in our life — who know our life and the demands of ministry — and can hold us accountable to our calling and work and speak into the deepest places of our life and work. The pastor is usually not absent of people who can offer criticism, but every pastor needs a friend who can correct them in a healthy way when needed. “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 27:6)

Protection – I did some professional counseling for a few years. (I wasn’t very good at it.) But, one helpful thing in counseling was the ability to glean from one another in, for example, potentially perceived ethical situations. Pastors encounter issues routinely that don’t need to be handled alone. (The push back of my zealot friends will be that we have prayer — Holy Spirit guidance. And, I say true, but even Jesus asked the disciples to pray with Him.) “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Companionship – Shall I quote the same verse again? “Two are better than one.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) Let me be clear that my wife is my closest companion. She should be. But, I need pastor friends who can just be my friend. They understand the uniqueness of my role. They laugh at the same things I laugh at — and some days all you can do is laugh, right? They understand the unique burden of being a pastor. And, on days when I simply don’t feel like being anyone’s pastor — they understand that too and are not offended by me saying it. I’m not trying to be cute with words — but I need a buddy in ministry. (And, I’m thankful I have several.)

Iron sharpening. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Biblical insight. Idea critiques. Brainstorming. Best practice sharing. Those and so many more. We can learn best from those who are attempting to do what we are attempting to do.

Pastor, you need a pastor friend. And, as much as I love connecting via Internet, certainly I am limited in my ability to “friend” everyone I encounter. You need one, two or three friends who you can get in a car or jump on a plane and actually spend some time with frequently.

And, to find one, for many pastors, it will take an intentional effort. It won’t happen just because you want it to happen. To make a friend you’ll have to be a friend. Take some positive steps. Ask a pastor to join you with coffee. Go through several pastors if you have to until you find the right one.

And, certainly, here’s a great place for prayer, ask God to guide you, help you discern, and give you the encouragement to seek out a friendship with another pastor.

I’m pulling from you.