Tag Archives: cross country

For Leaders and Followers

ant_leadership

“I really knew I wanted to be Adam, because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” – Adam Ant

It is my great honor to hang out with Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s cross country teams once a week and share a short spiritual message at one of their early morning practices.  Go Waves!  The team boasts impressive athletes, students, and people, and as college students listening to me at half past six in the a.m., they are also generous in not telling me to take a hike.

This year I am generally sharing some message from the Book of Proverbs, which is straight out cheating since I am teaching Proverbs to a class of graduate students in our condo each Sunday morning.  I think even Proverbs would applaud my resourcefulness.  Proverbs often uses observations from the natural world to encourage wisdom, and this week I used its lessons learned from watching ants.  Not the DreamWorks movie.  Actual ants.

Brief interlude for an ant joke: What do you call an ant from overseas?  (Pause for effect…)

Important.

Ha!  That’s okay, college students don’t think I am funny either.

So Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach initiative, i.e., it looks like no one is telling an ant to get to work, but it gets to work anyway.  (Translation to athletes: Do what is right without waiting for your coach to tell you what to do.)  And Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach against procrastination, i.e., an ant collects food in the summer so that it has something to eat in the winter.  (Translation to athletes: Don’t wait until race day to train!)

But in the spirit of Proverbs, I kept observing the ant to see what other lessons might be hiding there.  Well, actually I googled “lessons from ants” and let someone else do the heavy lifting for me.  Again, resourcefulness!

Researchers at the University of Bristol observed that when an ant discovered a new food source it went back to the colony to show everyone the way.  As it led the others back, there was a predictable gap between leader and follower, but when the leader was too far in front of the pack, the leader ant would slow down to make sure the follower stayed engaged.  And when the gap closed completely, the follower ant would metaphorically give the leader a kick in the butt to widen the gap again.

I think this is important for everyone.  For those times in your life when you are the leader, don’t get so far in front that you lose touch with those coming along behind.  Your job is to bring others along with you, not set a land speed record.  And for those times in your life when you are the follower, encourage your leader to stay out in front.  Your job is not just to follow—your responsibility also includes spurring the leader on toward the destination.

Either way, leading or following, you have good work to do.

Measuring Strength

At Riverside

I am loving the opportunity to tag along with Pepperdine’s cross country program this season as the Waves race toward the conference and regional championship meets. For those unfamiliar, although cross country appears on the surface to be an individual sport, a team’s score depends on the finish place of the top five runners on the team.¹ Therefore, a great finish by four runners can be wasted without a solid finish from runner number five.

Hang on to that thought.

I preferred to study alone in law school, but more often than not law students form study groups to help process the complex material encountered in class. The advice I remember (and now deliver) is to be careful when forming a study group because the group will proceed at the pace of the slowest student.

You are following along nicely, aren’t you? An organization is only as strong as its weakest member.

The analogy to any department, team, group, business, class, family, etc. is pretty obvious—as are the choices of what to do with this information. One option is to replace the weak with someone strong,² but often times such drastic measures are not possible, like, oh, say, a family for instance. The other option is not to be so enamored with the superstar strengths in your organization and focus on improving the weakest unit(s). That just makes sense.

What isn’t so obvious is taking this same concept and looking into the mirror, mirror on the wall.

It is hard to consider a more complex organization than an individual human being. Setting aside the astonishingly complex biology and considering only the complex amalgamation of traits, skills, interests, passions, and experiences of each person, it is interesting to consider that we as individuals are also only as strong as our weakest part.

The same lesson and same options remain for a stronger future: If possible, eject the weakness, but more likely than not, focus on making the weakest part stronger.

Locate your fifth runner and pay special attention to its training. It will determine where you finish.

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¹ Wave student-athlete, Trevor Sytsma, explains this well in his excellent blog post at http://www.pepperdinesports.com/blog/2015/10/cross-country-update-trevor-sytsma-1.html.

² Jim Collins says it this way: “[L]eaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html

A Framework for Meaning

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I have a new side gig as team chaplain for the Pepperdine Cross Country team. Go Waves! My friend, “Coach Rad,” graciously offered the opportunity to join the team at an early morning practice each week to share a five-minute devotional message. I like both running and talking, so I feel confident that my messages will live up to the compensation package (as a volunteer).

This week, I shared my suspicion that the team was an ordinary cross-section of humanity so that some of the athletes appreciated a devotional message at dawn while others were ambivalent but would kindly listen and still others wished that I would go to the wrong practice location.

Regardless, faith, religion, etc. is an historic attempt to develop a framework for meaning in life. From births to deaths and all the in-between major moments in our lives, we have an inherent need to make some sense of it all, so even if my morning devotionals fall flat as a running track, deep consideration of meaning in life is worth the trouble.

I then shared the foundational-yet-downright-disturbing Bible story of Cain and Abel. Geographers cite the domestication of plants and animals as the launch of civilization, and Cain and Abel represent this great beginning. In the story, one of the brothers (Abel) pleased God while the other brother (Cain) did not, so guess which one bled out in a field at the hands of his brother? Yeah, I guessed wrong the first time, too. The Bible’s editorial department could have used some marketing experts at least in the first few pages.

But here we are, trying to make sense of it all, realizing from an early age that sometimes the bad actors win while the good folks get the shaft. Welcome to life as we know it. Instead of filing a formal complaint with the Fairness in Life Committee that never seems to respond in a timely manner, the necessary question shifts from How do I always win? (which I voted for but apparently is not on the menu) to What is worth living for? (which is on the menu). Or, maybe better stated in the negative: What is worth dying for?

I have my answers.

You may remember from middle school the wonderful book by Lois Lowry, The Giver, a compelling science-fictiony story that challenges our assumption that a pain-free world is best after all. Nobody without a masochistic personality disorder prefers pain, but a well-formed framework for meaning in life allows one to endure it when it comes—and those meaning-full things are even worth the pain.

These cross country runners have a pretty good handle on enduring pain for a greater goal, so I think they have a pretty good shot at getting a handle on this old life, too.