Slimed by Gossip

Posted by Brady Boyd

This is a brief excerpt from my new book, Speak Life, which releases in September. This part of the book tackles the topic of gossip.

 

Engaging in gossip is not altogether different from my experience of eating too much fried catfish every single time I’m back in Louisiana. If you know anything about catfish, then you know they are disgusting creatures. They’re bottom-feeders that consider algae, insects, and leeches “fine dining.” But if you catch one of those suckers, roll the thing in cornmeal, fry it up in near-rancid oil—without exaggerating, I just can’t get enough.

Comfort food like no other, I tell you. It tastes so good and goes down so easily—but a few hours later, your innards begin to revolt. You search desperately for some way to get the effects out of your system—“Maybe a shower will help. Or a workout?” you think. “Yeah, I’ll sweat it out.”—but you should realize your search is in vain. The toxicity is in your system now, and you’re just going to have to let it run its course.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why, when we channel surf past TMZ, do we have to flip back just for a second to see what’s being said? Yes, it slides down easily. Right before it makes us sick.

We do this because inside every one of us lives a little bit of Salacious Crumb-like fascination with the perils other people face. Do you remember him, the yellow-eyed monkey-lizard from Return of the Jedi?

Salacious Crumb was the court jester for crime lord Jabba the Hutt and had a maniacal, cackling laugh you don’t soon forget. The terms of Crumb’s employment were straightforward: if the strange beast managed to amuse Jabba at least once daily, then he would be allowed to stay and to eat and drink as much as he wished. If he failed to do so, he would be killed. To accomplish his do-or-die goal, Crumb mocked anyone and everyone—except his boss, of course—doing virtually anything to get a laugh.

The part of him that resides in our sometimes-deceitful hearts is that part that cranes toward salacious crumbs of another’s misfortune or grief. Collectively, our self-esteem is very low, and so when we hear someone quietly say, “You won’t believe what she did . . .” even across a crowded room, we can’t help but inch our way toward the gossipy morsel in the hope of learning something bad about someone else so that we can feel better about ourselves.

And despite our protests to the contrary, Christians can be the worst at this. We nod our heads in agreement that good favor with God is gained not by works of righteousness but by unmerited grace, even as we troll for ways to elevate ourselves by rolling around in the details of someone else’s plight like a dog in the carcass of a dead skunk.

“Well, if he’s struggling with porn, then maybe this lust thing I’m wrestling with isn’t really so bad after all.”

“Wow. She said that? I’m not as horrible a wife as I thought.”

“What? He got picked up on a DUI? I may drink a bottle of wine a night, but I would never, ever get a DUI.”

“I can’t believe it. He was sleeping with her all along. Only a fool gets caught!”

Juicy morsels, swept from the table of despair; but aren’t we all prey to swallowing them, bite after delectable bite?

“You are my beloved,” God says. “You are my prize. I have loved you with an everlasting love. You don’t have to earn it; it’s already yours.” And yet we keep on fighting for ways to prove that we’re not as bad as the next guy, or the next gal.

“No proof necessary whatsoever,” God whispers, even as we turn to a friend and spread the smut.

It happened again today. I was having a normal conversation at Panera Bread with someone I know, and then without any notice, he took a hard left turn, no clutch. Within seconds, he had delved into chatter about a mutual friend of ours. “Hey, did you hear about . . .” was how it began. I felt my head shaking before I had a chance to process the fact that by shaking my head—and, in effect, answering his question—I was encouraging him to go on. I didn’t want him to go on, but before I gathered my wits enough to discourage him, he’d continued.

Before I even realized, the catfish was sliding down again.

Gossip is two things: it is sharing the right information with the wrong person, and it is sharing the wrong information with anyone. As the immediate details this man was sharing flooded my consciousness, I realized I was neither part of our mutual friend’s problem, nor part of his solution.

The information being passed to me had no business being shared. I held up my hand to stop my friend from going on, but it was too late. I already knew our mutual friend’s situation—probably a situation he didn’t want me to know. (If he wanted me to know, he would have told me himself, right?)

I thought back to the night before, when Pam and the kids and I were at our friends’ house. They had just gotten a new puppy. All the kids were jostling the poor pooch around so much that after an hour or so, the over-stimulated dog vomited all over Callie.

Callie came rushing downstairs to the basement where the adults were watching a ballgame, and said, “Dad, the dog just threw up all over me.” She wanted me to help her clean things up, but as I took her in standing there with goo all over her shirt, I thought, “I’m not going to get out of this situation without also getting slimed.”

That’s gossip, in a nutshell: signing up to get totally slimed.

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Hearing God Despite the Distractions

Posted by Brady Boyd

My new book, Speak Life, releases this September. Here is a brief excerpt about distractions that hinder our ability to hear God.

At last check, you and I are receiving upwards of five thousand marketing messages a day, which promote everything from online gambling to new cars to the mammoth fast-food cheeseburger that somehow relates to the scantily clad blonde bombshell being used to promote it. “It’s a non-stop blitz of advertising messages,” says Jay Walker-Smith, who runs a London-based marketing firm. Marketers now plaster corporate logos and taglines on everything from escalator handrails to jetliner fuselages to the sides of buildings to big-city sidewalks. There was even talk at one point of using Major League Baseball bases to promote upcoming movies! According to Walker-Smith, “It’s all an assault on the senses.”

He’s absolutely right.

I was in New York City a few weeks ago to help celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of the church some friends planted just months after 9/11. I was in town to encourage them and their congregation, but when I discovered I had a four-hour block of unassigned time on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t resist the chance to take in a few Manhattan sights. I eventually wound up in Central Park, thinking I’d find a quiet corner where I could sit, think, and maybe pray for a few minutes. At least I could simply reflect on the season of life I’m in.

I wandered around the massive tangle of plots and trails for probably thirty minutes before I realized there is no such thing as a “quiet corner” in Central Park. That night when I reconvened with my friends, I told them about my afternoon and then asked, “Where do you guys find silence in this town? The streets are loud, the inside of my hotel room is loud, and even Central Park, for all its beauty, is, I’m convinced, one of the loudest places on Earth.”

They chuckled and said, “Brady, we’ve learned to thrive in the chaos. You would too if you lived here.”

It’s the mantra of an entire society now, this idea that we can actually thrive amid chaos, even as we’re not really thriving at all. Most of us are a restless people, incapable of stilling ourselves—mind, body, or soul. I asked my congregation to sit in perfect silence one Sunday to prove to them how uncomfortable we’ve become when the noise dies down, the lights quit blinding us, and we’re left with the company of our own thoughts. It was only fifteen seconds, but I could sense the jitters by the end.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We’re busier than we’re meant to be. We’re letting our senses get assaulted by what we see and what we hear, the net effect of which is our inability to detect the voice of God. We don’t see him in the world around us. We don’t hear him over the unceasing roar of our lives. Then we come away thinking that he’s the problem, that he’s abandoned us to ourselves. The hard pill to swallow is that our addiction to chaos is what’s keeping us from God—or one of the top things, anyway. If we’re serious about encountering him, we’ll get serious about quieting our souls.

If you grew up in certain circles, you’re familiar with the phrase quiet time. In the Pentecostal church of my youth, everybody was big on having a daily quiet time, which was the twenty or thirty minutes you were to spend reading your Bible, praying, and getting yourself centered for the day ahead. It may sound antiquated, but now more than ever I think we’d benefit from setting aside a daily quiet time, if for no other reason than to actually practice being quiet.

My advice to you if you’re struggling and straining to hear the voice of God: be quiet. Schedule a quiet time and just sit there in a chair, with nothing in your hands and no earbuds in your ears. Just get quiet before God and see what unfolds. Start small. Start microscopically if you have to. Just start.

 

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Wrestling with Negative Self-Talk

Posted by Brady Boyd

Throughout my day I ask myself a question as often as possible in the hope of keeping negative agreements at bay. This question has kept me out of the ditch on more occasions than I can count and is the safety net that runs underneath my life at all times, guaranteeing it will catch me in the event I fall. The question is this:How does this thought I’m thinking, this assumption I’m building, or this agreement I’m making line up with the Word of God?

If the thought, assumption, or agreement squares with truth, then it can stay; if not, it has to go—it doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Throughout the Bible—all the way from Genesis to Revelation—warfare imagery is evoked, and in ten out of ten of those occurrences, God is referring not merely to battles fought with hands and feet and horses and shields and swords but to the battles fought in our minds. This idea is what was at the core of the apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5). The “demolishment,” according to Paul, would occur as those Christ followers took “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” language considered strong (violent, even?) to first-century ears.

In Paul’s day, one of the ways Roman forces intimidated conquered cities was to chain the governors and other leaders of those cities and parade them through the streets, indisputably conveying the message, “Your situation is helpless and hopeless! Even your leaders have been defeated and shamed. Rome is here to stay.” Roman conquerors were masters of the siege, going to any lengths—starvation, humiliation, rape, and death—to take over the world. It is this imagery Paul looked to when describing how we are to conquer our thoughts.

“Take them captive!” Paul insisted. “Strip them naked until they are totally exposed. Bring them to a place of earnest submission, no holds barred.”

The stakes were high for cities Rome was overtaking, and the stakes are high for us too. If we don’t overtake our own negative agreements, proving their impotence by parading them through the streets, they will fight with all they have to exert their will on us. Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, and habits form who we are. To take our thoughts captive is to consciously declare whether our lives will be governed by truth or by lies.

NOTE:

This is an excerpt from my new book, Speak Life which releases in September.

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Motion vs. Momentum

Posted by Brady Boyd

As a pastor, there is no busier weekend than the one we just completed, a weekend filled to the brim with Good Friday and multiple Sunday gatherings to celebrate the resurrection. There was a lot of motion and activity around special songs, added sermons, and preparations for new guests.

For most pastors, this weekend was the high attendance mark for the year. There were more guests than any other Sunday, and for some, this meant more services than normal. If Easter weekend went well, everyone who served is feeling a bit tired today, depleted from all the responsibilities.

There. Was. A. Lot. Of. Motion.

What we need is an appetite for momentum, which can look a lot like motion unless you peer deeper. Motion is busyness. Momentum is miraculous. Momentum feels like cycling downhill with equal forces of mass and velocity working in your favor. Motion is energy spent, but not always with dividends paid.

Holy Week has always been the means to awaken the saints, to encourage the weak, to confound the cynics and to welcome home the prodigal. The darkness of the cross, joined with the ephemeral hours in the shadows of death, followed by the joyous actualities of the empty tomb is a story that awakens hearts and pulls us toward the deep.

Momentum is a gift from God to us, the extra push to get us off our spiritual training wheels. Momentum is Spirit working with the frailties of our will to engineer a better blueprint for living. Momentum is a cold breeze that makes us more alert, a warm sun on our face pointing us toward vigor. Momentum is a force grueling in its genesis but near unstoppable at its apex.

Motion is our attempt at getting systems right, to make the path easier by preparing diligently. There is nothing wrong with these things as long as the goal is clear. Let us not be so busy doing good things in good seasons that we forget to plant and water the spiritual seeds that bring us real life.

On this Monday, post-Easter, my prayer is for the millions who heard the narrative of Jesus last week to find themselves in a bigger story than any they could have written on their own. My prayer is for all the planned motion to point us toward real momentum, following the Way with renewed passion and strength. May the truth of the resurrection story cause us not to live busier lives with more motion, but to live resurrected lives with legitimate momentum.

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Four Ways to Build Trust on Your Team

Posted by Brady Boyd

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:6-7

For the past few weeks, I’ve undergone two separate heart procedures to correct some issues which are common for congenital heart patients like myself. The procedures have gone well and my prognosis is great, but I’ve been absent for many of my normal responsibilities as pastor at New Life.  When I realized I would be absent from leading and preaching, I had two choices – worry about the church or trust the team God has sent us.

This is not the first time I’ve taken a leave of absence. Two years ago, I took a much needed sabbatical and in 2011, I was gone for several weeks after major heart surgery. Each time, I had the same two choices and each time, the team proved trustworthy. How did that happen? It seems more teams implode than trust and grow. How does a team build this kind of trust? How does a group of independent people coalesce into family?

1. Surround yourself with really good people.

Obviously, no one intentionally builds a team of renegades. However, no one haphazardly builds a stellar team, either. We believe character, chemistry and competency are all equally important at New Life. If you fail to evaluate the first two because there is a pressing need for talent or expertise, you may well end up with a team you do not like or who cannot play nice together when you are away. Really good people have high character, robust emotional health and are constantly improving their skills and craft. Trust is earned in drops which means the calendar is your friend. Over time, character is revealed, chemistry is forged and competency is developed.

2. Allow for some messes

Even when there’s an all-star team, there will be some fumbles. If your team is afraid of failing, they will stop experimenting. When they stop being experimental, they stop innovating. The light bulb was not perfected on the first try. The Wright brothers crashed a lot before they flew and Columbus was probably lost when he discovered America. Create a culture of learning where mistakes are evaluated, lessons are learned and your team is encouraged to continue their discoveries.

3. Let them drive the car

There is only one way to really prove trust – leave it to the team and go away. Trust them in your absence. Right now, both of my teenagers are learning to drive. So far, all the lessons have been with me in the car. My prayer life has never been better. One day soon, I will have to give them the keys and allow them to drive solo. I am terrified at the thought, but I know I must let them grow up. Each time I have left New Life, I tell my team to have fun driving the car, keep the scratches to a minimum and keep it out of the ditch. Then I go away and trust them.

4. Give them the credit when it goes well.

Shared responsibilities should equal shared rewards. The surest way to keep good people around you is to constantly shine the spotlight on them when they succeed. Praise them in public, brag on them to your friends, and celebrate their ingenious ideas, especially when those concepts are better than yours. Take the lid off your team and they will rise. Secure leaders have discovered the greatest reward for leading well is having others soar past you.

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A Prayer to Know Jesus is Near

Posted by Brady Boyd

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:14

For 49 years, I have been a heart patient and it seems as normal to me as walking or sleeping. I’ve learned to live with a heart that needs special meds to work well and sometimes needs medical maintenance. Three times I’ve had major heart surgery – first, when I was only months old, while the latest was in 2011 when my pulmonary valve was replaced. There have been countless miracle stories along the way – from my poor, rural family being introduced to the world’s best pediatric cardiologist in 1967, to having my life saved by a tiny device that was only implanted because a surgeon felt the whim to test me for a condition that no other doctor had diagnosed.

It’s a miracle that I’ve survived a heart disease that took nearly every young child’s life in the 1960′s. It’s a miracle that I have played sports, traveled the world, climbed and hiked through the mountains, and have had more than enough energy for a wife and two teenagers. I’m blessed to have lived a full life despite the constant reminders of a heart that is not always perfect or cooperative. There have been some scary days, but I’m not afraid. I’ve always known my life is in the hands of the One who made me.

I’m writing this to everyone who has ever heard troubling news from a doctor and felt alone or fearful. I understand because I’ve heard the same reports and felt the same dread. I’ve also been a witness of the faithful presence of Jesus and have found indescribable comfort from knowing Christ is, indeed, with me. He is with you, too and that’s more than enough. That’s not just some syrupy, sentimental cliche designed to numb you into some fantasy. Jesus, instead, gives us a new reality to proclaim over our sickness.  He is Lord and He is faithful. He is good and He is near.

Do not give up hope and do not be afraid. Both were constant reminders from Jesus, because, I suspect, he knew we would need to be constantly reminded. My prayer is for healing, wholeness and Divine repair for all that has been lost or broken. I pray that all of us would be a witness of the faithful presence of Jesus and would not spend a second of our lives feeling forgotten or lost.

 

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:20

 

 

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Some Thoughts on Politicians and How to Pray for Them

Posted by Brady Boyd

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

This is a big election year in our country and politics will be the center of most discussions for the next 11 months, like it or not. I appreciate the sincere people who feel called to the political arena, whether it is a local school board election, representing their neighborhood on the city council or finding the courage to run for a statewide or national election. Politics are important and so are the politicians who inevitably win these contests.

Politicians are not leaders by the purest of definitions. They are representative voices, elected because they best reflect the opinions of the majority. Once elected, they can lead through skillful collaboration and consensus, but personal convictions often have to be compromised to line up with the plurality of voters. That is the very essence of democracy.

The most successful politicians seem to be marketing geniuses, able to harness public opinions into empowered coalitions who keep them in political power. Again, I am not disparaging this call into the public arena, but I suspect many of us have over-estimated the abilities of our political leaders to lead, when they are more prone to react.

That is why we should pray for those who choose to run, and more importantly, for those who are elected. We should ask God to give them wise counselors who will keep them centered on sacred truths. We should pray for politicians to have private, personal convictions that are anchored in our scriptural history and that these beliefs would not be be compromised when they are faced with the inevitable pressures of their office.

We should pray for these men and women to not forget they are called to serve the common good and not their personal ambitions. We should pray for all politicians to know when it is time to graciously exit the public arena. We should pray for their hearts to remain at peace even when they are falsely accused or being lured into contentious and factious arguments that lead to partisan divides instead of wise solutions.

We should be prophetic voices to all leaders in all parties. The church has always defended the weak in the face of tyranny and stood up for those who deserve justice but have been silenced by racism or discrimination. Our prayers should lead us to action, but action without prayer will lead us to nowhere.

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Some Truths about Sermons, Preaching and Preachers

Posted by Brady Boyd

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. Acts 20:20

Since Christianity started, there have been men and women commissioned with the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their congregations. Some have rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others have left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity to preach was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating, sometimes all at once.

What does your pastor want you to know about them? How can we build up those called to speak? What should a congregation know about the sermon that takes up a portion of our weekend?

 

1. Pastors are really invested in the message.

Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we are invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.

Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work –  to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we have poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be with people in prayer and conversation. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.

 

2. Preaching is exhausting work.

If you are not tired after preaching, you are not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy that has been expended is not easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering.  Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.

 

3. Preaching should be more substance than style

In the Western world, our culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors,”If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That is a dangerous trap for many pastors. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it is ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble.

 

4. Preaching only starts the conversation.

People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has pet ministry projects, social issues, the latest headline outrage or spiritual gift they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. Neither preachers nor their sermons were  designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the path for truthful answers. The most powerful sermons jump start our disciple-shaping journey, compelling us to study more, to lean into mature relationships and jar us free from apathy or deception.

 

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The Batteries of Our Lives

Posted by Brady Boyd

All of us have internal batteries that determine how much energy or effort we have to expend on the matters of life. When these batteries are charged, we can take on multiple tasks and still have strength left. When these batteries are low, even everyday jobs can overwhelm us.  I have four batteries that need constant evaluation and re-charging and I’ve learned that if any of them run low, I am less than my best.

I have a personal spiritual battery that is only charged when I spend time with God in prayer, worship and scripture.  I talk to God every day, but at least five days a week, I need extended time alone with Him.  My goal is seven days, but in reality, that’s not always possible.  When I am in a good rhythm of schedule, my spiritual battery is charged and I feel nothing can keep me from taking ground.

I also have a work battery. This is the energy supply for doing my job as pastor such as meeting with people, leading meetings, teaching, and studying. I keep this battery charged by saying yes to things that I should be doing and saying no to things someone else should be doing. When I’m operating in my strengths and my calling, I feel fully alive and able to give my best to the assignment God has given me.

I also have a dad battery. This is the energy supply I need to be a good dad to Abram and Callie. Because they are 16 and 14, the short drive from New Life to my house is my time to switch off the work battery and plug in the dad battery.  My goal is not to take work home at night and not be talking on the phone when I walk in the house.

I also have a husband battery.  I’m not listing this last because it’s the lowest of my priorities, but because it’s the easiest for most of us to neglect. The difference between a good marriage and a great marriage is often a matter of time invested. But time alone does not a splendid marriage make. We have to be present when we are together, ready to engage and ready to listen. We need to give energy to the relationship, not the spare change after spending ourselves all day on others. For the two of us, this means we need to get away, to separate from ordinary life and take long drives or go on short trips.

Take an honest look at the batteries in your life. Are they all charged for optimum output or do you need to make some lifestyle or schedule changes today? God has enough strength for all of us. We just have to sit and get re-charged.  Your batteries will be grateful.

If want to read and learn more about healthy rhythms, my newest book, Addicted to Busy, may be helpful.

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Celebrate, Tolerate or Obliterate

Posted by Brady Boyd

Everyone on our team is up to something. They are either celebrating, tolerating or obliterating the values that are meant to direct our steps.  These are the same values that were discussed and debated in meetings, talked about over meals, and edited in emails. There was this moment of supposed unanimity when all seemed to be perfect. Then the living began.

Many leaders and the teams serving alongside them struggle with honesty. It’s not that people intend to mislead, but most dear souls are not comfortable with candid conversations that lead to helpful disagreements and consensus. Most people have never been in environs where leaders really listen to learn, so the bad habit of passive agreement creeps into the culture. Leaders speak and they see people nodding “yes” with their heads, but inside there is still a subversive “no”. They want to protest, but the risk of rejection mutes them.

Most on our team celebrate the shared values. They will strive for unity and are not content with mediocre. They cheer for others who hit the mark and there is a sense of shared responsibility for the group’s wellbeing. They are honest with their struggles, true with their friendship and gracious when sincere efforts fail.

Some on our team are just tolerating the values. They are not rebels, but they are certainly not disciples. They seem like devotees in meetings, but when given the opportunity, they take shortcuts. They are indifferent when goals are not met and are not that concerned about budgets and such. They tend to get by with “average” and are working for a paycheck, to maintain status quo and nothing more.  They are generally peaceful but seldom passionate.

The third group is the nosiest, because they obliterate the values. They are either immature or just riding on the wrong bus and the ride needs to be a short one.  They always seem to be in the center of some drama and strife. They are like Pigpen, the Peanuts character who was always traveling in his own private dust storm.

My advice is to slow down and to ask more questions. The buy-in always happens after the weigh-in. Allow the introverts to process and the extroverts to argue out loud.  Create a cultural norm of honest debate and allow everyone to participate. Deal with rotten apples and coach those who want to grow, so everyone can have a chance to succeed. If we will not leave the valley until we have picked the right trail and the right cadre, more people are likely to finish the journey with us.

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