Things I Learned on Vacation: 2) Don’t Move the Goalposts or the Ball

canoeingWhile our vacation in the North Georgia Mountains was wonderful, there were a couple of things that frustrated me, and way more than they should have. My reaction to them was strong enough to cause me to ask myself, “What is really going on here?” And in the span of about 15 minutes I learned two important leadership lessons.

The entire family – all 15 of us – planned to go canoeing Friday morning at Moccasin Creek State Park.  Jennifer and I were doing all the things necessary to get our family of 5 ready.  I ended up with the task of making sure Ainsley, Aidyn, and Aryn got dressed.

At ages 8 and 6, Ainsley and Aidyn can take care of that for themselves. Though with Aidyn it sometimes seems like he can’t get more than one item of clothing on before getting distracted by a Hot Wheels car a bug or a sister in need of teasing.

At 2 ½ Aryn still needs someone to put on a new diaper, get her clothes out, put them on, and so forth. Not a big deal, though.

After 10-15 minutes everyone was dressed and went up stairs ready to go.

Jennifer saw them and said, “Oh, no honey. We’re going to be around water, they should wear bathing suits.”


That really frustrated me.  But why?

It wasn’t that it would take much time to get them out of their clothes and into bathing suits.  And it wasn’t because we running late.  After some though I realized it was frustrating because I had accomplished something and then realized the accomplishment was worthless because the goal was changed. For someone who is goal-oriented, that will drive them crazy.

If you’re a leader who likes sports analogies, the lesson was…

Don’t move the goalposts

The incident caused me to consider how often I move the goalposts on others.

How often do I ask someone to create something and then upon seeing it say, “Thanks. You did everything that I asked, but now that I see it, I don’t care for it. Let’s try a different concept?”  Argh!

Or probably more common, how often do I ask someone to do something without clearly defining the goal? I have one thing in mind, the other person has something else in mind. They end result is they do what I’ve asked but not really what I wanted. Even though I didn’t move the goalposts, it turns out they’re in a different place than the other person thought they were.

These things happen all the time – in marriage, parent/child relationships, ministry teams, and business.

And there’s often an overreaction because it’s about more than just revising or redoing the task.  Beneath the surface it’s about a feeling that their time and energy has been wasted, that you did not value them.

Making sure the goal is clear is huge. Depending on the size and complexity of the task, it might be worthwhile to ask the person to explain the goal in their own words or write out all the requirements.

Lucy moving the football on Charlie BrownDon’t move the ball

Not 15 minutes later I got another leadership lesson.  One of our cell phones needed to be charged.  I went to where I last put the charger and it wasn’t there.  So, I started looking… and looking… and looking…


Again, it turned out to be way more frustrating than it should have been.  Why?  Ultimately I think it was because I had a task to accomplish it but lacked the resources to accomplish it.  It caused me to think about how often I do that to other people.

How often do I ask one of our staff at OurChurch.Com to do something without giving them the training they need or enough time to get it done?  How often do I ask my wife to deposit some checks but forget to sign them first? How often do I ask my son to trim the oak trees but neglect to sharpen the chainsaw? (just kidding about that last one)

I think being a servant leader is about making sure when you ask someone to do something that they have what they need to get the job done.  I know I need to be more conscious of this. And I need to ask the people I lead more often if they have what they need.  How about you?

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