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Lessons from the bowling alley

By Mike Klockenbrink

Growing up in the Midwest I thought that bowling was an Olympic sport. I loved to go bowling; after all, what else is there to do in sub-freezing temperatures four months out of the year. While I’ve never bowled a perfect game, I’ve come pretty close on a few occasions.

Moving out to California, I found out we didn’t have any sub-freezing winters. Most of the time was spent outside. However, we do have rain days, so I started taking my boys bowling as soon as they could pick up an eight pound ball. Things changed since I was a kid bowling. The lanes had these bumper rails on each side of the bowling lane. WOW, no more gutter balls. My boys loved bowling when they could actually score. As they got older, we didn’t use the bumper guards like we used to. Bowling didn’t seem to be as much fun every game. Some of the scores actually dropped and so did some of the excitement for bowling.

I asked myself: Are there any lessons to be learned from this that I could apply to my leadership team? I decided to take the leadership team to the bowling alley for our Thursday staff meeting. They thought it was cool to get out of the office for a change, so did I.

Total abandonment

This is where the fun begins, everyone got their shoes, carefully selected their ball and then started smack talking on who’s going down. I explained the rules, plugged in the names to the computer and we started to bowl. Oh, did I mention that I had bumper rails up on the lane we were bowling on. So what happens when you take away the risk of getting a gutter ball? You have people bowl without a care of really messing up. I’ll admit that it was pretty funny watching everyone bowl with total abandonment.

OK, one game down, one to go; this time no bumper rails. Uh oh, need to get serious. We had a few more gutter balls this time. As the game went on, the dynamics changed. So what was really different this game from the last game?

During the first game, there wasn’t a worry of losing or messing up. This game wasn’t that serious. We had clear specific boundaries that the bumper rails kept us in. If we started to go off course, the bumpers redirected us back on the path. As a leader, you may have a bumper rail of people on your team cheering you on. On occasion they may have to bump you several times back onto the path until you make it to the finish line. It’s a lot easier to lead when the risk is minimal or you know you can’t fail.

True leadership

During the second game, things changed. So what happens as a leader when you don’t have bumper rails? You could end up in the gutter. As a leader, sometimes you have to go at it alone; to paraphrase the Star Trek tagline: “To go where no man has gone before.” You don’t always have people on the sidelines to cheer you on. This is when leadership gets tough and true leaders step up. As a leader you need to get really clear and focused with yourself on what you need to do. You look at the goal ahead, take the necessary steps forward and take your best shot. You may not get a strike the first time out, but with patience, practice and perseverance you will continue to improve your game and yourself as a true leader.

Mike Klockenbrink is chief of staff at Lakeside Church, Folsom, CA [ www.lakesidechurch.com ]

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