What Leadership Is Not

This is a guest post by my good friend Derek Reed, a veteran leader of the 20 Leadership Camp. You can follow his blog by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter by clicking here

If I was to travel back in time and ask President Eisenhower what he thought about leadership, he would respond, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” This means that a leader inspires people.

eisenhower-leadership

So how does one go about inspiring others? Is it listening to others? Or is it picking up slack? Is it learning to delegate tasks and work with others? Or is it standing up for someone or something? Does leadership tell you what to do and how to think? Or does leadership cause you to think? And we could go on for days asking questions, finding answers to the questions, and then asking more questions based on the answers that we found. But let me share an example of something a leader is not…

One of my favorite game shows as a young boy doesn’t run on T.V. anymore. However, if you listen closely to the world around you, you might still hear the show’s catch phrase today – “You are the weakest link…Goodbye!” The Weakest Link was a game show in which nine people would work together answering questions, building a sum of money. At the end of each timed round, players would choose to vote off one person that they thought was the worst player of the game, hence the catchphrase. I had always wanted to be on the show.

you-are-the-weakest-link-goodbye

Good leadership does not eliminate the weakest link of the team. Instead the leader inspires the weakest link to become better, to work harder, and to strive for excellence. Good leadership goes beyond barking orders or finding followers, but works alongside others. A leader listens more than talks, and shows other what to do through their actions, not just words. Leadership recognizes its strengths and weaknesses, and doesn’t boast in either, but accepts both as integral parts of them.

You chose to be read this post because you are a leader. I know that in one way or another, you want to be an example to others. I challenge you to try to develop your leadership to the max of your ability. That could be stepping back and letting someone else take charge, or that could be kindly taking charge, or this could mean that through your actions, you exemplify what it means to be a leader. You may feel like the weakest link, or you may see someone else that is the weakest link, but instead of writing off either, you choose to encourage and inspire. We are the leaders of the future. Be the cause.

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The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

Integrity. Honesty. Responsibility. I attended a leadership conference recently that encouraged the participants to discuss the most important characteristic of leadership. Wow! What a hard question. The participants presented different terms and ideas that they felt were valuable for any leader. Determination. Encouragement. Perseverance. The list could go on and on.

Ryan Eller

At the age of 20 Benjamin Franklin created a system to develop his character. He brainstormed specific virtues he thought were important to emulate, narrowed his list to 13, and then set out to master them. Below you will find his list:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I am trying to develop my own list, which is a huge challenge. I think ranking leadership virtues depends on what the list-maker needs from other leaders. I am strong in encouragement, development, and enthusiasm, so I obviously value those strengths. However, I strongly value leaders who have discipline, order, and self control…mostly because I am not strong in those areas.

Do you think our view on characteristic leadership values depends on the perception of our own strengths or upon the strengths of others? Which characteristic do you think is most important trait to have as a leader? Have you ever created a list like Benjamin Franklin? If so, what was your top virtue?

The Top Tweets From The 2013 Chick-Fil-A Leadercast

Yesterday I attended the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast conference where I was able to listen to some of the most powerful leaders from across the world. The speaker line-up included Condoleezza Rice, John C. Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, David Allen, and many more. Of course, I live-tweeted the event, and these are some of my favorite tweets from the Leadercast. I encourage you to follow these famous tweeters for powerful leadership tidbits and information.

 

 

I hope you enjoyed our recap of the day’s events. Once again, follow these tweeps on Twitter! What was your favorite line from the day?

3 Leadership Lessons Learned From Charles Ramsey The Hero

I was perusing a magazine at the local tire shop when a reporter on the lobby TV caught my attention with an unbelievable story. Apparently three women had been rescued from enslavement in Cleveland, OH. These women had been kidnapped over 10 years ago! I had so many questions immediately. How did this happen? Why would this ever occur? How did these women escape?

I have no real answer to a couple of these questions, but we all quickly found out how they escaped from the man who found Amanda Berry…Charles Ramsey.

Mr. Ramsey has turned into an overnight hero and an Internet sensation. He is beloved by people all across the country for his straight forward answers and genuine personality. I noticed three undeniable leadership traits that we could all learn from this hero.

1. Leaders take immediate action when crisis occurs. 

This is the most obvious of the lessons Ramsey taught us, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. There are many people who would have disregarded the screams coming from neighbor’s house. We try to keep out of other’s business when possible. Ramsey didn’t…he immediately stopped what he was doing to rescue those ladies. Here is my favorite quote from Ramsey:

“Bruh, I’m a Christian and American and I’m just like you. We bleed the same blood; put our pants on the same way. It’s just that you gotta put that bein’ a coward and that ‘I don’t wanna get in nobody’s business’—you gotta put that away for a minute.”

2. Leaders remember the small details. 

In the interviews following the rescue, Ramsey consistently reported all of the details surrounding the day’s events. He broke it down to include what he was eating, who was nearby, and what things had occurred minute by minute. One of the reasons he is so fascinating is because he didn’t leave any detail out, regardless of whether it was related to the issue or not. Leaders know the small details and commit them to memory.

3. Leaders defer their accolades. 

Ramsey has been offered the $25,000 reward money for finding the missing women, but he has stated multiple times that he doesn’t deserve the money. He just did what any other person would do, he thinks the money should go to the women and their families. He is saying this even though he admits to not sleeping because of money problems. In the end, Ramsey will be rewarded for his actions…and it will be worth far more than $25,000.

We tip our caps to your Charles Ramsey. We would all like to imagine that we would be as brave and selfless as you when crisis happens, but you proved your leadership through your actions.

charles_ramsey

What leadership lessons did you learn from Charles Ramsey? What would have you done if you found yourself in the same scenario?

Why You Should Be Way More Careful Finding Friends

Friends. We all have them, but how did we become close to them in the first place? Proximity? I know that it is hard to have friends that live in China if you live in Oklahoma. Some of my best friends lived near me at some point in either high school or college. Common interests? Are we friends with people because we have something in common? What happens when our interests change? Do we remain friends?

Man…that was a lot of questions, however, I think it is important to ask these type of questions about our friends. It is vital, some would even say life-changing, to consistently evaluate our friendships.

According to capecodonline.com, people with a strong social network are more likely to survive a major illness such as a heart attack or cancer. Human companionship can also help reduce the effects of stress on the body, protect against illness, and help us heal when we do get sick.

The most important factor in friendship just might be their influence on you. Many people think of themselves as influence machines. Just imagine all of the knowledge, advice, and just plain awesomeness you impart on your friends. Research has proven otherwise when considering your inner circle of friends.

Todd Cartmell’s entertaining book Project Dad focuses on the differences between “Inner Circles” of friends versus “Outer Circles” of friends. Think of your inner circle as the people you spend the most time with…your Rat Pack, Super Friends, or even disciples. According to Cartmell, you must choose these friends wisely.

Typically you do not influence your inner circle, they influence you. Think about all of the inner circle friends you have had in your life, if they all went on a diet, you probably went on a diet. If they were all active in church, your would probably be active in church. Since you seek acceptance from your closest friends, you develop a need to accept the social norms associated with your inner circle…hence their influence on you (don’t worry, you influence them too if you are in their inner circle).

Your outer circle is where you bestow your influence. An outer circle includes everyone you interact with who are not in your inner circle. An outer circle could include your acquaintances at work, a distant neighbor, or even the UPS driver. You probably don’t care too much about their acceptance, so you won’t cave into their social norms.

Have as many friends as you want in your outer circle, but spend an extensive amount of time before you allow someone into your inner circle. I personally want friends in my inner circle who are positive, encouraging, motivated, and empowering. When I am around these people I too start displaying these traits. It is win-win for everyone involved.

Have you thought about the friends you have surrounded yourself with? Has it been a matter of convenience or do strategically surround yourself with people you aspire to emulate? What traits to you desire in a friendship?

This is Why Leadership is Exactly Like Calculus

I love leadership. I don’t care much for calculus. Regardless, I believe there is a direct relationship between the two subjects and how students of calculus are just like students of leadership.

Some people have innate traits that help them learn math. They can stay focused for long periods of times, they have a strategic mind that solves problems efficiently, and they were born with the resolve to finish a tough task. Although some people are born with skills to aid them in calculus, most people must practice, practice, practice.

A math student starts with easy problems and moves toward algebra and trigonometry before even attempting calculus. They attend classes with teachers and professors to get better at math before mastering the harder subject. They receive tutoring, learn from others, and read many books. They practice their work often and have it graded depending on their skill level. Most students have been honing their math skills for over a decade before they try their hand at calculus.

Leadership skills are much the same way. If you want to be a good listener (or communicator, teammate, etc.), you must practice your skills, ask for feedback from teachers, attend seminars, read books, and stay focused for years. People assume leadership is a natural-born trait, but most people are born with skills that aid in leadership…not actual leadership ability.

So…if you want to be a good leader? Think about it like calculus.

The Cuba 20 Leadership Conference Part 2

Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed Part 1 about our trip to Cuba. A quick recap on part 1…The “Dream Team” flies to Miami, we take South Beach by storm, and the whole city of Miami doesn’t know what hit it after we arrived. We fly into Cuba where Jerrod smooth talks his way through security. I think that just about covers it all, however, if you would like to go into more detail and catch up, click here.

Part 2 starts with the Murr Brothers, A-Mo, Darrin, Mario, and myself finally through airport security and free (as free as you can be in Cuba), and meeting up with our contact (name removed because of security reasons!). Our contact is a big deal for the church in Cuba. He met us at the airport, and greeted us as if he had known the “Dream Team” forever. He was the first Cuban I officially met, and he embraced us in the traditional Cuban greeting, a handshake and a bear hug. He spoke as much English as I spoke Spanish, but with Mario’s wonderful translation, he began to tell us of all the exciting events about to happen in our lives.

(If you are wondering, my grasp on the Spanish language culminated after three years in Senora Newton’s Spanish classes at Hilldale High, where I could ask you your name, where the bathroom is, and what is in the library, much like the “One Semester of Spanish Spanish Love Song”)

It was our contact who first approached Jerrod in March and asked if he would be able to return to Cuba with a leadership team to host a conference for his youth leaders from all over the country. Our contact, as did most of the people at our conference, had a passionate vision of reaching out to the youth in Cuba. They believe the country of Cuba will forever be changed by the charisma and determination of this most important generation of Cubans.

Jerrod Murr

(Jerrod hanging out with some locals)

He explained to us that youth leaders from all over the country, from Guantanamo to Havana, were traveling in to hear what we had to say on leadership, on reaching youth, and to hear our keynotes in the evenings. I later found out that these youth leaders mostly traveled not by car or bus, but walked, rode bicycles or horses, or hitchhiked to our conference…what dedication!

This was our first chance to listen to Mario translate, and if all Cubans were like our contact, it was going to be a fun week! He would talk, very quickly I might add, for 4-5 minutes at a time, and then give Mario a chance to translate. Mario was the constant pro, however, and was able to remember everything he had heard. If we truly were a dream team, Mario was the Nick Collison of the trip…no question about it.

Jerrod Murr

(Mario translating for Jerrod)

Our Resort Hotel

We were chauffeured us to our first destination, our hotel. Along the way we were able to see many interesting and beautiful parts of Cuba. First of all, the traffic was much like the Cuban people, relaxed, in no hurry, and mostly stuck back in the 1950s. Because of the trade embargo with the US, Cuba couldn’t get new cars, so most of the cars in Cuba were U.S. made cars prior to 1959 when Fidel came into power. It was very neat to see the old ’57 Chevys and 1940s trucks driving all around us, and they were usually in impeccable shape!

If the car was not an old US car, it was a 1980s Russian model, you know, the small car that doesn’t look as if it could hold one person, much less a family. If you were not fortunate enough to have a car, which few people were, you either rode on horseback, by bicycle, or motorcycle with sidecar.

(Awesome old trucks)

(Old Russian Cars)

As we drove to the hotel, Mario would point out all the Revolution propaganda along the way. Billboards, sides of buildings and factories, and homemade signs along the way would say things such as, “Viva Cuba Libre” or “Viva La Revolucion.” There were many anti-American signs, several slamming former President Bush and the US government.

The most interesting thing to me on my first drive into Cuba was the fact that it seemed as to have been little or no progress over such a long period of time. It truly was as if someone had pressed a pause button or loop button in Cuba, and set it for 1959. The buildings that were kept up looked just what I thought they would look like in the 50s, and the buildings that were not kept up, which were most of the buildings, looked as if they had been abandoned 50 years ago.

The people rode around in old cars, horses were tied up to the side of the road as their owners used sickles to cut the grass and weeds, there was no fast food restaurants, no department stores, and no development. Large, old, beautiful buildings were overrun with decaying paint and cracked structures. This once vibrant and wealthy paradise had been squashed by the oppressive thumb of tyranny, and had scarcely progressed in over 50 years.

My first impression was one of sadness, as I saw through my modern and liberated eyes a wonderful country oppressed into submission. However, later I learned how little this oppressive state actually slowed down the people of Cuba, how the real progress in Cuba was within the churches, and how much I could learn from their laid-back simple lifestyles. My journey had just begun.

Our hotel was very nice, pretty much a resort, one of the buildings in Cuba which had been kept in great condition. It had open air lobbies and seating, beautiful views, comfortable rooms, and a gorgeous pool, which we frequented any chance we had a break!

Most importantly, it had air conditioning in our rooms, a luxury I take for granted in the US, as we sweated through our clothes at every other location in Cuba. (Jerrod has the unique ability to sweat not through his shirts, but through his pant legs…a pretty neat trick!) Our hotel also had a breakfast buffet, and if you know me, you know I love breakfast, and I got to expand my breakfast repertoire with some seafood, SPAM, and toast as hard as a brick.

(The pool)

(Our pool view)

(Our balcony view)

(Fresh fruit with every meal)

A Cuban Hero

After checking in at the hotel, we were taken to  one of the oldest churches in all of Cuba. This church is a staple in Christian lore within the country. This church was started by Pastor Benjamin, the most famous minister in Cuba. A man who was beaten for his faith. A man who was thrown in prison for his faith. A man who has overcome true adversity in his life to become a true warrior of God. His church has founded hundreds of churches in Cuba, and has been influential in changing the lives of thousands of men, women and children.

It is partially because of his work that churches can openly preach the gospel (with restrictions, of course) and build new churches (also with restrictions). It was here that I learned that within a stagnant country of poverty and communism, the Church is growing. On the back wall of the Hallelujah temple there were pictures of all the churches that have been recently built in Cuba. As a matter of fact, the only construction I saw in the entire country was on churches, and much of this can be attributed to Pastor Benjamin, who is truly a modern-day Paul.

After we toured the church, we were able to sit down with Pastor Benjamin’s wife as she made us a fresh glass of lemonade. She used a board to knock a few lemons out of her tree and then squeezed them into a glass mixed with some pure cane sugar. Darrin and A-Mo got their glasses first, and I was closely watching them to see what they thought of the tasty beverage. Both were nervous because they thought the fresh lemonade was also made with fresh Cuban water…which would spell disaster!

After sipping their glass and nodding with approval, Josh and I devoured our drinks, and I am pretty sure Josh could have drunk three or four gallons of the drink if allowed. This was my first encounter with the fresh fruit in Cuba, and I still crave the lemons, bananas, mangos and pineapple we had with every meal.

Our 20 Leadership Conference Location

Once Josh finished his lemonade, we toured where we were going to have the leadership conference. The location was part of a small complex hidden houses behind an intimidating full metal gate, which once opened showcased a small tropical paradise of fruit trees, an outdoor kitchen, gazebos and picnic tables.

(The outdoor stage area)

Participants of the leadership conference were in the backyard playing football (of the non-American variety), and kids were chasing each other and playing hopscotch. On the property was a church which was a narrow and hot building packed to the brim with pews and ceiling fans. The back of the church had a baptismal which doubled as a bed for visitors, a rudimentary bathroom with showers and stalls, and then a door which led to backyard and overflow seating for church. It truly was a beautiful place that represented the genuine lifestyle of Cuba and encompassed the personality of its people…relaxed, welcoming, and warm.

(A-Mo modeling at the church)

A-Mo and the outdoor kitchen)

(The grills were old truck rims)

Darrin the Baptist

We ate all of our meals at the host house, and they were masterfully crafted by a local family. The aroma of delicious rice and beans, tasty ham, fresh yucca and hand-picked fruit flooded the entire backyard and surrounded our hungry senses. We were invited to eat at a table especially made for us, with generous portions of food and drink, enough to feed a king (or a hungry American).

Just after we blessed the wonderfully made food, and started to pass around the Cuban delicatessen, Darrin gracefully knocked over the largest bottle of water I have ever seen, which he immediately followed by fumbling it around in his hands like a slippery noodle. All the while he was yelling, “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!!” as the host held his head in horror. The rest of us were jumping out of our chairs as Darrin finally grabbed the bottle and accidentally held it upside down while he doused the rest of our food in water.

It was if it all happened in slow motion, the loud gloup, gloup, gloup of the water coming out of the jug echoed off of the stucco walls as it poured directly into the yucca and rice. When it was all finished and the bottle was safely out of Darrin’s hands, nearly one gallon of water had been spread over the beautiful dinner so laboriously made by the family. Water poured off all ends of the table and slowly crept down the floor and out the back door, thereby causing the host to give Darrin the nickname of Darrin the Baptist, which stuck with him the rest of the trip.

(Our meal…before Darrin poured that whole bottle of water into the food)

A Trip to the Temple

After the great dinner flood of 2011, the Dream Team, including Darrin the Baptist, traveled to a small Cuban town to visit a modern-day temple being built by a group of men and women who devoted their life’s work to build this church. In March, Jerrod, Josh, and A-Mo had went with a different group to help these men build this temple.

When we first pulled up, Jerrod and Josh were almost in tears to see the progress this group had made since they left almost three months before. The roof had been completed, steps and lights had been installed, walls had been finished and progress was moving quickly. The group in Minas did not know we were coming, and as Jerrod, Josh and A-Mo walked in and surprised the group as they worked, tears of joy came upon their faces.

These were men’s men, hard-working men who quit their jobs to build this church full-time. They quickly started showing us around to the new and beautiful parts of the church they were continuing to improve. This is when I first figured out the ingenuity of these people. They were not blessed with power tools or modern-day equipment, so the concrete was mixed by hand, then placed into buckets, and then poured into the beams and roof of the building. They did all the woodwork by hand, all the electricity was done by hand and with unusual materials. Their switch to turn on the fans and lights was a roll-on deodorant bottle, and when you twisted the lid the lights would come on…very smart stuff there!

(The Temple)

(The balcony of the Temple)

(They built all of this by hand…no power tools)

Jerrod Murr

(The Cuban crew)

(Turn the deodorant lid and the fans come on!)

After a tour, Josh, Jerrod and A-Mo had some stuff to specifically give the people of this small town. Jerrod brought a headband light for his favorite Cuban, A-Mo had drum sticks and guitar strings for the church (musical instruments were a high commodity), and Josh had hand sanitizer for the preacher (an inside joke) and fishing gear for a couple of the guys. They loved to fish, and fished with a stick and string. Josh also loves to fish, and went to the Bass Pro and brought telescoping rods, fishing wire, hooks, lures, and a scale! They loved their gifts and they loved our visit.

(The pastor and hand sanitizer)

(Josh passing out fishing gear)

(He was showing us how he tied a hook)

I became emotional inside the temple, and I didn’t know why. I now think it was because I knew then I was on holy ground. A place where people of faith sincerely are walking in God’s direction, giving up everything they had so they could serve their community. Very few people have this commitment and drive, and I learned very much from these men and women. I hope to someday go back, and I know the temple will be known all around Cuba as a holy ground.

First Day of the Leadership Conference

We then rode to a local church where we would kick off our leadership conference with a keynote from Jerrod. This church was the typical Cuban church, it sat about 300 Cubans, or about 200 Americans, it had no air conditioning, a small stage and crowded pews.

For those of you that think the Cuban church is more like evangelistic espionage, think again. This is definitely not an underground movement. Each church is armed with a P.A. system and a drum kit, and their salsa version of worship music flows out of the open windows and doors as loudly as possible into the quiet streets. This church was no different and when we arrived, there was already about 300 people ready for service.

By the time the service started almost 450 people were there…they packed the pews, stood in the aisles and balcony, and huddled patiently outside of the building waiting for someone to leave so they could stand in their stead. We were told this particular church had a regular Sunday attendance between 3,000 and 4,000 people, and they held up to 10 services each morning so everyone could attend.

(The place was packed)

(The band played from this balcony/stage)

Our opening service started with a rousing drama from the church youth group, followed by the greatest salsa worship music I had ever heard, and a passionate and relevant lesson from Jerrod, faithfully translated by Mario. One of my favorite things about the evening services were the children who flocked to the front and basically sat on the stage. Two in particular took to us immediately and wanted to draw pictures of us, take photos with us, and didn’t care one bit that we didn’t speak the same language.

Jerrod Murr

Jerrod Murr

It was at these services where I felt truly ashamed by my sedentary and lackluster lifestyle. These people had so little, had suffered so much, and lived a life of pure excitement and passion for God. I will never forget their countenance and conviction while worshiping, where their true love shown right through their outermost shell. It was if you could see God’s love through them, as they were a walking testimony to His faith and love, His glory. They inspired me to be a better person, to live life to the fullest and follow my passion, just like them.

Ryan Eller

This ends part 2 of my trip to Cuba…Part 3 will focus primarily on our leadership conference, what it entailed and the sessions involved. I will also throw in a story or two on how we introduced the new “teeter totter” craze in Cuba, introduce our translators, tell you how one night changed my life forever.

Seeing as how long I have already rambled, I am forced to also write a Part 4 detailing our quick escape from Cuba and our journey home. Check back tomorrow for more updates!

TBT – The Cuba 20 Leadership Conference

“Trip of a Lifetime…” That is the phrase I used to describe my Cuba trip to Jerrod Murr when we were finally landing and returning home at the Tulsa International Airport. It was hard to describe my trip then, to someone who had experienced it with me, and I still struggle to comprehend the true impact these five days in Cuba had on my life.

We experienced so much, we met so many wonderful people, we saw so many beautiful sights…we expanded our cultural, emotional, and professional horizons. This is a trip I will never forget…but I probably will over time, which is why I am going to try to explain to you why we went, what we did while we were there, and what we learned. This probably will get a little long-winded (surprise, surprise coming from me), so to save you the true length of this entry, I will break this into three posts and add lots of pictures and videos…so make sure to check back in to get the rest of the story!

Ryan Eller

(Teaching like a Cuban)

Leaving Tulsa

We left the sultry plains of Oklahoma bright and early Tuesday morning, most of us purely exhausted from the Fourth of July’s festivities, but eager and excited to experience our unknown journey into Cuba. Even up to this point of the trip, it was hard for me to tell people exactly why we were going to Cuba. Was it a mission’s trip? No, not really. We were going through the church and on a religious visa, but it wasn’t a mission’s trip necessarily. Was it a vacation? Well no, however, anytime you get to leave Oklahoma during the summer time to go to the Caribbean it is a vacation!

The best answer I could provide then, even as we waited to board the plane to Miami, was that we were going to host a leadership conference for Cuban youth ministers. Our reason for going wasn’t too far off from that original thought, but it was so much more than that simple answer. It was an opportunity to meet Cuban legends and heroes, men and women persecuted and thrown in prison for their beliefs. An opportunity to learn the true meaning of faith and dedication, and an opportunity for us to fulfill and define our vision, our goals, and our dreams. Truly, a trip of a lifetime.

Ryan Eller

(This was truly a trip of a lifetime…this was a group after a experiential learning training)

Flying into Miami

After snoozing all the way from Tulsa to Dallas, and Dallas to Miami (I think I might have sleepwalked through the DFW airport, I do not recall even being there), we arrived early in the afternoon to gorgeous Miami, FL. This was my first time being outside of the airport in Miami, and I was very excited about being able to take my talents to South Beach.

The “Dream Team,” as Murr called us, included myself (If you don’t know me by now…), Jerrod, founder of Believing in a Better Way and the brains behind this trip, Darrin, Senior Pastor at Morris First Assembly of God (also, my former roommate, husband of Sarah, and Phantom of the Opera lover), Mario , former Youth Pastor at Muldrow Assembly of God and token interpreter for our trip, Aaron, AKA A-Mo, computer nerd extraordinaire and resident heart-throb, and Josh, husband of Jill and brother of Jerrod, who works as a job specialist for the mentally disabled.

(AMo, Jerrod and Josh)

Ryan Eller

(Mario, Ryan Eller, Darrin)

The Evening in South Beach

Since the Dream Team had to stay the night in Miami to take our charter out the next morning, we decided to travel to South Beach and check out LeBron’s personal playland. I will assure you this, everything you have heard about Miami is true…it is gorgeous, the beaches are amazing, the people are diverse, and the locals have no problem walking around in their bikini and/or Speedo!

We stopped by a local restaurant during their happy hour, and I got excited to try some fresh seafood. I ordered the most expense thing on their happy hour menu (if I would have known Murr was paying I would have got the most expensive on the regular menu), the Lobster Pot Stickers, and of course ended up with a meal fit for someone on the South Beach diet. The entrée mirrored the personality of many of the people on the beach, it was pretty, it had tons of flair, but not much substance.

Ryan Eller

(My small lobster dinner)

(I want to own this house…and boat)

(The Beach)

(A bird in flight)

Jerrod Murr

(Jerrod taking a stroll next to the Speedo Man)

Ryan Eller

(The crew without Darrin)

Jerrod Murr

(The lifeguard stands were awesome)

(Every building was this beautiful)

(I love the palm trees)

Flying into Cuba

After I ate all the crumbs off of everyone else’s plates, we checked it in for the evening and prepped ourselves for the early morning and 35 minute flight from Miami to Cuba. It is the definition of a puddle jumper, if you consider the Caribbean Sea a puddle and Key West the lily pads within the puddle. We needed to be at the airport at 4 a.m., to make sure we had all the correct identification, visas, and travel information to make into the guarded country of Cuba. Thankfully, we arrived as early as we did, because it took every bit of our extra time to get our tickets, find our visa information and finally make it through security. The Murr Brothers and A-Mo had been to Cuba just 3 months prior, and were able to point out the many peculiarities of the people traveling into Cuba.

First of all, they all were bringing some sort of electronic item as their carry-on, whether it be new TVs, computers or sound equipment, they held on to these items as if they were treasures, which in Cuba, they are as precious and valuable as gold. Also, most of the travelers wrapped their luggage in a green material like Saran Wrap, which we found out had two purposes: the people are very superstitious, and thought it brought safe travels, however, what I think the real reason for decorating their suitcases is the belief their luggage would not be searched by TSA if wrapped nice and tight in the pretty green plastic.

(Waiting at the airport, everything is wrapped)

From the very moment we stepped in Miami, I was jealous of the fedoras and hats worn by the Hispanic people. Dressed in the hats, bowling shirts and linen trousers, they looked like Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men.” After being in Cuba I see why they wear them and wish our fashion followed their level of comfort. Unfortunately for me, my head is too small for every fedora I have ever tried on, so I couldn’t complete their wonderful look.

After all of our morning troubles, we finally were able to board the plane (hatless), and after a safe takeoff the crowd erupted in a roar of applause, which we found repeated after we quickly landed in Cuba. On a personal side note, it was a fun tradition I think I will continue on all my travels, until some American travelers throw their lattes on me because they have to update their Facebook and Twitter without distraction.

Ryan Eller and Jerrod Murr

(I love the hats, but they didn’t fit!)

(Josh is in no hurry)

(Miami’s aerial view)

(More Miami)

(Cuba from the air)

(The airport when we landed)

Jerrod the Magician

After landing in Cuba to a rousing round of applause from our plane companions, we quickly got off of the plane so we could get through customs and safely meet with our drivers. Once we made it to customs I found it is much like American travel, a whole lot of “hurry up and wait,” and we stood in line with the other travelers and their TVs, waiting to go through the single security checkpoint at the Cuban airport. Jerrod, however, worked his magic, as he always does, and we were able to skip a couple of processes in customs and go straight to the front of the line to exit the airport. Finally we had made it out of the airport and met our drivers. Thus began our journey in Cuba…a trip of a lifetime.

(Much more Cuba to come!)

Check back tomorrow to read about our stay in the resort hotel, meeting the locals and a hero, our trip to Minas, and the first day of our leadership conference in Cuba.

 

As Distracted as Moonwalking Bears

Be honest…did you catch the moonwalking bear? It is amazing how distractions can disrupt our vision. I once thought multi-tasking was a sign of productivity, but I have since learned that the true way to be productive is to focus on your task at hand. Once you dominate that task, move down the list and strengthen your focus.

Do you have any tips on how to narrow your focus? Have you had more success as a multi-tasker or by focusing on one thing at a time?