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Leveraging Life’s Hinge Moments: Michael Lindsay #94

Warwick Fairfax

December 8, 2021

Think of “hinge moments,” the subject of Taylor University President Michael Lindsay’s recent book, as cousins to crucible experiences. Lindsay has discovered in interviews with some of today’s greatest leaders that how we react to those moments in life when doors either open or close – hence the hinge metaphor – determines how successful we’ll be in charting our course to a life of significance. The key, he says, is keeping our metaphorical hinges in good working order.
To learn more about Michael Lindsay, visit www.taylor.edu

Highlights

  • The overlap between Crucible Leadership and “hinge moments” (3:54)
  • The characteristice of platinum leaders (5:40)
  • Why he pursued the study of leadership (6:47)
  • Warwick’s key hinge moments (10:51)
  • Your hinge moment can help you move beyond your crucible (14:21)
  • How hinge moments help you pursue a life of significance  (16:07)
  • Michael’s hiomge moments (18:41)
  • The hinge momengt that led him to become the president of Taylor University (21:25)
  • Hinge moments defined … and unpacked (26:41)
  • Why it’s important to respect your restlessness (31:02)
  • How his book is designe to help readers take risks (32:14)
  • The importance of having a mentor (37:47)
  • The need to keep your hinges in good working order (44:02)
  • Responding to “hard joys” (48:45)
  • Redemption through hinge moments (52:03)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Michael L:

There are seasons of transition, like stages that you go through, kind of like stages of grief. There are low points, but then there are also become points of real redemption. I find that people who are most successful are ones who are able to sort of make sense of the tragedy or of the crucible that they went through, in large part because it’s about shaping your character. You really can’t control how other people react. You can’t control, in many ways, the outcomes that … Those will be largely the aggregated results of lots of different people’s actions and behaviors, but you can control, you can shape your own character and the kind of person you become as result of the crucible you’ve gone through.

Gary S:

Focusing on what you can control and extracting from your setbacks and failures, the lessons, the truths that will help shape your character for the better as you navigate your road beyond trials and tragedies. Sound familiar? It should, if you’re even an occasional listener. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. This week, Warwick and I talk with Michael Lindsay, President of Taylor University about what he calls hinge moments, cousins, if you will, to crucible experiences.

Gary S:

What Dr. Lindsay has discovered in interviews with some of today’s greatest leaders is that how we react to those moments in life when doors either open or close, hence the hinge metaphor, determines how successful we’ll be in charting our course to a life of significance. The key, you’ll discover, is keeping your metaphorical hinges in good working order. How do we do that? Listen in.

Warwick F:

Well, Michael, thank you so much for being here. Really excited to have you. One of the reasons I’m so excited is obviously Michael is a expert in leadership, which is certainly our passion here, but he’s also the President of Taylor. I’ve been blessed to have three kids graduate from Taylor, the youngest one, or the latest one last year in 2020. I’ve been to Taylor, actually a fair bit in the last few weeks. Michael instigated the 175th commission at Taylor and anniversary of the founding of Taylor with collection of alumni, parents of alumni, and other folks just to provide input about the next chapter in Taylor’s history.

Warwick F:

I was very privileged to be at the induction ceremony with Michael as president. Gosh, this past Monday, I had the great privilege of speaking at Chapel at Taylor and then to a business class later on. Yeah, I love Taylor. It’s a very Christ-centered missional place with a very strong culture. Michael, thank you so much for being here and just looking forward to our discussion and yeah, thank you for being the president of Taylor. I think everybody’s just super excited and we’re really excited to see what God will have for Taylor in these next years.

Michael L:

Well, we were delighted to have you at Chapel. You were wildly popular, as was your book, which were out like hot cakes after Chapel immediately. Clearly, it really struck a chord with our community and excited to see your book get greater interest and opportunity. I do think there’s some resonance with some of the work that I had done on hinge moments. So, thanks for having me on.

Warwick F:

Just before we kind of get started, I was fascinated by hinge moments because there’s overlap with crucible experiences, but yet, I don’t know, I was thinking about this. Maybe all crucible experiences have the potential to be hinge moments, but not all hinge moments are crucible experiences. Just, for the listener that might be used to the crucible experience world, just explain the difference between the two and the basic philosophy of hinge moments as we get started.

Michael L:

Well, the idea here is that all of us experience moments of significant change, inflection points in our life. There’s probably, I don’t know, 12 to 24 of them that happen over the course of a life. The moment you meet your spouse, the moment you get your dream job, the moment your family has the first significant tragedy, all of these become significant inflection points in the larger trajectory of our life. In God’s providence, we are prepared for and respond to those changes over months or seasons of transition.

Michael L:

Hinge moments is really talking about the process whereby we navigate change and maximize transition for both our greater good and the wider good in the communities where we find ourselves. I think you’re right. Every crucible moment is a hinge moment, but not every hinge moment’s crucible. So, not every change that we experience occurs in the furnace of challenge or intensity. Sometimes it’s just great joy and delight, but average American has 73 million minutes that we’ll experience in life. And yet, probably there’s two dozen of them that have an outsized impact on the trajectory of the rest of our life.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Just reading your book and story, it’s amazing how, and you talk in your former book, View From the Top, about platinum leaders, some of the best leaders for-profit and not-for-profit, how the best leaders navigate the hinge moments exceptionally well, maybe that’s part of one of the hallmarks of a great leader, which is fascinating. Yeah, I mean, I want to drill down on hinge moments, but that’s your perception that the ability of the platinum leaders to tackle hinge moments is sort of like off the charts, it would seem.

Michael L:

That’s right. I studied 550 senior leaders. Did interview with Presidents Bush and Carter, cabinet secretaries like Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell, who recently passed away, CEOs of the largest companies and largest nonprofits, presidents of Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. Out of those 550 interviews, I concluded all of them experienced hinge moments and a disproportionate number of them handled their hinge moments very well, which allowed them to recover from challenges, mistakes, failures, or stumbles, but also to maximize opportunities when they came along their path.

Warwick F:

I guess, let’s just go back for a second. I love hearing the origin story. I mean, you have a passion for leadership ever since you studied sociology at Rice. Where did your passion for leadership and understanding what makes leaders great? Why did you decide to pursue that? Because obviously you’re an exceptionally bright person and could have pursued a number of different disciplines, but why leadership?

Michael L:

I find almost all of our academic pursuits are biographical a bit in nature. My dad was president for PG of America and the golf industry when I was growing up. My mom was head of an independent school in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. So, both of them were leaders in their own, right? I think sitting at their dining table, hearing the conversations they would have in person or on the telephone, sort of piqued to me an interest of both the challenges and opportunities of what it is to lead an institution. As a sociologist, I really believe in the importance of organizations and institutions and the vitality of having great leaders in those positions of responsibility.

Michael L:

When it came time for me to figure out what I was going to make the focus of my scholarly research, I think part of it was I drew upon my own journey of watching my parents and hearing their stories and having a desire to be able to shed some light that could be able to be of use to my students and to the institutions where I serve.

Warwick F:

That’s so good. I mean, I know for me, I always struggle about the whole notion of being a leader because as listers would know, after the whole 2.25 billion family takeover that failed at the 150 family media company, probably in the ’90s, which were pretty difficult years for me. I would feel like I couldn’t lead my way out of a paperback. Me lead? I mean, come on. But I’m probably more of a reflective advisor than an upfront leader. But yet, I too, from a different standpoint, have a passion for leadership because certainly, in my own family media company, which at one point had I don’t know, 4,000 plus employees, 700 plus million in revenue, the impact in leadership in people’s lives is enormous. We spend so much time at work. It can make their life a joy or it can be oppressive.

Warwick F:

Good leadership makes such a difference, and from a kingdom perspective, to have godly leaders that lead well that achieve their objectives, but care for people along the way is so important. It seems like in this day and age, it seems, it’s not that often that we have, as Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, he talks about humble, but driven leaders. You talk about platinum leaders. It just seems rare unfortunately. There’s too much of the egotistical, it’s all about my agenda, and if I have to tread on people as I get to the top, oh well. Does that make sense? It’s just, leadership is important and it’s not easy to find good leaders, at least in the public eye anyway.

Michael L:

Well, I actually think that there’s great opportunity. I mean, we are in a societal wide hinge moment coming out of the pandemic in the recovery mode. As a result, I think there’s a real opportunity for folks who have always wanted to have a chance to sort of maybe get their voice heard or to provide greater leadership. There’s a real moment of opportunity right now. We’re seeing massive labor shortages in every industry, in every sector of our society. That’s also creating opportunities for greater management, more opportunities for us to lead well. I also think that, while it’s true that every institution has to be led by someone, you can be a leader without being in a position of institutional responsibility.

Michael L:

There’s tons of leaders who have moral authority because of their circle of influence. Fundamentally, leadership is about having a group of followers. It’s about a relational enterprise. Whether you’re leading a little league soccer team or leading a fortune 500 company, I think there’s opportunity for us to lead very effectively. And it’s my hope that people of faith will provide greater leadership in our society because I think there’s a real hunger for moral leadership in the wider world.

Warwick F:

Yeah. I mean, I think that’s so good. We do talk about leading at all levels, whether it’s the boardroom, the living room, whether it’s leading your community to maybe take back a park for kids in your neighborhood. It’s so well said. I want to drill down a bit into your book, Hinge Moments. As I was reflecting on, and I want to … There’s some key hinge moments that you talk about, but listeners will be familiar with this, but as I look back, I think of a couple of key hinge moments that I went through that I didn’t really think about. They weren’t crucible moments, but they were hinge moments. Just for listeners, they’ve heard this, but not in this context, so just to maybe help make the connection between who we are and what we do here and my life and hinge moments.

Warwick F:

There was a couple for me. I know in 2003, as listeners would know, I was working at an aviation services company in Maryland doing business financial analysis and I’m pretty analytical. I was doing well, getting good performance reviews. But after about six years, in 2003, I felt like, and like Michael, I’m a person of faith, I felt like God was saying, “You’re playing small. You’re not using all the gifts that I’ve given you for my glory.” It wasn’t that it was beneath me because humility is one of my highest values, but I felt like I was not using all that I was for the Lord.

Warwick F:

So, I went to a woman that did mid career assessments. She says, “You have a good profile to be an executive coach,” so I learned about that, got certified as an International Coach Federation Executive Coach. Then from there, I got on a couple nonprofit boards and my journey continued. That was a hinge moment in the sense that I felt like this nudge from the Lord, I was doing well, so to speak. But I was discontent because I felt like I wasn’t using all that I was for the Lord. As I read about your definition, I was like, that is a hinge moment. Then another one is, again, I mentioned in Chapel at Taylor, and listeners would be familiar with, in 2008.

Warwick F:

My pastor asked me to give a 10 minute message on somehow comparing to David who was being pursued by Saul. I said, “Well, I’m not a righteous person, falsely persecuted. I brought a lot of it on myself. Anyway, public speaking is not something certainly back then I did a lot of. It’s certainly not my happy place by all means. But somehow what I said resonated with folks. I was like, huh. Then I did some intense praying and scripture reading. I felt like the Lord saying, I want you to write a book, but not a tell-all, but write a book about your story in a thematic lessons learned leadership format.

Warwick F:

Both of those were hinge moments, 2003, 2008, when again, like Michael being, Christ is the center of my life, I heard that still small voice that nudge and I knew what his will was and I moved ahead. If I hadn’t made those decisions, my life would be radically different. Those were key hinge moments, for me anyway. Does that kind of make sense from your framework?

Michael L:

For sure. I think that all of those are moments that you can point back to specific. Each of us in our own journey have different things. So, what might be hinge moment for you might not be for someone else, but I think when we take stock, we can see that there are clear defining moments that change the trajectory of our life.

Gary S:

One of the things I want to mention about those hinge moments that you described Warwick is that again, going back to the idea that not all hinge moments are crucible moments, but all crucible moments can be hinge moments, what happened, those two hinge moments that you described were key to you moving beyond your crucible, to quote the title of this podcast. You’ve talked about them in the context of the failed takeover. Those were two key moments that led you toward the life of significance that you’re now leading.

Gary S:

I think that’s the way to kind of mash up these two very important concepts of crucible moments and hinge moments. That’s how they worked for you. Those hinge moments helped you as you move beyond your crucible and I think we can extrapolate that out to, right Michael? To anybody who goes through a crucible moment. Your hinge moment, if you identify it, that can be the thing that can help you move beyond your crucible.

Michael L:

I think that so much of what you have to do … In the book, I talk about that there are seasons of transition, like stages that you go through, kind of like stages of grief. There are low points, but then there are also become points of real redemption. I find that people who are most successful are ones who are able to sort of make sense of the tragedy or of the crucible that they went through, in large part because it’s about shaping your character. You really can’t control how other people react. You really can’t control, in many ways, the outcomes that … Those will be largely the aggregated results of lots of different people’s actions and behaviors, but you can control, you can shape your own character and the kind of person you become as a result of the crucible you’ve gone through.

Warwick F:

Yeah, that’s so well said. Gary, thank you for making that connection, because you’re right. As I’ve reflected on it, the connects between Crucible Leadership and Hinge Moments, you go through tragedy, and that’s obviously an epic hinge moment. As we say, you can either hide under the covers, be angry and bitter at yourself and others, whether it’s your fault, not your fault. There’s a lot of room for anger and bitterness and just hide under the covers and wait for the next 30, 40, 50 years to pass and eventually it’ll all end. Or you can say this was awful, I was an idiot or what happened to me was just not right. And you can make a decision to move on from that as pretty much, most of the 70 plus guests we’ve had on the podcast, their crucibles, they’ve all pretty much, without exception, used their pain in the service of others.

Warwick F:

They’ve found some level of healing by finding, out of the ashes of their crucible, a vision that will … A life of significance focused on others and a higher purpose. But as I look at hinge moments, as you try to move out of the depth of your pit, those hinge moments help you achieve your life of significance quicker, better, more true to who you are and your values if you just listen to those key moments. If you’re a person of faith, it’s listen to the Lord. If you’re, some other perspective, maybe it’s your kind of inner soul. But hinge moments and managing them well are key to getting out to that pit quicker and fast and achieving your vision.

Warwick F:

I mean, it’s critical to me. I want to go through each of the kind of seven chapters, but you have your own incredible hinge moments and you write about it in the book and you’re obviously open about it. There’s a couple, in particular you’re studying at Rice or you’re a Rice sociology professor. I’m not sure you’re even yet 40, maybe close, and some recruiter comes to you and says, “Hey, there’s a job open at Gordon.”

Warwick F:

But you weren’t like, “Great sign me up. Let’s go.” Talk about, that was a hinge moment and you handled that obviously well, but not everybody would’ve made the decision you did, or they might have said, “Oh, I’m young. I love where I am in Texas, in Boston.” I don’t know. Talk about that hinge moment, because that was certainly one of the early critical moments that changed the whole trajectory of your life.

Michael L:

I was a faculty member at Rice and I thought I’d be there my whole career. It’s a great institution, lots of resources and things were going really well. A search consultant called and said that they were working on the presidential search at Gordon and wondered if I would be considering. I said, “I really appreciate it, but I have a whole pathway in front of me. I need to become a department chair and maybe a dean, and then a provost. Maybe I would do that down the road, but I think it’s probably 10 to 15 years from now.” And he said, “Well, would you just pray about it?” And I said, “Sure.” I probably prayed a couple of times, but not very seriously about it. But a month later after that initial call, my 32-year-old cousin was killed in a car accident.

Michael L:

I was very close to him. He was like a little brother to me. The family asked me to deliver the eulogy at his funeral, which I did. After the funeral, we loaded up the kids and started driving back to Houston. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was driving along. The kids were taking a nap and it was quiet in the car. I began thinking about my cousin, his name was Trent, and he died about six weeks before Christmas. I wondered, what did he plan on getting his kids for Christmas that year? I knew that he was a planner and probably had some great ideas. I knew also that he was hoping for a big promotion at work and I wondered how close he was to getting that, how far along was that? Then I got to thinking about his life and wondering, what does he want to do 10 to 15 years from now?

Michael L:

The minute that question went across my mind, I instantly thought of that conversation I had a month earlier with a search consultant who had asked if I would be interested in pursuing the presidency, and I said maybe in 10 to 15 years. It just dawned on me in that moment, we are not promised tomorrow. We live our life as if we’re in control, when in fact we’re really not. That was a moment of great conviction for me because throughout my life I had said I wanted to be open to doing things, even if it wasn’t always my idea. I wanted my faith to really drive who I was.

Michael L:

The next morning I called the search consultant and said, “I don’t know if you’re still looking, but if you are, I’d love to be able to throw my hat into the ring.” Never thinking I would get it, just thinking it’d be a part of my own growth and development. But over the next three months, the process moved forward and in the end I was selected. I really think that my cousin’s death, in some ways, was redeemed in a small measure by my own sense of calling. I mean, I still greatly miss him. It’s a tragedy that he died so young.

Michael L:

At the same time, we have to use tragedies that happen in our life as a way of sort of signaling to us how we might grow and develop. I’m very grateful that, that became a hinge moment in my own life that put me on a trajectory of pursuing positions of institutional leadership.

Warwick F:

Then let’s shift to the next, or one of the next big hinge moments. You’ve been at Gordon College for 10 years as we heard earlier, record fundraising, things are going great. You love the area. Listeners know I went to Harvard Business School and I had parents of my friends that had a place in Cohasset, which is on the south shore of Boston. Love the area. I could totally get why you would want to live there forever. It’s a beautiful area. Winter is a bit cold, but it’s a nice place. But yet, some folks came knocking on the … Well, let me pause for a second.

Warwick F:

This is a classic hinge moment. You were doing well, but yet you were feeling some level of discontent, but yet everything was going so great, which seems like it’s a classic hinge moment. Talk about, even before Taylor came knocking, talk about that hinge moment at Gordon College.

Michael L:

I was feeling a little restless. Arthur Brooks, who had been the very successful president of the American Enterprise Institute, came and spoke for an event we did. And in it, he talked about his decision to step down after 10 years on the job. I got these butterflies in my stomach and I went home that night and I said, “Why was I nervous for him? He’s made his decision. It doesn’t really affect me.” My wife said, “Well, maybe you’re realizing that your 10 years at Gordon will come to a close next year and you’re wondering if name thing might be in your future.” I said, oh, that’s a crazy idea. I can’t imagine that.” Then a couple months later, I was working on the manuscript for hinge moments and I was rereading every single interview I’d done. I came upon this interview with Bruce Kennedy, the CEO of Alaska Airlines.

Michael L:

I had long forgotten, but in his interview he talked about the decision for him to step away from the CEO job after 10 years on the job. As soon as I saw those words on the page, my heart started beating fast and I got the butterflies back in my stomach. I realized, well, there is something about 10 years that maybe is standing out. Over the next six to eight months, I really, I prayed. I thought, I reflected a great deal. In the end, I concluded, many of the things that I’d set out to do, I’ve actually accomplished. One of them was a very significant reduction in the cost of a Gordon education.

Michael L:

It takes a long time to reduce expenses and to grow revenues, to get to a place where you can do something significant. Last fall, we were able to announce a 33% reduction in the sticker price and a reduction in the actual price for every single student. That was a big deal. I just realized that I thought, perhaps it was time for me to do something different. It was upsetting and nervous because I’ve never stepped away from a job without having another job.

Michael L:

But I really felt a confirmation that, that was the right move. I went to my board and they said, “Oh, you just need a break. Let’s sign you up for another five years.” I really appreciated that. But that actually wasn’t really what I felt. So, I stepped away without really knowing what would happen. It was scary for several months. I mean, there were moments when I thought, will I ever get the job that I love again? Will I ever get a chance to do something that meaningful? But I’m also living proof that there are many roles, there are many paths that we can take.

Michael L:

I think if we’re open to God’s leadership and trying to be responsive when we feel those hinge moments are occurring in our life, that restlessness, that holy discontent can be a way in which the Lord prepares us to move on. By the time I had the opportunity to assume the Taylor presidency, I felt really confirmed in what I was doing. I’ll just say, I’m very happy, very satisfied. I feel like it’s a great fit for what I bring to the table, what the institution needs, and we are really thrilled to be in Indiana.

Warwick F:

That is just amazing. Obviously I know all of the Taylor community is super excited to have you. Taylor’s obviously a great place, Christ-centered, top academic institution, but it has a history of having an extremely close knit culture. As you would know, better than I do, culture is … It can take decades to create. It’s not something you can just flash a wand, and hey, presto, we have a good culture. Obviously you got a great foundation.

Warwick F:

I want to shift to hinge moments and there’s this amazing chart in here that’s on every chapter. Basically, it starts, in terms of level of confidence, it starts at discernment, goes to anticipation, intersection, then goes up to landing integration, inspiration, realization. Basically intersection is where you’re between the two spaces and you’re feeling the most uncertain, the least confident, the most wobbly in the knees. It’s a fascinating way to look at it. Let’s dive into some of these things and just talk about how in that first stage you talk about it’s the stage of discernment, approaching the door in your life. You’ve had a couple of those when you were at Rice and then at Gordon. What’s kind of the key concept behind that first step of discernment.

Gary S:

Can I jump in before we do that?

Warwick F:

Please.

Gary S:

Just for the listeners’ benefit, we’ve been talking a lot about hinge moments, and I think it would be really beneficial, Michael, if you defined what a hinge moment is before we talk about them in depth, in terms of how it plays out in your excellent paradigm. What is, how do you recognize a hinge moment, and why do you call it a hinge moment?

Michael L:

A hinge moment are those dozen or two minutes that happen in our life that have a disproportionate impact on the rest of our life because of key decisions or actions that took place in that moment. They, like the hinge of a door, open up doors of possibility or close other doors of possibility because of the impact of them. Oftentimes they have a directly personal effect on us, but they can include not just your family life, not just your love life, but your professional life as well as wider world events. For some of us, 9/11 was a hinge moment that forever changed your life. For others, it was just another minute that changed our world, but didn’t directly impact us. Hinge moments oftentimes are disproportionately impactful on us as individuals and they begin to reshape who we are.

Michael L:

As Warwick says, there’s seven stages of transition that we go through. And you start at a relatively high level of confidence, but then you begin to discern, either through that sense of restlessness what I described as butterflies in our stomach, sweaty palms, or maybe it’s dreams we have at night or conversations that we have, or intuition that we feel, we begin to discern or anticipate that a change is on the way. Then we begin to sort of lose confidence because we begin to think, well, huh, I thought my life was going in one direction and maybe it’s going in a different direction.

Michael L:

Actually, it continues to slide down until you get to sort of the low point of confidence, what I call the intersection phase, the liminal moment. Liminal is sort of a word that’s taken from the Latin word, which means threshold, when you’re literally between two rooms or two seasons or two chapters of your life. You’re leaving one and you’re starting another, but you’re sort of in this betwixt and between phase. That’s the hardest time. And it can last a matter of a few days to a matter of a few years when you’re dealing with the death of a spouse or the loss of a child, and you are really sort of coming to grips with that.

Michael L:

But then, over time, we begin to sort of find our way into a new room, a new season, a new chapter. We become integrated into that community. We begin to feel like we have got a way of making sense of it. As we become integrated into landing in this new space, making new friends, developing our own sense of calling, and then eventually, we get this opportunity where we become a source of inspiration for other people. At some point in time, whereas you started at this level of confidence, you go through a low point, you actually rise up to a higher level of confidence on the other side when you realize all of this is about the development of your character and opportunities for you to sort of grow and develop.

Michael L:

You discover, maybe you’re not going to be managing the family business that you thought you were going to do in Sydney, but instead you have a new sense of calling. In many ways, it’s one that is even more meaningful because you’ve actually gone through some of the difficulties or challenges that make you a stronger, richer, better person. These hinge moments go through these seven phases of transition that in the end, on the other side, we’re a better person because of it.

Warwick F:

Boy, that’s so well summarized. Wow. I guess the discernment is sort of an interesting phase. You talk about being prepared, and we’ll get to, in a later chapter, the virtues like humility, courage, and self control. That first step of you talk about silence and meditation, self examination. When a potential opportunity comes, there’s that phase of both internal discernment as well as seeking counsel. These are really the best practices of, when an opportunity comes knocking, what’s the best process of figuring out whether to say yes and then move into it, because there’s bad ways to handle it.

Warwick F:

But this is sort of like, from my perspective, the best way. Talk about some of those, in those early stages, I love that phrase you say, “Respect your restlessness and seek counsel.” Talk about why that’s just so important in those early stages.

Michael L:

I think one of the things that’s important is that we have to sort of go between two poles. One is immersion and another is isolation. I think that you have to do both of those things when you’re really discerning things. Immersion means you’re getting fully into the context. Maybe it’s that you pay a visit to the place where you think you might be working or you spend a long weekend walking around the community where you think your new house might be, but you’re fully immersed in that. But you also have to run what I called, get on the balcony. You have to be able to pull out in moments of isolation. That might be a quiet walk on the beach or thinking alone while you make a long run, something that gives you an opportunity to really contemplate and to get alone with yourself.

Michael L:

You have to do both of those kinds of things in the discernment, both immersion and isolation. The net result of that is that I think you begin to develop a sense of both calling and responsibility and you get greater clarity around what might be coming ahead.

Warwick F:

That’s good. That really goes into the next phase of anticipation. I love the phrase that you mentioned of overcoming caution and the fact that most humans are risk averse. I mean, I certainly am. I like to think I’m a relatively fearful person, but fortunately from my mother, who is a very strong willed force of nature kind of person, I get some pretty high degree of perseverance and conviction. Once I feel like this is what the Lord wants me to do, my conviction and perseverance tends to overcome my natural caution, so that’s a bit of a yin yang kind of thing that I have to go through. But most humans are risk averse, but overcoming over caution, I love that phrase.

Warwick F:

Back in the days at Rice University, you had to live that one out. You could say, I could become department head, dean, provost. I love Texas. I love where I am. Why give up the tried and true path to jump off in some other place I’ve never been to? Talk about why overcoming over caution is just so critical to life.

Michael L:

Well, there’s a ton of neuroscience research that shows that, generally speaking, we will do everything we can to mitigate risk. While we might think of ourselves as brave and courageous, most of the time, we’re not. And it requires us to sort of be goaded in one way or another to push ourselves to try something that is risky. My book is designed to try and encourage people. It’s actually, generally speaking, better for you to take the risk. Certainly when you’re thinking about new ventures, most of the time you’re going to be much more successful in that new venture. So, don’t be too cautious.

Michael L:

I mean, it’s important to make assessments and to count the cost. At the same time, too often we do become paralyzed by that and we miss out on some amazing opportunities. Virtually every one of the platinum leaders that I interviewed had to get to a point where they were willing to push themselves to do that was very different. A great example, Condi Rice. Condoleezza Rice thinks she’s going to be a world class concert pianist. She goes to the Van Cliburn competition as a 14 year old and realizes, “I am never going to play the piano as well as some of these other people who are younger, less experienced than I am. They’re just more talented. They do this better.”

Michael L:

So, she has a soul searching experience. She thought her whole life was going to be in a certain direction. She decides to enroll at the University of Denver as a 16-year-old, much earlier than most kids go off to college. While there, she doesn’t major in music. She explores a variety of different fields. Takes a class on a Soviet studies, and through that develops a real passion and love for Russian literature, Russian culture. That in turn gets her interested in international relations. She graduates from the University of Denver. Decides to go straight to Notre Dame to pursue a PhD, which she does international relations.

Michael L:

Of course, she ends up having a whole career as a provost at Stanford, becomes a national security advisor and secretary of state. None of those things would’ve been pathways for her if she had stuck to her pathway of thinking that she was going to be a concert pianist. Maybe she would’ve been able to play piano at her local church, and maybe occasionally she’d have some concerts. She never would’ve had the platform that she ended up having in her life if she had been overly cautious. Sometimes we have to just be willing to take the risk.

Warwick F:

That’s such a good example. It’s funny. I think if somebody we had on our podcast, at least we recorded, just couple days ago, Jason Hardrath, and he’s somebody, teaches PE at an elementary school in Washington State. He has ADHD. And the way he copes with that is he has to move. He cannot sit still. But because, as you would know, with challenges, there can become blessings, there can come gifts with challenges. He doesn’t have the risk averse chip in his brain.

Warwick F:

He does things that are nuts, but then he achieves things that most of us humans couldn’t achieve. Like he had an accident, which I won’t get into all right now, that limited what he could do, but he decided to do a triathlon and he wanted to compete in these elite deals. Well, part of the triathlon is like a 2.6 mile swims, two point something anyway. Well, at the time he could barely swim the length of a 50 meter pool. But he signed up for this triathlon six months later saying, “I’ll figure it out. I’ll get there.” And he did.

Warwick F:

Now, most of us wouldn’t even dream of signing up for triathlon if we couldn’t barely swim the length of a 50 meter pool. Maybe if we felt okay, I’ve satisfied myself I can can swim a mile, now I’ll commit to it. But 99% of humans would never do that. I’m not suggesting everybody lives the way he does because he has a certain challenge with a gifting, but I look at that and I’m awe inspired. I mean, his lack of risk averse is … There’s a challenge with that because his lack of ability at time to control impulses, but that’s super human level of courage, but that’s because of the gifting side of the challenge.

Warwick F:

When I heard that I said, golly, that’s just … Talk about lack of risk averse. I mean, no wonder he achieves some of the things he does. I mean, it’s not that hard to break records if you don’t have that risk averse chip in your brain.

Michael L:

That’s right. Absolutely.

Warwick F:

Anyway, but obviously that’s a whole nother story. We move then to intersection. You’ve talked a bit about that. That’s the hardest place between those two spaces. One of the things in here that you talk about is the importance of having a mentor. You relate it to stories and films, whether it’s Bilbo having Gandalf, and as any Star Wars fan would know Luke having Obi-Wan. Clearly, I mean you’ve had mentors your whole life. You’re a wise man. Talk about how, especially when you are in the land in-between, almost sounds a little bit like Moses between Egypt and the promised land. Of course, he was there for 40 years, which you don’t typically want to be in the land in between for 40 years, heaven forbid, but talk about why having a mentor is so critical when you’re between those two stools.

Michael L:

I think you have to have mentors and sponsors, people who are willing to sort of step into your life and create opportunities, but it’s helpful for people to speak into our life who can remind us of our giftings and our interests and our capabilities, but also one who opens up doors of possibilities. That’s why I love working with college students is because it’s great to get a chance to help them make some good connections.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Then we kind of move into landing, and probably the key phrase there is, so the welcome mat and you are the guest is the importance of listening and you’ve got like impression, plus impression, plus impression equals reputation. That makes so much sense. It’s so easy to get into a new job saying, “Okay, I don’t need to listen. I’m a successful …” You could have walked into Taylor and saying, “I’m a successful leader of a Christian college. I know what I’m doing. Taylor just needs to listen to me and let’s go.” But you didn’t. You had a hundred 175th commission, you listened to alumni, parents of alumni, other folks.

Warwick F:

You didn’t walk in day one in Taylor saying, “Okay, here’s a plan. Let’s go. Hey, what’s your name anyway? Because I really don’t know who you folks are.” But you’re obviously too intelligent for that. Yeah, talk about why just that sense of those early impressions of listening and just being on your best behavior, as you put, it sounds obvious, but there’s a lot of leaders that get into a new job, they do the exact opposite of what you suggest.

Michael L:

Well, I think experience is the best teacher to us. I’ve made tons of mistakes along the way. The benefit of a second presidency is it’s a chance to reset and to learn from things, and hopefully do things a little bit better. I certainly have benefit so much for being part of this community and to learn from the wisdom of other folks. I also think you get to a certain point where you don’t have to prove yourself. You’re pretty comfortable in your own skin. I think that becomes a sign of leadership maturity. Certainly, I think your crucible moments that you experienced had a way of, through the refining fire, helping you to become a place where you don’t have to prove yourself. But instead, you become an opportunity to learn, grow, and hopefully invest in other people.

Warwick F:

Well said, well said, and then we move into integration where being trustworthy and trusting your team is obviously is so huge. I mean, that kind of makes abundant sense. Then somewhere to dwell as we, kind of in our remaining minutes, chapter six, the hinge inspiration, this is where you really unpack the concept of the hinge. You mentioned that, people might be familiar with the phrase, cardinal virtues. You talk about how the word cardinal is from the Latin word, meaning hinge, and just the importance of having a very strong hinge. Really, let’s sort of dig into that one a little bit about the importance of having, as you put it, a reliable, robust hinge when hinge moments come. Talk about why that’s just so critical.

Michael L:

I think all of us have a set of values that we live our lives by. It orients our priorities, how we spend our time, how we spend our resources. Not everybody takes the time to enumerate what those values are, but I think each of us have a set of them that are really guiding us. The book tries to lay out, there are four cardinal virtues that have been around for a millennia and shape who we are, whether it’s justice or self-control, or a real commitment to trying to pursue wisdom that might be true in our life, a variety of different values that help shape who we become.

Michael L:

I would just say that, to all of your listeners, it’s important to use the hinge moment as a chance to say, okay, what are those key principles or values that really matter to my life? And then how do I live by them? Because when you get to the end of life, people are not going to give a eulogy based upon all of your bullet points of your resume. They’re going to just talk about your character. What is your character and how did you live it out?

Warwick F:

Yeah, that’s so important. I mean, we talk about in crucible leadership and we have a broad audience. I’m clear about my faith in Christ, but I say, leadership needs to be anchored in fundamental beliefs and values. It could be religion, a philosophy, a set of values, and then importantly, beliefs are important, but they need to be acted upon. From our framework, that’s character, which is beliefs acted upon. Like in James, it talks about faith is good, but deeds is where it fleshes itself out and it’s obviously for the believers. It’s still saved by grace, but if you really believe in what you say you believe, it will shape your character.

Warwick F:

Otherwise, there’s a question about whether you believe in the first place, at least from a Christ centered perspective. But that is so good, is just, even before those hinge moments come, just understanding what your values are. You talk about prudence and fortitude, temperance, justice. I love how you define justice, I guess from, is it Cornel West somewhere? What love looks like in public, justice. I haven’t heard that. That’s a brilliant definition. Then we go to the last one, inspiration.

Gary S:

Can I back up a second?

Warwick F:

Please, please.

Gary S:

And stay on hinge for a minute.

Warwick F:

Absolutely.

Gary S:

Because I think it’s fascinating, Michael, that you use hinge as the metaphor because hinges are interesting. They’re sort of hidden, right? It’s the least important part. When we’re go one through a door, we don’t think about the hinge, but if it wasn’t for the hinge, we wouldn’t get through the door. Hinges also are metal usually, they’re susceptible to rust, they’re susceptible to the nails falling off. They need a little care. What does it look like, metaphorically, if our hinges rust in our lives? What is that like and how can we prevent it? Because I think that’s critical to part of what you’re saying, is to keep those hinges well-greased and well oiled.

Michael L:

I think, fundamentally, if you don’t have those principles in your life, if you don’t care for those values, nurture them, strengthen them, help them to become more central to who you are, then the hinges can’t perform their function and so the door doesn’t open or it doesn’t close. The engineering marvel about a hinge is that it’s the same device that is used to keep a slab of wood from staying … It stays in place and yet it can also create a range of motion so that you can take something that is closed and open because of a hinge. You also can take something that is open and closed because of a hinge. And also, it can leave it in the current position until it needs to be adjusted. That’s an engineering marvel that a little device like that can do all three of those things well.

Michael L:

But if the hinges are rusty and if they no longer function, you’re going to find that either doors that need to be closed in our life, because there are certainly necessary endings that we all have to experience in life that won’t occur, or doors of opportunity that need to be opened, they won’t be there. Or the things that are supposed to stay open, suddenly become closed, or things that become closed, suddenly become open. It actually changes the trajectory of your life for all the wrong kind of reasons, which is why you have to really care for those hinges so that they can be sustaining over the long call.

Warwick F:

Yeah, and that’s such a good point, and thanks for making that excellent point, Gary. I mean, having good, robust, rust-free, well-oiled hinges based on the fundamental values that you have in life, and we all have values. I mean, I talk about in the book, humility and integrity, probably my two highest values along with authenticity and vulnerability, probably integrity and humility are my number ones, it helps you make better decisions when those hinge moments come. You made, I think it’s easy to look back in life.

Warwick F:

As you rightly say in the book, life is better understood looking backwards. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to look forward, but that’s why we have faith because the Lord understands the plan and we just have to say yes one step at a time when he gives us that next step. But as you look back on those two key hinge moments for you, whether it was Rice University or being at Gordon, you had a robust hinge, you knew your cardinal virtues. You had mentors you could talk to. You had all the process and systems in place to make good decisions, and you had the power of prayer. You had the right system set up to make, it’s not foolproof because we’re human, but to make good decisions.

Warwick F:

So, you made a decision that many wouldn’t have. Many would’ve stayed at Rice, most maybe at that age, just objectively speaking. And many might have said, “Look let me shoo that holy discontent thing out of the way. It’s Gordon. They have high confidence in me, the board of trustees. We’re doing well. Record fundraising, lower tuition. I could just coast here for the next 10, 15, 20 years and life is good. Why would I want to leave a good thing? Who does that? Most wouldn’t. They would stay there forever. You probably could have. But yet, you decided not to. And it was only because of how robust and rust-free your hinge was.

Warwick F:

Thank you for bringing this back to that Gary, because it’s … To make good decisions, you need good hinges. I feel like, why would you leave on the table what the Lord would have for you in life? If you’re a believer, you’ll still go to heaven all. If you’re not a believer, you could still have a great life, but maybe there’s an optimal path that you’re missing out on. Why miss out on that optimal path of even greater service and joy and fulfillment? Why do that? By navigating your hinge moments well, you will be open to some of the most exciting, fulfilling experiences you could possibly have.

Warwick F:

Yeah, now’s the time to oil the hinges, figure out your own cardinal virtues. I’m an executive coach at heart, so whatever that means to you, every person has the God-given right, from my perspective, to figure out their own path and their own virtues. Figure it out, have a good team, have a mentor and you’ll be better set for when those next hinge moments come. So, excellent. Just as we kind of wrap up here, we’ve got the last one of realization. One of the things you talk about here is, which is very personal, you talk about responding to hard joys.

Warwick F:

You mentioned you’ve got three daughters, but your oldest, you found out when she was a few months old, that there was some genetic things going on. I mean, I’ve never really heard that phrase a hard joy. Why’d you put that in that last chapter in realization? What was the link there between? Because that’s sort of fascinating that you talk about that there.

Michael L:

I think a lot of times we look at everybody else’s life and just assume that everything is rosy, that the trajectory they’ve been on is like a line graph where everything is moving up and to the right in a real positive direction. When in fact, a lot of us encounter challenges and hardships along the way. Parenting a special needs daughter was not something my wife and I expected. We love Elizabeth and are grateful for all the good that has come in to our life. And there has been joy, but it has not been easy at all. Caring for Elizabeth is an all consuming part of our family’s calling. So, it’s been a hard joy in a number of ways. We have to just be honest and acknowledge that. And yet, there have been moments of real encouragement and inspiration and it’s certainly changed who I am for the better.

Michael L:

From my own sort of character development, I would say, I’m a much better father, I’m a much better person, I’m a much better boss because I have had some of those hard joys along the way. My hunch is that each of us can probably point to things that have been ongoing sources of pain or difficulty that it’s God’s providence, have become real sources of great joy and inspiration as well.

Gary S:

That sound to you, our listeners, is the captain turning on the fast seatbelt sign indicating that it’s about time to land the plane of this conversation, but we’re not quite there yet. Before we get there for sure, Michael, I would be remiss if I did not give you the opportunity to let listeners know how they can both find out more about Taylor University and about you online. How can they learn more about your books and about your college that you’re president of?

Michael L:

Well, you’re very nice to say that Gary. I hope that folks would check us out at wwwd.taylor.edu. Taylor is an amazing institution, just ranked number one university in the Midwest and we’re really proud of the good things that are happening here on campus. If you have a son or a daughter, or a grandson or granddaughter, or somebody who is of the high school age that’s looking at universities, we hope that they’ll consider Taylor. My web presence is also on taylor.edu/president, and you can learn all kinds of good things. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy of Hinge Moments. It’s a great book and one that we’re hoping to share with a much wider audience. Thank you so much for having me on today.

Gary S:

Great. Warwick. You get the last question so bring the plane on the ground.

Warwick F:

I love one of the last things you talk about in your conclusion, is redemption through hinge moments. You talk about how God uses failure to help us grow and grow up, and just the value of failures or successes for that matter. And certainly in my case, just the pain of losing this 150-year-old 2 billion plus business, which was excruciating, and even when you recover from crucible experiences, there are always scars that are left. But that sense of redemption, certainly in 2008, when I gave that talk in church and somehow my story, it felt like could be used to help others. That was a hinge moment where I definitely felt redemption.

Warwick F:

Speaking at Taylor and just seeing the response. I’m very careful whenever those things happen as to physically or proverbially get on my knees and say, “All glory to God, All glory to God,” because it’s all him. But just talk in, it’s our last question, I’ve just loved that phrase, redemption through hinge moments. That really rang true to me.

Michael L:

Well, it’s certainly, I find that the best way that you sort of make sense and make meaning of these hinge moments is for us to take stock and say, okay, well, how has this shaped my character? How has this helped me to become a better person, a better family member, a better professional? I think that that does become the way in which redemption will occur. It can use the pains and difficulty, and while you’re right, it does leave scars, those scars don’t remain open wounds. Because of that, your skin becomes tougher, stronger, more supple, so that it can navigate additional challenges. I also find that, generally speaking, we rise to the level of the challenge, whatever it might be.

Michael L:

For those who are, in the current moment, being given great challenge, it’s because you also have great character and great potential. My hope is that through the crucibles that we experience and the hinge moments that come along our way, God can use that to redeem us so that we can be even more effective in our respective callings.

Gary S:

I have been in the communications business long enough to know when the last word on the subject’s been spoken. I also know when someone has just added something to his or her resume. Michael’s resume is very, very, very impressive with his books and his education and his leadership of colleges. Who knew he could land a plane so well too? He landed that plane perfectly in our discussion. Listener, thank you so much for your time with us.

Gary S:

As you wait around for the next time, which comes in a week if you’re listening to this episode when it comes on live, you have homework, and it makes perfect sense to have homework because we’re talking to a college president. You have homework. The homework is this, make certain that your … Take the time in the next week to make sure that your hinges are inoperable order. Oil them. Make sure that the nails are there, make sure that there’s not any rust on them. Really dig into, find out, identify your hinges where they are and make sure that they’re in working order.

Gary S:

Then, until the next time we’re together, please remember that we do understand your crucible experiences are painful. They do change the trajectory of your life. All of us have experienced them. You have experienced them, but we know, through our own experience and through the experience of guests like Michael and other folks we’ve had on this show, that your crucible experience is not the end of your story. In fact, it can be the beginning of a new chapter in your story, which can be the best chapter in your story. Because when you learn the lessons of your crucibles, when you embrace them as hinge moments to walk to something new and better, they can be the best chapter of your story, because where they lead at the end of the day is to a life of significance.