Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Leading When Things Are Going Well

March 20, 2018

He was the leader of his organization.

In this case, the plant manager of a manufacturing company. He was responsible for overseeing 650 people producing the company’s products.

He was bored. Wandering around aimlessly. Unsure what to do. There were no emergencies. No one was calling about parts shortages or quality problems or production behind schedule.

What do you do when things seem to be going well? His assistant, the plant engineer, told him, “Just relax. When there are no problems, just enjoy it.”

This could have been any organization.

What if you are the leader? You’ve organized the project or process and things are proceeding according to plan. What do you do?

Ah, but we are talking human endeavors. When we begin involving many people–could be 6, could be 600–circumstances become complex. We could bet that somewhere, sometime, the process will begin to drift from stable to unstable. Something to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

At this stage of a project or process, there are things we had best be doing or we’ll soon find ourselves under water.


In Lean thinking, we call it Gemba. A 1980s guru called it “Managing by Wandering Around.” Go out to the scene. Check the data.


Study what other people are doing. Read about current technology trends. Are there ideas from somewhere that would make the product, process, or people better? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can save us from a disintegrating situation.


Gather some people together from an area of the plant or process. Encourage thinking about how to improve. Hint: things can always be improved.


A leader’s job isn’t just “putting out fires.” Leaders must be looking ahead and behind. Observing people and process.

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

February 21, 2018

Annie and Kim met at the coffee house, as was their pre-work custom. As they sipped their lattes, Kim begins, “Can you believe the boss? How in the world did she ever get promoted to that position? I could do 100 times better than her.”

Annie commiserates, “Yes that’s true. She is clueless. And that executive council. Who put all those men in there? Why was I not included? I’m better than any of those. I’m sure it’s just because I’m a woman, after all, lots of people have their projects fail.”

Rob orders his Americano with two extra shots of espresso and joins them. “Did you see who got that Sales VP job? They didn’t even interview me. What in the world is going on here?”

Dissension. Jealousy. It’ll rip apart any organization–business, non-profit, church.

The apostle Paul knew this.

After going through theology in his letter to the Romans followed by a discussion about how everyone is the same before God–race, gender, nationality–Paul addresses how we should live individually and in community.

Immediately after talking about renewing our minds, he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” He proceeds to list the different roles within the Christian community and the gifts that relate to each.

As for me, I have an analytical mind. I respond intellectually by analyzing the situation and the people. Care must be taken about the line between analysis and dissension. Mostly that line starts when I say something aloud.

How about you? When is it idle, or even destructive, gossip and when is it analysis that leads to improvement?

That is where the discernment that comes with transforming our minds enters the conversation.

Finding Accountability in Our Work

August 16, 2017

Henry Cloud, psychologist and author, gave one of the best talks on leadership and accountability I’ve ever heard last week at Willow Creek Community Church.

He begins with a story.

Seems a man with a plan–to start a new company, that is–talked with a friend about his wish to start a company. The friend wrote a name on a card and told him to call this business consultant.

The consultant listened to him and asked him about advisors. I need a marketing person, a tech person, a sales person, said the budding entrepreneur. The consultant told him that really he should find five people he respected. He should ask them to meet with him weekly for breakfast. These people should hold him accountable for the actions it would take to start a business.

The guy thought, I need sales and marketing, not a support group. So he shunned the advice. 

He had funding. He had a business plan. He failed in a year.

Who holds you accountable. Who is your small group of advisors who ask how you’re doing on all the little activities it takes to succeed.

Interestingly, Andy Stanley talked last week about Solomon’s son Rheoboam who shunned the wise advice of the elders and took the advice of his young buddies–and lost his kingdom.

I’ve known many people who could have had small groups of accountability partners, a support group, yet they didn’t accept the advice. Usually it was through pride–they wanted to prove they could succeed on their own.

Tip: we don’t succeed on our own. I know.

Another tip: Listen to Henry Cloud any chance you get.

What Leadership Means

April 7, 2017

Fridays are often leadership day here at Faith Venture. This week I ran across an essay by Sally Blount, Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

She was approached by people with differing views on education and leadership. After researching and thinking, she concluded:

When used properly, at least in educational contexts, the word leadership now refers to high character, and the people who are leaders are those who think and act intentionally on behalf of the organizations and communities in which they live and work. They commit to using their lives to engage beyond the self, to engage in the call to human progress, by building up and strengthening the quality of human work and human organizations, rather than tearing them down.

That is a good description of what ought to be. And certainly leaders can be everywhere at any rank or position. It’s like I once quipped to a manager who thought he should be respected solely for his position–you’re respected for who you are not what position you hold.

But Blount looks at the “leadership” in Washington, on Wall Street, and other highly visible places and is disturbed by what she sees.

So, while the word leadership may be overused today, we are still not seeing nearly enough of what it stands for. In my mind, excellence in character shouldn’t be optional for those fortunate enough to be selected or elected to lead from the top. And if we believe in the power of human progress, somebody has to model true leadership—that is, leadership in rank and in character—for the next generation.

She is right to look at our national leadership (broadly speaking) and cringe. But we permit it.

I think leadership examples for the next generations begins with each of us. Lead where you are. In her terms, exhibit character where you are. We don’t need only one model in Washington or in business; we need a hundred million models in every walk of life. Beginning here. Beginning with us.

Fundamentals of Leadership

February 17, 2017

It’s Leadership Friday here at the Faith Venture ranch.

For some reason, some people would say it’s God talking of course but it just could have been the coffee, while meditating this morning I began reflecting on several businesses or projects I’ve gotten myself involved in.

Great potential for doing good. Most of the time pulled it off well. A couple of swings missed the ball, but that’s life.

Failure to plan on your part does not constitute a crisis on mine.

I thought of this old phrase. Failure to plan.

Was there a budget?

Good question. Sometimes you go off spending money, bringing in many resources only to discover in the end that there was never going to be sufficient income to pay for it all.

Several times in my life I have been left with expenditures made with no money to cover it. Oops.

Budgeting is a discipline. It must be done early in the process of the project or business. It must be a living document that changes with changing conditions. I knew one business I was in was in trouble when the president told us his plan for the year to make a profit was to shorten accounts receivable (make customers pay faster) and lengthen accounts payable (make our suppliers finance our operations). He was fired.

Follow up.

Jon Swanson wrote today about letting your yes be yes. How many times have you been involved where leaders chart a course, reach a temporary milestone, and then everything is dropped. No finish. No follow up. People left dangling in the breeze. They said they’d do something, but…

When you coach athletics or conduct an orchestra, you pay attention to the fundamentals or perish. Can’t throw and catch? Don’t know your scales? Performance will be less than acceptable.

In leadership also, pay attention to the fundamentals for success.

When You Find Yourself In Complacency

January 26, 2017

So you wake up. Who knows what wakes you up. There you were happily asleep and Pow, there you are, wide awake.

It happens in the middle of the night.

It happens when you’re in an organization.

You were lulled into complacency. The pot has not yet boiled (see yesterday’s post). You have time. Just like the “good guy” in those 1930s short movies. You pull the girl off the railroad track just before the train comes.

But there is no girl. No train. Except metaphorically.

You can rescue yourself. Can you rescue the organization?

That is the question.

What do you do?

1. You can bail out. You wake up. Look around. See the signs.  Think you’ll be better off elsewhere. There you go, searching for a new adventure.

2. You can close your eyes. Ignore the signs. Slip back into the comfort of the known. And slowly…die. If not physically, then spiritually.

3. You can decide to try to change things. Become an idea monster. Every morning you awake. Brew that cup of coffee. Grab your notebook (you do have a notebook, right?). Write 10 ideas. Every morning. You talk to people about doing things differently. Find some people who are awake. Build a coalition. Go for it.

Me? I went off for other adventures. Sometimes you just can’t find that coalition. Sometimes the “supreme leader” just doesn’t have the skill or stomach for change. Or, they have a different agenda. Then it’s time to forge your own trail.

That light in the tunnel. It could be a train coming at you. Or…it could be the light out. The light to a better you.

Responding To Good Leadership This Year

January 6, 2017

Responding has been the word of the week. It started with a talk I heard which ended with a conclusion about responding, and I thought, wow, if he’d have used responding as his theme, then the talk would not have wandered and it would have been powerful. So, I started thinking about various ways we respond starting with people from the Bible.

Friday is often leadership day at Faith Venture, so I wondered about how leaders set the tone of the organization to get a beneficial response. Here are a few thoughts you might be able to use this year in whatever you might be leading–committee, department, company, non-profit organization.

Vision – Effective leaders are responding to a cause, problem, need. They don’t just say to themselves, “I just want to be the boss.” People like that may be managers. Or they may be ineffective leaders that end up in some sort of mess. But the good ones know where they’re going. It’s a cause or fills a need. It’s big enough to get others involved.

Communicate – Effective leaders can articulate the vision in 40 words or less. Peter Drucker says it should fit on a T-shirt. I’m part of an organization that has two statements. They call them “mission” and “vision”, but in reality they are statements of vision. And each is too long. Last year they re-wrote them after 12-14 years and said the same thing using more words. I heard about the process and offered some suggestions. They dropped me from the mailing list immediately. <sigh> Beyond the written statement, effective leaders talk about the vision at every opportunity. If someone suggests a new initiative, they ask, “Does it fit the vision?” Everyone in the organization should be familiar with the vision.

Decisions – Effective leaders assure that decisions are made in a timely manner. They either make decisions promptly and clearly, or they give people closest to the action the power to make decisions with clear guidelines.

Process – Effective leaders pay close attention to system and process of how things get done. If things are not happening the way you like, look at the process before you try to fix the people. The process may be set up to assure failure.

Execution – Effective leaders know that vision is worthless unless you get something done. If it is a business, then you must satisfy customer needs and make a profit. If it is a non-profit, you must serve your clients well, and assure adequate funding for the work. They encourage, no insist upon, collaboration. I had a boss with a gift for words who would pull together an ad hoc team and say, “Why don’t you gather like the witches in Macbeth and solve this problem.” Fair is foul…oh, that’s another essay. 

Here’s to a more effective 2017.

Talk Less and Listen More

December 9, 2016

For those of you who get up to read these essays by 7 am EST, I’m late. Plane was delayed and I got home at 1 am. 

Here I am. Five hours of sleep. Nothing prepared. Nothing on my mind.

But I try to write leadership thoughts on Fridays.

So, here is the thought of the day. Works for leaders. Works for parents. For spouses. Even for public speakers 😉

Talk less; Listen more.

I could give examples. But…you get the point. What are you going to do today?

Evaluating Leadership By The Wake It Leaves

November 4, 2016

Dr. Henry Cloud was recently asked about success and how to achieve it.

Although there is much room for definition of the word, Cloud noted that you need to be competent at something. Go out and learn a skill at something. Then there is the ability for forge and maintain relationships. Building a network of people you can call on.

And he talked about character. He mentioned the Hebrew word translated as virtue in the Bible has the connotations of force. It is as if a leader is a force in the organization.


It’s like a boat going through a lake. It leaves a wake. There are two sides to the wake as it fans out if the boat is moving correctly.

Just so, a successful person is a force leaving behind results and relationships in its wake.

Think of leaders you’ve known who perhaps show results but leave behind a trail of broken relationships. It is symptomatic of a boat going around in circles. Where lies success?

Sometimes we work on building relationships but have no results. Once again this is an unbalanced situation. The organization will fail. The business will close.  But you’ll all be happy–for a while.

Worse is the situation where results are poor and relationships broken. It’s like a boat “dead in the water.” Success is but a dream.

Show me a person of strong moral character who leaves good results and firm relationships in the wake, and I’ll show you success.

Three Ingredients Of Innovative Life

October 21, 2016

Infants contracted childhood leukemia. It was a terrible disease. They would bleed profusely. Doctors gave a series of powerful chemicals. One would work for a week or two and then stop. The next–same thing. And through all four known drugs.

A young doctor hired into the program to study and treat the disease. He observed and asked questions. Then he had an idea. It was so revolutionary that he was criticized for several years as an evil and stupid doctor. He said, “Why not give them all four drugs at the same time?” Take them as close to death as possible with these very toxic drugs that also, by the way, were the only known way to kill the cancer cells. Nurse them back to health. Repeat. Once a month. Every month. For 24 months.

In 1965 Dr. Emil Freireich was ostracized from the medical community for trying this. By the early 1970s it was the standard of treatment.

Malcolm Gladwell wove that story into his talk on innovation that concluded the Dell EMC conference I attended this week. He was one of two headlining speakers who are both among my favorite writers–the other being Kevin Kelly. But I only have space for one today.

We all have reason to exercise our innovation genes. Whether turning around a failing company. Or turning around a failing ministry. Or maybe just living a more fulfilling life. Here are three thoughts from Gladwell’s research.

Sense of urgency

Freireich was watching infants and children die. Every day. And he wanted a treatment–now.

Be disagreeable

OK, not in the normal sense we use it, but in the way psychologists would use it. As well as the apostle Paul. This means that we do not need the approval of others to proceed with where we’re going.

Growth mindset

When we wake up in the morning, we don’t expect the world to be exactly like it was when we went to bed. We expect some changes and deal with them.