Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

I Have A Dream

January 16, 2017

Is there an American who does not know what follows that phrase, “I have a dream”?

I hope not.

I remember taking a lot of grief from pretty much everyone in my home town back in the day for agreeing with that dream.

But I still have the dream–that every person will be judged by the strength of their character and not the color of their skin–or any of the other ways we have of dividing people into groups “like us” and “not like us”.

Jesus did not have difficulties crossing the very strict racial boundaries of his day (Jew v non-Jew).

I’m leading a small group studying from Romans right now. Paul is devoting much time to bridging the divide between the significant racial divide of his day–Jew v non-Jew.

It was painful to me in the last presidential election to watch one marketing message very clearly playing on the racial fears or prejudices of a group of Americans while the other candidate failed to come out strongly as one who would bridge the gap.

The same attitudes are springing up world-wide. Look at the unrest in Europe right now.

Where is the next Martin Luther King, Jr. who can raise a powerful voice in a non-violent way to unify people instead of dividing them?

Leaders Are Connectors

November 18, 2016

It’s a weird thing. I attend many conferences. Sometimes they are single-company conferences. It seems as if I’m always introducing people–even within the same company. I just connect people.

Recently I went to the wake of a leader. Listening to the stories about him, it was clear that he was a connector. Aside from also being humble and ethical, his connections and how he connected people stood out as his legacy.

Then I thought about the Apostle Paul. We usually study his writings in order to compile a list of rules for churches (or sometimes countries depending upon your political bent).

What if we looked at them from the point-of-view of leadership? Think of all the times he was “commending” people to other people.

Then there was the slave (a little bit different meaning than our slaves in the South pre-Civil War, but still…). His name was Onesimus. He belonged to a little fellowship of Jesus-followers. He ran away. Wound up serving Paul in a distant city.

Paul writes to his owner. Philemon, he writes, please welcome Onesimus back. “He’s a beloved brother,” he writes. Look at the situation from the point-of-view of love rather than the harsh view of the law.

Always connecting people. And that in an era when mail delivery was slow and uncertain. It took days or weeks to travel to some of these places where we could drive in a day or two. Or fly in a couple of hours.

Somehow he kept track of people and introduced them to each other, encouraged them, tried to get them to get along with each other.

America is not the only country in the world that is crying out for more connectors right now. But we could really use some leaders, and not exclusively political ones, who connect rather than sever relations.

And we have to ask, what is our role in that effort? Do we divide or connect?

Secrets of Being Productive

October 7, 2016

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, is back with another book Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. This is another well researched book full of scientific research but told in compelling stories.

Duhigg is a talented writer, but I’m not 100% sure that he always hits his point. However, we can learn about motivation, decision-making, power of teams, focus, goal setting (something I’ve learned to shun, but that’s another topic for another day), and more.

I’m only half-way through the book, but I’ve gleaned some insights for personal development.

He leads with motivation. We think of motivation as either something people are born with or something an authority figure forces people into.

Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed. Scientists have found that people can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control.

Duhigg tells stories as examples such as residents in a “nursing home” who thrive by rebelling against the immense set of rules and restrictions. They rearranged their rooms out of the standard configuration. And when cabinets were fastened to the wall, they found crowbars and tore them loose.

One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions.

Duhigg describes how the Marine Corp. changed its training to force recruits to make decisions. As they made decisions, they gained confidence.

I read this and thought about how in just about my entire life I’ve been just slightly rebellious. I could talk about one of my brothers being more rebellious, but he reads this blog, so I can’t tell stories 😉

But I almost never went over a line into open rebellion. And you could play Freudian psychologist and probe my relationships with my father or mother. Good luck with that. But I have always been determined to go my own way.

I lost motivation at university when I discovered that I’d never be actually designing and building electronic circuits. That is what I did on my own as a high school kid (instead of studying Latin like I should have been). So, I just said I’ll go elsewhere. Eventually I got deeply involved with computers and a whole career opened.

That was mild. I basically formed my own curriculum at the university–philosophy, literature, politics, math, languages, accounting (huh?), writing. And it was all to my later benefit. But my professor who approved all this kept asking my what my major was. “Getting out of school with a degree,” I’d reply

We should applaud a child who shows defiant, self-righteous stubbornness and reward a student who finds a way to get things done by working around the rules.

It served me well. And I was introverted in my rebelliousness. Even today. But something to think about even as an adult. Motivation is a learned skill that we hone by making our own decisions.

Foster A Learning Organization

September 30, 2016

There are two institutions in society where time spent matters more than work done–schools and prisons.

I saw this quote in a book some 40 years ago. I forget the attribution. Twenty minutes just went down the drain searching the Internet for it. Oh, well, how many of us resemble this remark?

There was a candidate for a job opening. “I have a BA degree, therefore I’m an expert in that topic.”

Some people see themselves as never done, as in they must always be learning–both inside and outside their disciplines. Marketing guru Seth Godin has another phrase–Fully Baked. “Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.”

Managers in all manner of organizations are taught to say “people are our most important asset.” Yet, how many of them encourage the continual learning required to keep the organization fresh and innovative. And to encourage their people to grow and develop?

This works for marketplace organizations, non-profits, and churches.

Are you the sort of leader who leads by example? What are the latest books you’ve read? Podcasts you’ve listened to? Conferences you’ve attended? Notes you’ve put into your notebook or Evernote?

Are you the sort of leader who listens to others–indeed one who solicits advice and then acts on it?

And not just business or leadership books. Read outside your area. Learn something totally new. My reading in brain science has deepened my understanding of Scripture and how to change habits to incorporate the new information.

How about a goal? Read at least one book a month for new information. Then maybe you can make it two. Then you can read that mystery for relaxation.

By so doing, you can influence others to also adopt a learning lifestyle.

Michelangelo wrote on a canvas when he was 87, “I am still learning.”

Painting a Picture of a Functional Family

August 25, 2016

How do you read (study?) the Bible? Or other more challenging books?

Some seem to read through looking for a verse they agree with. Or perhaps a controversial one where they can speculate all day about what-ifs and could-bes.

I know a guy who was leading a discussion in Ephesians. Remember how at the end of Chapter 3, Paul prays for his listeners (readers) by asking three times that they be filled with God?

He proceeds then to talk about how to live this new life filled with God–or as it is called the “With-God” life.

Rather than talk about this new with-God life, he picked up on the verse which is a parenthetical statement about if Jesus ascended to heaven where all things would be under his feet then he must have descended to earth. Well, there is a theology about Jesus actually descending into Hell. They speculated on that for a while and considered the study of Ephesians done.

That’s a shame. What if we read chapters 4-6 not as a list of instructions (let’s just pull out the “wives submit to your husbands” to stand alone and build a philosophy?) but as Paul painting a picture of a spirit-filled person, a spirit-filled family, and a spirit-filled organization?

Read this section as a description of how I would be as a person Paul describes. How I would live. How I would live in community.

Imagine a family where everyone is looking out for the other person. There is no putting myself ahead of the others. No trying to be the “boss”. Yes, there is leadership, but not tyranny. Wow, what a great family.

Let’s take it another step–because Paul does.

What if we were in an organization where people developed their gifts with the encouragement of everyone else in the organization. And people, instead of competing against their fellow workers, worked to build up other people. Equipping them for ministry, as Paul said.

If it is a business, equipping them for developing products and services that serve the customer. If a church, preparing people to go out and serve and witness. If a non-profit, equipped to serve fulfilling the mission of the organization.

How much time, emotional energy, grief would we avoid if when we lived together in family, church, and business we approached it as spirit-filled people?

You can pull out all your little philosophies you want by parsing Paul’s words to suit your purposes. But go back and read this as a picture–a vision of how to live.

Being True To Your Calling

August 5, 2016

I once thought that religion and spiritual formation were concerned with meditating until you had a Godly Spiritual experience.

And I did. And I did. I was in my 30s. Now what? That’s why I’m so concerned that we teach people after a conversion experience what comes next.

I’m reminded of a Zen master saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I’m reminded of a Zen master saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Paul was concerned with that very thing.

In his letter to the Ephesians after praying that his listeners be filled with God, he says, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

We are all born with some gifts. They constitute a calling. Some are  called to preach because they can speak well. Some are called to teach because they understand the subject and can transfer that knowledge and enthusiasm to someone else. Some are called to one from among various types of service.

Bill Hybels and Steve Carter spoke this spring at Willow Creek about finding your gifts. Try one out, said Hybels. See how it fits. If it doesn’t seem right, then try out another one. You’ll find what you are made for.

The commentator in my Bible translation says of Ephesians 4:1, “Spiritual formation is largely dependent upon our capacity to live a called life. Calling presupposes a God who graciously speaks and a people who willingly listen. In Revelation, the letter sent to the Ephesians ends this way: ‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’ Listening is a primary spiritual formation practice.”

And if your spiritual gift is leadership, then the most important of the practices you should be working on is listening.

Give Feedback Immediately

June 22, 2016

Just wait until your father gets home! — Old parenting joke

When your child does something out of bounds, when is the best time to give corrective feedback?

No, this is not a trick question. And I know that for some (many?) of you, it’s a shock to discover that your 14-year-old (or 2-year-old) can do something wrong.

Right! You provide the feedback at the time. If you wait, the feedback loses immediacy and impact.

Henry Cloud uses the example in his latest book The Power of the Other of a pair of mountain climbers. When is the best time to give feedback on a faulty foot placement? Before or after the slip and fall?

“Get behind me Satan.” Jesus to Peter

When Peter gave a wrong answer to Jesus, he received immediate feedback. In the course of three years, Peter received a lot of immediate corrective feedback. And he developed into a great leader.

Cloud uses the picture of a rectangle with four corners. He defines four types of relationships. Three are dysfunctional. The Corner Four relationships build you up, provide energy, and also sometimes corrective feedback when necessary. A true friend will give you the metaphorical kick in the butt when you need it.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

When I was editor-in-chief of a magazine, I routinely asked of people during my travels how I and the magazine could improve. What might be lacking? Where could we be going? Mostly I heard, “You’re doing a great job.” We like positive remarks, of course, but if you are looking for continuous improvement, then you need some corrective feedback. Maybe gentle, maybe a little harder to wake us up.  But it’s important.

One point–when you are looking for feedback beware the “skeptic” as defined in Proverbs. They are always critical of everything. They may or may not be helpful. Look for your Corner Four relationship, a friend or someone who cares about you. They know you and have a feel for what feedback is useful for your growth.

Oh, go buy the book, read it, digest it. Cloud will help you add depth to your relationships.

Measure Then Act For Productivity

June 10, 2016

What you can measure, you can control. –Process control axiom

What if you have a health problem. Serious risk is involved. You are given something to check daily. The number reports your status. You now know if you are on track or deviating.

Let’s take another example–from process control. Say you want to control a boiler in a chemical plant. That’s pretty complex. Maybe we’ll consider your air conditioning system in your house (it’s projected to be in the 90s F in Ohio the next few days, air conditioning is on our minds). It’s the same basic principle, just the mathematics are different.

You have a Setpoint–the temperature that you want inside your house. There is a Process Variable–the actual temperature. Your thermostat holds the set point and compares it frequently to the actual temperature. When the temperature (PV) is greater than the setpoint (SP), then the control in the thermostat turns on the air conditioning unit.

So, what do we have here? We know our ideal. We measure what is real. And here is the crucial part–we act to get the real back to the ideal.

We have a target number. We measure the real number. We act to make the changes in the system to get the real back to the ideal number.

The key is that we have to pick an action that we can also measure that will get us back to the ideal. Let’s say we have a blood sugar problem. We measure daily. We say, oops, high again. But maybe we decide to act on something we can measure. Say carbs. We know carbs affect blood sugar, so therefore we need to control our intake of carbs.

So, we decide to count carbs. We have a small note pad and write every time we eat a carb-laden food. We review daily. We have a scoreboard (like at a basketball game). We want to win, so we make it a “game” to reduce that daily number. This is something we can act on. That’s better than just the sugar number that tells us we did something bad yesterday.

Apply to personal life; apply to business and volunteer work.

A man was appointed CEO of a huge manufacturing company. The financial results were dismal. He laid out his plan of improvement to the board. We are going to become the safest place to work, he said. They said (in effect), Huh? Where is the financial target? What about financial acts like cutting jobs?

So  Paul O’Neil set about transforming the culture at Alcoa.

  • Goals and training were sent out
  • Managers were empowered to report all serious incidents without recrimination immediately
  • People in manufacturing or elsewhere were empowered to not only take measures to be safe but also make suggestions and report potential problems.

Those of us in production and manufacturing know a safe plant becomes a productive plant. Not to mention the ethics of providing jobs where it is likely the worker will return home to the family every night in one piece.

He found something he could easily define and measure and act on. The company culture changed and financial results showed improvement.

It’s easy to sit, do nothing, and complain. Real improvement in our lives and our work come from observing, measuring, and acting.

Take Care of Yourself

June 3, 2016

“I translate theology into English.”

Somewhere in a conversation, that thought occurred to me. I do that with technology, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to go beyond theology. We read about the great thinkers of the faith. Or the great leaders. We sometimes stop with what they wrote, or with saints, with the weird things they did.

I get annoyed. We don’t teach leaders how to take care of themselves. We don’t teach Jesus followers how to take care of themselves, either. Many of the leaders left traces of their lifestyles that would teach as much as their words.

Caregivers know, or soon learn, that they must take care of themselves and keep themselves healthy and balanced if they are going to be able to help others. “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others,” the flight attendant intones at the beginning of every flight.

Part of the message of Keven L. Meyer’s book, The Simple Leader, advises us to use the principles of Lean and Zen to take care of ourselves, too.

  • Simplify our environment–get rid of clutter around us and organize what’s left
  • Simplify our minds–get rid of the clutter there, too; learn to be aware of the present–where we are, people and things around us, sights/sounds, conversations, focus on what you’re doing
  • Simplify our nutrition–use Lean principles of reducing waste by eating healthy foods, not preparing or trying to eat too much–that is waste and we remove waste
  • Focus–on where you are right this moment
  • Focus–on one task at a time
  • Focus–on the other person in a conversation
  • Awareness–of what we eat, eating slowly with awareness of flavor and texture, eating foods that are good to our bodies and minds
  • Awareness–of the other person, what are they thinking and feeling (not my response)
  • Awareness–of our purpose and the type of person we want to be, and where we are right now relative to those

All of these impact the type of leader we will be–and the type of person we’ll become. Go and take care of yourself, too.

Wasting Your Time Through Indecisiveness

May 13, 2016

Failure to make timely decisions kills motivation, productivity, effectiveness.

Life can get caught in mesh of not knowing what to do next. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computers, took it to an almost insane level. Ever get up in the morning and wonder what to wear? You can waste considerable time. Jobs visited Japan and saw how company employees wore uniforms. He picked black pullover shirt and jeans. Never had to make that daily decision.

Of course he lived in California. As for me here in west Ohio, I’m looking at the weather forecast and mentally going through my closet and dresser trying to decide what to wear. What a  waste of time.

But it gets worse. You’re in a business. You have to decide on the next product, or whether to add a product. You lead a committee at a church or volunteer agency. You need to decide how to deal with someone or what the next project will be.

You’ve committed to “Getting Things Done” and made a fabulous list of all the next actions to move your projects forward. Which one to do?

Each little decision moves your day forward.

Train yourself to look in the mirror. Realistically. Catch yourself when you’ve lost momentum or motivation because you are sitting on a decision. You’ve studied it. And studied it. And worried about it. Your energy spirals downward. You can’t focus.

Decide. Now. Yes. No. Modify it.

Decide now and move on. You’ll feel better.