Archive for category Leadership
My family stood in his jail cell on Robben Island. We witnessed first-hand the devastation of Apartheid. We saw what racism, oppression, greed, and anger can do to a nation. In post-Apartheid South Africa we saw the church rise up to join and often lead the restoration movement toward reconciliation among black, colored and white.
Thank you Nelson Mandela, for forgiving those who recklessly and intentionally destroyed your country. Thank you for being creative and winsome and shrewd in the face of those who had been abusive, evil and offensive.
I made four trips to South Africa, teaching, serving, learning, listening, praying and crying. It was heartbreaking and hope-building at the same time. In South Africa can sometimes smell the poverty before you ever see it. It is raw and toxic and visceral. Admittedly I had but a brief look through a tiny window into the suffering of a people we have abused, neglected and exploited for centuries.
I felt ashamed. To feel anything less is an injustice. Repentance is the only response.
Sadly, I knew I had played a role in their demise. Every American did – by our ignorance or by our compliance. We stood by and watched corporations get richer as a people got poorer and sicker and lonelier on the world stage. Meanwhile, we took their wealth, their land and their heritage.
But thank God we could not take their faith, their dignity and their hope.
Nelson Mandela was an iconic symbol of these treasures. Of course he was a complex man, sometimes despised…sometimes revered. Yes, his work as a young, angry man was often brutal and dangerous. No one – including Mandela himself –blindly condoned this. He wanted to hurt those who hurt them.
But can we understand why? Are we so self-righteous we cannot imagine ourselves making similar error? Let’s be clear; most of us have never had our homes bulldozed into oblivion, our livelihoods take from us, our land corrupted and our leaders imprisoned. Angry young men do foolish things when they cry for freedom and justice in a world that cannot and will not hear. Like a rebellious teenager his actions cried, “Help! Look! Listen!”
Yes, Nelson Mandela’s early means were wrong. People like King and Ghandi chose different paths. And eventually so did Mandela.
But I must remember how hard it was. I have never begged for my freedom. I have never watched my friends and their sons beaten to death by a racist mob. I do not have to see my daughter raped by the very police who are supposed to protect her innocence. I was not sentenced to work a patch of limestone for decades that would virtually blind my eyes and break my back. But South Africans – like WW2 Jews in Germany and “dissidents” in North Korea today –endured this kind of suffering.
And many of us just watched. I know I did.
In 1976 I was a freshman at Princeton University. There were almost daily protests against Apartheid. I mocked them. These mostly long-haired hippie types were shouting and demanding for corporations to divest from SA to create economic pressure to topple Apartheid. I thought to myself, “Go to class…do something productive…get a job you losers!”
I was an ignorant fool. I had no idea what Apartheid was, how it crippled a culture and raped a nation.
Thank you Nelson Mandela, for becoming a changed man. Thank you for not letting your anger and suffering become a weapon to inflict injury upon your oppressors. Thank you for “leading from the back” as described in the book “Mandel’s Way.”
And thank you for forgiving me. It reminds me of another great leader. The greatest leader, who had an even longer walk to freedom. He came to earth, lived for justice and truth, but was abused, misjudged, beaten, imprisoned and killed by the oppressive elites of His day. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps Mandela gave us a contemporary example of this kind of forgiveness. I need that forgiveness. Because like I naively mocked those justice-seeking protestors, I took part in the mocking and death of righteous Jesus.
So today I say, “Thank You, Jesus—for forgiving us, saving us, loving us and now walking with us.”
Where are the Mandelas of today? You generally won’t find them ranting on FOX or MSNBC. There are few in congress or business or education. Thankfully, there are more rising up in the church. Men and women – great leaders, many of them quiet yet powerful – who care about the really big questions. But they are still a minority.
We need more people who are not caught up in so many petty debates discussed today by weak people with small minds. I know, because I can easily become one of them. Why? Because sometimes, instead of being a courageous leader I am a contented follower. No, not a follower of the radical, freedom-fighting, passionate Jesus. Rather, a follower of those who believe the fight is about our “brand” or a “model” or a “tribe” or a “theological viewpoint” or a “Bible version” or a “political system” or a hundred other distractions.
How lame and trivial. I hate when I get caught up in all that banter.
Mandela reminds me – reminds us – that there are longer walks and bigger issues and greater causes. I want to be more like him. Of course, ultimately, I want to be more like Jesus of Nazareth. A man of humility, justice, self-sacrifice, truth, beauty, forgive and, of course…LOVE. Mandela, a leader today we admire and celebrate today, was a world changer but only a shadow of what Jesus fully and perfectly embodied. And so are you and I. So we fix our eyes on Jesus as we become more of the leader, and follower, we long to become.
Can you help me be more like Jesus today? We need to remind one another of what is at stake, to call out the best in each other and set our sights on things above not on the things of the earth. In our ignorance or laziness we can never again allow another group of people to imprison and mock and oppress a rising generation of “Mandelas” who will courageously and humbly stand for freedom. For real freedom – Christ-centered freedom. Transforming freedom, inside and out.
It required a long walk for Nelson Mandela to get there, but he eventually got it right. I hope to get it right someday as well – hopefully sooner, but who knows. And I desperately need Jesus of Nazareth to walk the long road with me.
After all, He understands the long walk to freedom…all the way to the cross.
Look at leadership development and you see the focus of most conferences and materials is on leaders at the top, or leaders on the front line. This is great – I love to work with senior-level teams and leaders, and have spent decades training volunteer group and team leaders for churches and businesses.
But many groups – especially Non-profits – really need to develop the middle, and the opportunities are endless!
So what about development for the MIDDLE? People have skills and experience beyond entry-level leadership and yet do not desire, are not ready for, or not gifted for – top-level posts. Where are the development strategies for these emerging leaders?
My “Leaders at Every Level” process is designed to I develop and support leaders at every level of your church, non-profit or small business.
Here is why it is so important to DEVELOP THE MIDDLE layer of your organization:
1) This is the pool from which you will draw many of your inner circle leaders in the next 4-5 years
2) An investment here has a huge trickle-down effect, as these leaders become better at passing along the DNA of your organization
3) You can see whether these leaders can reproduce the investment you have made in them. Can they, and will they, shape the people below them the way you are investing in them?
4) It is a testing ground for greater responsibility. You can takes risks here and let leaders fail without causing too much pain in them or the organization. Yet they have time to learn and recover from failure before advancement to higher levels.
5) Turnover drops dramatically and is directly proportional to the investment you make in people. After a few years people wonder if they are stuck, so they either level off (and just hand on to a job) or move on to better opportunities for growth. If you want turnover, ignore the middle. Here is some great info from The Wharton School that validates this point in business…but I think it is even MORE essential for churches and Non-profits.
6) When top leaders move on or die or retire, there is no “crisis” because you have a built-in secession plan!
So what is your strategy? Share your ideas for development in the middle and I will forward them along. This is a great challenge!
Currently, our government leaders are debating and haggling about what services to fund. It’s a political wrestling match as we are well aware. Someone said, “When are these losers going to get their act together?” Sadly, regardless of your political affiliation, the real “losers” are needy people. Meanwhile many who are not dependent on government assistance or investment can laugh and throw stones. But a slowdown or a shutdown is a real letdown for so many. A government shutdown is indeed a crisis.
But today I realize I have avoided an even greater crisis in my life.
A Small Group Shutdown!
That’s right. I cannot imagine the impact of such a thing if it ever happened. As I look at the small groups I have been a part of over the years, shutdown would have been devastating for me and many others I know – at least from the human side of things.
Here’s what a Small Group Shutdown would have meant for me…
- No connection with Jesus a leader, lover and friend
- A disastrous marriage to someone who did not follow God
- A misfire on God’s moving me into a new career
- I would have never learned the real power of the gospel
- I might not have many real, lifelong friends – deep, genuine and “for me”
- An undiscovered teaching gift
- Participation in a weak church that had drifted from the truth
- I might never have attended graduate school for theology
- I would have missed seeing real prayer and real healing
- My own prayers and gifts would lay dormant or underutilized for years
- Serving opportunities would have passed me by
- International ministry and service would have likely evaded me
- I would have missed the support I needed for my marriage
- Raising kids would have been a disaster
- My personal pain and suffering would have had much less support
- My 2nd and 3rd career moves would have been made without wise counsel
- Might not have had close friends in the group become believers
- Would have missed tons of personal growth, love, and truth-telling I needed to hear
And I could go on for pages…A Small Group Shutdown would have led to a personal Breakdown.
It is sad that some critics believe that “small groups don’t work” and are not focused on making disciples.
I guess I was just lucky to be in the only group on the planet that is an exception. I am sure the rest are just hokey little gatherings of bubble Christians hiding from the world and ignoring their communities.
Sure, like parts of the government, some need to be shutdown. But most, as far as I can see (and I have looked at these around the globe), are lifelines for people of all stripes and backgrounds. These little bands of spiritual transformation form the foundation for communal life and service. Maybe that is why Jesus spent so much time with His.
So today my headline reads, “SMALL GROUP SHUTDOWN AVERTED!”
A Common Leadership Mistake You Must Avoid!!
I see it almost everywhere I work with leadership teams. Let me tell you what it is and what you should be doing differently. And I will cite two great HBR articles that are helpful. (For more about HBR go here http://hbr.org )
Before I name the mistake, let me describe how it pops up.
You want to move ahead so you brainstorm a bit, read the latest books, review all the models, attend a conference or watch some videos. Then draft the new strategy., delegate responsibilities, and launch the new plan.
And in six months you are…
Two areas drive my passion and practice. They “need” one another. And in my work with churches, businesses, educational institutions and start-up operations, these 2 THINGS really matter. At the end of this post you can see how I help leaders of quality organizations in these 2 areas. See if you can spot them on this list below.
- Clear Mission
- Competent Leadership
- A Great Team
- Essential Funding
- Creative Workplace
- A Visionary Person
- Strong Community
- Recognition for Work
- Ownership by All
- Enjoy My Work
I chose Competent Leadership and Strong Community – and here is why.
I develop leaders.
I speak at conferences.
I attend conferences.
This week, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Lot’s of enthusiasm and inspiration, great talks and encouraging moments. I took my family and 5 of my honors students. We found the experience exciting and energizing. Like many others, that is why we go. It is an emotional thrill, and leaders need a leadership lift whenever we can get one.
Many of the speakers acknowledged this kind of event is a REMINDER event. We need to hear what we already know, and be inspired again to plug away, stay the course, and lead well. And often we gain a new insight or have an “aha!” moment. These are truly valuable.
But what happens after the thrill is gone? It is the age-old conference dilemma. In a few days the buzz is gone, the notebook goes on the shelf, the twitter frenzy dies down and people return to the same challenges, problems, lousy bosses, fundraising shortfalls and HR headaches.
Am I being pessimistic? Should we stop going to conferences? NO! Let me be clear. I love conferences! I love speaking at them and going to them! I love hanging with other leaders and getting to know their stories, successes and challenges. This is essential for every leader!
My friends Henry Cloud and I have worked together speaking, writing and training group leaders. To coach small groups – especially newer groups – we created Making Your Small Groups Work, a DVD groups watch a few minutes at each meeting to learn to be an effective community.
Here’s a short sample if you want to take a peek.
Setting ground rules is one of the things we encouraged groups to do, so that everyone is clear about how to create an environment for growth in a group context.
Here are 5 to think incorporate into your group process or team setting.
Care: Being for each other and coming alongside one another on any group or team is essential. We need more encouragement and less criticism; more urging onward than looking backward. To say “I care” means we not on have empathy with others, but we show that in a tangible way with words, ideas, support and compassion.
This may sound a little “soft” for some settings, like working groups or corporate teams. I get that. But it can still be communicated in appropriate ways. When a group really cares about one another they can begin to care for one another.
Safety: Creating a “Come as You are Culture” as friend John Burke likes to say, you make it safe for full participation and risk-taking. It means we can show up angry, tired, strong, weak, excited or cautious – and that is all ok. Sure, you need to monitor how you express those realities depending on the setting and the culture of the group or organization.
But the basic premise remains. You avoid having a “you’d –better-act-and-talk-and-look-like-this-before-we-accept-you” culture that ignores reality and demeans people.
Authenticity: Yes, authenticity is an overworked word… but it remains an underutilized practice. I believe this is because it is often misunderstood. Sometimes it is interpreted as putting all your cards on the table all the time, totally revealing everything about yourself.
Not healthy. We have reality TV to thank for that perspective. Unbridled and unwise communication and action is not authenticity – it is simply overexposure. And, like too much sun without sunblock, it does more damage than most relationships can tolerate.
Or, people fake authenticity with trite phases and clichés. “I totally understand what you mean!” “Wow thanks for putting yourself out there, Susan. It felt so real.” Or what a women said in a group I was in “I hate my husband, he’s a creep!” That was certainly real…but was it wise to share in the second meeting of a small group just learning to become a community and trying to take basic risks?
Growth: We are told to “urge one another toward love and toward good deeds” and groups are a great place for that. We get so selfish, so cynical, so absorbed in personal realities that pushing one another toward growth is neglected. But if I am listening, I am eager to call the best out of you and watch you thrive.
Once a member asked me, “And how do you act with integrity and honor your boss even though now you realize he might never change his abrupt way of communicating?” He wanted me to understand I have a choice – my actions and reactions are under my control, regardless of what he says or does. I can be different. I can love. I can serve.
Help: Groups and teams flourish when members help one another in tangible ways. “Mike, I can get that report for you online and save you a few minutes of research time.” “Christine, let me take care of the kids for an hour while you get some quiet time – or just go shop!” Little helps make a big difference.
Let me know if I can ever help you or your teams get better at creating greater community and a vibrant group culture.
In the meantime, ask yourself:
Which of these 5 “habits” or Ground Rules can we make a reality in our group or team?
What will it take for us to make this a normal part of the culture?
I am always intrigued by what is said in commencement speeches. Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford is one of the most Googled. His “stay hungry, stay foolish” theme really resonated with listeners. If you never heard it, it is a real gem. You can watch it here.
This June, at my alma mater’s graduation ceremonies, Princeton’s departing President, Shirley Tilghman, referred to Jeff Bezos’ commencement address to graduates in 2010. Though not as memorable or as well-known as Jobs’ talk, Bezos offered a series of questions for leaders or at least what every leader should be asking.
Bezos is Founder and CEO of Amazon.com and is a Princeton Class of 1986 graduate. His remarks challenged graduating seniors to consider 10 key questions. Here they are for your consumption.
1) Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
2) Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
3) Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
4) Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
5) Will you bluff it out when you are wrong, or will you apologize?
6) Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
7) Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
8) When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
9) Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
10) Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
I certainly was challenge by almost all of these. I did not feel a sense of guilt or failure so much as new resolve to grow and risk in these areas. Numbers 1, 6, and 9 have particular meaning for me at this moment in life and leadership.
How about you? I suggest you reflect honestly on the list, and choose your top 2-3 questions for further investigation and focus. Leaders – especially those who share leadership or have collaborative styles – will have to take some risks that will cause discomfort and leave you vulnerable to failure or criticism.
But what other options are there? A life filled with woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets and a leadership legacy what-if’s and what-might-have-beens?
Not for me. And I hope not for you.
Fallon has made a hilarious spoof of saying thanks on his show. If you have not seen the regular segment, here are a few off the net at (http://thankyoujimmyfallon.tumblr.com) – so have a good laugh.
Thank you, salad tongs, or as Shaq calls you, tweezers.
Thank you, dolls, for being one missing eye away from being the creepiest thing ever.
Thanks you, hors d’oeuvres, for being appetizers that moved to France and got all snooty.
I wonder what it would look like for followers to say “thank you” to their leaders. What would they say? Sarcastic ones like Fallon’s might sound like this:
Thank you, leaders, for taking all the credit for our success and still making me feel great about my job.
Thank you, leaders, for caring about my opinion, even though you already made your decision two weeks ago.
Thank you, leaders, for adding 10 hours to my week without adding even 10 dollars to my salary.
Thank you, leaders, for letting me have this little gray cubical in the corner with the flickering white light…I always wanted to know what prison felt like.
It would be much better to hear…
Thank you, leaders, for the sacrifices you make and opportunities you provide, even though it is not part of your job to do so.
Thank you, leaders, for cheering on my success, even when it gets me more attention and recognition than you received.
Thank you, leaders, for listening to my thoughts, ideas and opinions while you are in the decision-making process – especially when you actually use some of them!
Thank you, leaders, for providing an exciting and creative workspace so we can all leverage our creativity and look forward to our time in the office.
Also, I realize as a leader I need to be in the “thank you” business – genuinely. An attitude of gratitude is always inspiring to others. Motivational guru Zig Ziglar built a business around the whole practice of saying thanks. Keep an Attitude of Gratitude
Leaders who really care about followers must recognize they are in the gratitude business – both giving and receiving.
What if your team heard comments like these from you today?
Thanks, Mike, for your provocative and keen insights at yesterday’s team meeting. It challenged me to really think about this from a different perspective. Jenna, I appreciate your willingness to ask hard questions and dig deeper into the problems we have to tackle. Kevin, your reports are timely and accurate – that means a lot to us when we are making such crucial decisions.
What people thank you for is what they remember you for.
For what actions and attitudes might your “followers” say thanks today?
To whom (and for what) can you express thanks today?
We are smack in the middle of baseball season heading to the July All-Star break. Despite this we are in the middle of the ice hockey finals. Still! Normally my interest for this drops by May because the season is too long, baseball is up and running and it is just too warm outside to think about ice hockey.
But my interest this year goes well past May because the Chicago Blackhawks are in the finals. Last night they played the Bruins in one of the longest playoff games in NHL history. At the start of the 3rd overtime period it was still 3-3.
Whether it’s baseball, hockey, or just the local beer softball league, everyone expects to play a normal game. But sometimes it’s tie at the end of regulation and the teams play overtime. In the playoffs you compete until someone wins or everyone dies from exhaustion. (Of course, in the guys-over-40 softball league it’s just as intense– but if you run out of beer, the game is called and everyone heads to the bar.)
Playing extra innings is hard enough. Weariness sets in and sheer intensity of competition takes its toll on the body and the mind. Emotions run thin and a single mistake can cost you the game. Everyone has to take it up a notch at the time when they are least capable of doing so.
But leading in extra innings is even harder.
It is especially difficult for the player-coach, the guy or gal who has to perform at the top of their game while motivating and guiding the rest of the team. Overtime will test your leadership ability in ways that other challenges cannot for the sheer fact that so much more energy, stamina, and focus are required.
Here are a few tips on how to lead when there is more game left on the clock than there is in the players.
1) Acknowledge the reality of the challenge. This is no time for fake, rah-rah cheerleading that basically communicates, “C’mon guys, this isn’t any big deal.” It IS a big deal. Getting the project done, preparing the presentation, or solving the crisis really matters. Let your team know that YOU know this is not just really important – it is also going to be hard.
2) Discern what is “doable hard” versus “destructive hard.” Working harder in overtime does not mean everyone becomes a crazy workaholic and winds up quitting when the project is over. People have to juggle the extra work in a way that considers family commitments and personal health. If every week at work is another overtime crisis it will ultimately crush morale, deplete leadership resources and produce an inferior product or service.
Some organizations use abusive work practices to force “extra innings” for employees. Famously, it is Wall Street financial companies, urban hospitals and top-end law firms who create insane work hours to weed out the “weak” and get more bang for their buck. It is illegal in some cases and demeaning in at best. Organizations that pay “part-time” people for 32 hours (to avoid paying for health benefits) but “allow” them to work well past that are ethically bankrupt.
3) Focus the energy. In sports you have to coach tired players and create a winning game plan. You cannot use all the resources in the first few minutes hoping for the quick kill. If you fail, you are in big trouble because you might have another 30, 60 or even 90 minutes of game time ahead. So get your team members focused on what they do best, and help them draft a long-term approach. Doing what they do best will leverage the energy they have. Don’t ask everyone to help with everything. It gets chaotic, and wastes time you do not have.
4) Deal directly with complainers. When the going gets tough the complainers get grumpy. You and the team cannot tolerate this – it saps energy, wastes time, and damages morale. Pull the offenders aside, look ‘em in the eye and let them know that attitude is everything, especially in overtime.
5) Outwork your team. In OT great captains and managers rise to a new level of commitment, energy, and focus. You cannot push others to stretch while you operate at the normal pace and level. Let the team see that you are willing to do the extra work to get the job done. It is demoralizing to serve on teams and staffs where you outwork the leaders, and get none of the perks, notoriety, vacation time, or income their leaders receive. It is sad.
6) Finally, play to win, not just survive. Yes, look at the potential for a long overtime. You might need 6 pitchers in extra innings, so be strategic in their deployment. But don’t settle for survival. Get the team together and determine what the goal is, what “victory” looks like and then get after it. If it just drags on, then energy wanes, the team gets distracted, and the victory goes to others.
The captains and coaches of the Blackhawks led well in OT. They rotated players on lines, using shorter shifts, called time outs, worked a clear strategy, and led by example. It was a winning combination. A 4-3 victory well into the 3rd overtime.
Imagine how good that must feel today!
Photo Credit: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=673963