Your Life Story: True Self or False Self?

The man awaiting the verdict in the courtroom was a Yale Law Professor, owned several Picassos, drove a Rolls Royce, flew private jets and lived a life of an eccentric multi-millionaire Wall Street Investment Banker. Some would say a dream life.

“But he hit a brick wall when he bought the Biltmore property,” Phoenix reporters say. The mortgage was $17,250 a month, interest only. So, to pay for it, Michael Marin created a scheme. He set up a raffle, selling tickets at $25 a piece, to raise the $1million needed to pay off the home. The proceeds for the raffle were supposed to benefit a center for children in crisis.

In reality, the home was $2.5million, and the $1million mortgage was bogus. But the story is stranger. In 2009, the luxury home burned to the ground, and using scuba gear in his bedroom and a ladder, Marin barely escaped the smoke and flames. “I just happened to have the gear in my room and used it to breathe oxygen.” Local news even carried the amazing escape on the evening television broadcast.

Fire fighters arrived to find a man in scuba gear standing outside his burning home. But soon investigators discovered it was arson, his attempt to collect insurance money. He was arrested, and now in 2012, his trial had come to a tragic close. Watching the courtroom video, reporters describe what took place.

Upon hearing the guilty verdict, Marin dropped his head into his hands in despair. He then slid his hands up and appeared to place something in his mouth….and he took a drink.

He began to convulse at first lightly. But quickly it grows more violent. His attorneys called for help.

Marin hunched over, slowly collapsing to the ground as others rushed in to help. Someone asked for someone to call 911 and several people ran to help him…He was later declared dead.

I watched the courtroom video and wondered how this man arrived at this point.  How did he live this way? Why did he die this way? And then I understood something.


I am Michael Marin—and so are you.

To be certain, the facts and idiosyncrasies are different. They are likely much less bizarre, but no less toxic. If we look closely into the mirror we will find a lot of Mr. Marin staring blankly back at us – perhaps more than we care to admit.

Marin created a false self, a life designed to impress, intimidate and control others. He manipulated people, circumstances, resources and his environment to keep that false self alive.

And so do we.


Robert Mulholland, in his book The Deeper Journey, challenges us to discover our true selves and to die to the false self, especially the religious false self.

Our religious false self hides its fear behind a wall of activity. Our religious false selves can be as frenetic in our religiosity as secular false selves are in their performance-oriented attempts to authenticate their identity and value. A welter of worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, accountability groups, fellowship meetings, retreats and workshops often enable us to calm our fears and assure ourselves that our religious identity and value is secure.

Like Michael Marin we are afraid of God and exposing our true self. We want the world to believe we are something we are not, that we are holier, wiser, more spiritual, courageous, faith-filled, righteous, correct, etc.  We really want to be that person because we think God wants us to be that person – and we fear that others need us to be that person.

But being that person is so draining, demoralizing and shallow. Going deeper means letting go and putting to death the façade, the expectations of others, the moralizing of self-righteous pundits. It means, as Mulholland says, “being in God for the world” instead of “being in the world for God.”

It means being free.


More than ever we need people who are free to be what God made them to be, not what they think they should be or even want to be. We need people who see their true selves in partnership with the true God. To see God in all his unpredictability and mystery, wild and roaming the earth inviting us to join him in a kingdom-building adventure where we are fully alive.

Michael Marin did not die in that courtroom. He died years earlier, when simply being Michael who was not good enough for the world, not good enough for him.  It happened when he chose to be alone with his false self instead of being fully alive, at rest in God.

The false self must die. It must be disconnected from the life support systems that keep it breathing.


It’s time for us to pull the plug.

Small Group Advanced Training, Coming to a Town Near You!

Small Group Advanced Training, Coming to a Town Near You!

I am excited to share with everyone that I am taking my Small Group Advanced Training on the road! I will be offering one day conferences that are designed for strategic ministry leaders and their teams in the group life arena.

This training is targeted at you and your specific leadership challenges.  Small Group Advanced Training will help you:

  • Diagnose Specific Ministry Challenges and Barriers
  • Formulate Strategic Next Steps
  • Start the Process of Creating a Focused Ministry Plan
  • Cast the Group Life Vision Clearly and Compellingly
  • Align Group Life with the other Ministries of the Church
  • Clarify Your Role and Responsibilities

The process combines teaching, team time, planning and interaction so that your experience is optimal and your take-home value is maximized.

Email me if you would like more information.  Space is limited, but we are still adding more training locations and additional dates.  I look forward to serving you and your team!

Currently scheduled Small Group Advanced Training Dates:

  • Thursday, June 7, 2012: Zionsville Presbyterian Church (Zionsville, Indiana) 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 13, 2012: Austin Stone Community Church (Austin, Texas) 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 14, 2012: Fellowship Bible Church (Dallas, Texas) 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.



Confronting Meeting Killers

The Wall Street Journal May 16 (Section D1) had some great stuff on Meeting Killers. Four styles that can kill any well-intended meeting were described.

  1. The Jokester

    Assault with a deadly punchline. This member cracks jokes often, especially when not appropriate. I find these people are usually nervous and need humor to break the tension. When they are challenged personally, or asked to look deeper into their own life or soul, they get sarcastic and side-track the conversation.

  1. The Dominator

    First-degree nuisance. The person tends to be a narcissist and believes the conversation revolves around their ideas. Has to have the last word…and the first word…and lots of words in between. I find you have to confront this person or pull them offline at a break and review the ground rules – unless it is your boss. Good luck with that one.

  1. The Naysayer

    Premeditated negativity. Waits until consensus is almost reached and then drops the bomb. A real David or Debbie Downer type who makes Eeyore look like a Pep-rally leader. It is good to run stuff by this person before meetings and get buy-in when they are off guard. Limits their impact at the meeting and you can say, “That’s interesting – a few minutes ago you were pretty excited about this. What changed?”

  1. The Rambler

    Death by boredom. Takes the long way home…and always gets lost. Here is where you have to jump in and say, “Jim can you take the next 30 seconds and summarize your thoughts?” or “Let’s land this plane before the airport shuts down.”  Use the 3-minute egg timer in the middle of the table if needed. And leverage the group to provide feedback.

Good meetings are the result of good leaders and solid ground rules. Review these regularly, set a tight agenda, and try doing some shorter meetings standing up, and do the follow up on email.

Strategies for Developing Leaders

There were many Leadership Development approaches and models at The Lobby gathering in San Juan Capistrano. Intentional, consistent engagement with rising and potential leaders is still the core. A leader needs vision, time, someone who listens deeply, regular feedback, a place to process failure, and a laser-like focus on goals to shape a leader.

Here are some strategies and approaches to recruiting and developing leaders.

1)     Just ask.

So often we forget to make a simple, direct ask. “Join me” and “Can you help me?” and “I want you to enter a leader development process” are simple ways to call people into leadership. No begging, no dancing around. Just ask with clarity and boldness.

2)     Provide short-term experiences.

Give people a place and an opportunity to lead – even if they fail. But shorter experiences are ways to identify areas for growth and catch failure sooner. Sometimes we do not even need to tell them “this is training” but rather just give them a leadership experience.

3)     Apprenticing.

This tried and true approach is as old as history itself. Take someone under your wing, or place them with a solid leader. Give them a little leadership under the supervision and coaching of another leader and people will thrive. They gain confidence, get a good taste of reality, identify growth opportunities and have a laboratory to lead in without all the responsibility for the outcomes.

4)     Use online Resources.

Get a group of rising leaders in front of some good content (DVD or online) and then let them process and practice. Process the content and make sure it is understood, then form a leader development group and practice the skills together.


So choose a method or two and get going. There are no silver bullets in leadership development – just provide consistent engagement, real life experience and quality feedback. And watch the leaders emerge!

Top Qualities of Successful Entrepreneurs

Top Qualities of Successful Entrepreneurs

So you want to step out on your own, or build a company from scratch, or launch a new non-profit, or plant a church? It is likely you’ve got that entrepreneurial spirit. Awesome…but do you have the essential qualities successful start-up leaders say you’ll need to break through?

A WSJ article on March 19 lists the results of a survey of successful entrepreneurs. Here are the top qualities they listed in order of importance:

  • Vision
  • Passion
  • Drive
  • Integrity
  • Innovation
  • Risk-taker
  • Resilience
  • Pro-activeness
  • Relentless customer focus
  • Ability to team
  • Flexibility

When asked, “Where did you pick up the capabilities needed to be successful?” they responded as follows (also in order of importance):

  • Experience as an employee
  • Higher education
  • Mentors
  • Family
  • Co-founders
  • Secondary education
  • Colleagues
  • Senior executives/board
  • Friends
  • Investors

First, it is no surprise that vision, passion, and drive are at the top of the qualities list.  You have to have your start-up in your gut, not just in your head. By itself, an idea is worth very little. But an idea that is developed, tried, refined, funded, and desperately needed will go a long way. The person who can move an idea into action, and works hard pulling others together with integrity and passion, will turn it into something transforming.

When it comes to an innovative idea, you cannot just see it – you must see it through!

And second, it is no surprise that experience (rightly evaluated and understood) combined with formal and informal learning environments, is our best teacher. Formally, classroom instruction can broaden our intellectual horizons and sharpen our abilities to engage and defend ideas. Informally, mentors, family members and our co-founding partners bring their experiences – successes and failures – into contact with ours.

The takeaway? Discover what is in your gut and go after it. Stick with it through failure and disappointment. But never do it alone, because you’ll need others to learn from and maybe cry with. Be relentless about the quality and usefulness of your product, service or mission. Become a voracious learner, and invite others to join your team in the grand pursuit of your life-changing vision.

And watch what happens! We all might be very surprised!

Facing the Development Challenge

This is how I guide leaders and teams to work toward organizational outcomes, bringing personal leadership strengths in sync with group or team processes.

Whether working with an individual or an organization there are some common issues that must be addressed to get the team moving in the right direction and the leader focusing on the right stuff.

Here’s my 5-fold approach for moving forward to achieve results. Each has a “takeaway” recommendation so a leader can act with focus.

The Development Process

1) Name Reality: Using guided discussion with core teams and leaders, and some basic assessment tools we will identify leverage points that drive progress. Barriers to progress can be identified clearly, so that leaders know how and when to engage the challenge. A clear, honest picture of reality is the starting point for meaningful and lasting change.

2) Prioritize Investment: How a group or team allocates resources depends on what “drivers” are most likely to produce results. We do not ignore weaknesses and broken parts of the strategy. Instead we focus on what seems to be working and what has the highest capacity for leverage. Time, talent and treasure are precious commodities. Are you deploying them wisely?

3) Catalyze Movement: Rather than wait, I focus my energies to catalyze movement within priority areas as quickly as possible. This is not like building an automobile. This is an organism—it is fluid, flexible and dynamic. By catalyzing limited, focused movement we can determine the impact on the whole, and discern where to bring additional energy or redirect resources. Get the right things moving in the right direction as soon as possible.

4) Guide Process: Change cannot be managed. But, like electricity, it can be channeled and guided, measured and adapted. As strategies for movement are put into play, we will navigate their impact, funneling successful results into greater overall impact. Leaders need coaching and guidance to navigate change.

5) Cultivate Feedback: You must create feedback opportunities all along the strategy pathway. Rather than wait until the full impact of guided change takes place, feedback loops are utilized throughout the process, ensuring that leaders are wisely fueling the pace, level and scope of the change. Timely feedback that informs meaningful next steps helps a leader refine the process, reset the target and execute the strategy.

Developing the Leader Within Part 5 of 5 – Running on Empty? Developing the Leader’s Capacity

How are your gauges? I check the ones on my car frequently. The readings on the gauges provide a snapshot of reality. They rarely lie. We ignore them at our peril. I am glad my gas gauge has a yellow light that tells me I have about a gallon or 2 left before I wind up hitchhiking on some dark road in the middle of nowhere.

How about your Leadership Gauges? There are 3 to pay attention to. Where would you mark each gauge in relation to your life?

Check your gauge

1) Spiritual Gauge: Empty…..Half ……Full?

This gauge moves toward empty every time you invest spiritual energy in others. Helping people connect with God, providing soul care and engaging in great moral or ethical battles can sap your tank. Though especially true of pastors and non-profit leaders, this can affect every leader.

The spiritual life must be replenished. Times for prayer, meditation, solitude, reading and silence are usually sufficient to refuel the tank. Pay attention to the soul and to the heart. Life flows from those places and, like a garden, they must be tended to and weeded regularly.

2) Emotional Gauge: Empty….Half….Full?

Are you experiencing unresolved conflict with co-workers, family or friends? Are you continually sad and depressed, filled with fear, easily aggravated or overly defensive? Then your emotional gauge is likely near empty.

Getting relationships back on track, addressing conflict head on, and forgiving people who have offended you will help move the needle back toward Full. It is important to process these emotions with a trusted friend or safe small group who know you and want to see you find healing. Consult a professional counselor if needed, especially if there have been serious losses in life; a death, job loss, a broken dream, or a relational breakdown.

3) Physical Gauge: Empty….Half….Full?

Lack of sleep, poor diet, too much caffeine or sugar, illness, and too little exercise or fresh air will drain this tank quickly. Some of these we cannot avoid, but we must address. Allow time for healing during an illness. Too many of us get heroic and come back to work before we should, infecting others and slowing our healing. The result is poor performance and fractured relationships.

So pay attention to your gauges, and make two decisions. First, build some margin into the calendar. Put “ME” on the schedule just like any serious appointment and stick to it. Set vacation time NOW. And second, set clear boundaries. Say NO and mean it. You do not have to do it all, and your kids do not have to sign up for everything. FOCUS is your friend!

Lead at full capacity, and your leadership will flourish.

Small Group Insights Giveaway!

Small Group Insights

Just Released! Small Group Insights DVD Leader’s Kit! Act now for your chance to receive  a copy of Small Group Insights! To celebrate the release of this new resource we are hosting a week-long DVD giveaway! (For more about how the SGI Kit can transform the relationships in your group or team, read my Post, Real Relationships: Real Groups & Teams).

To be eligible for a free copy, comment below by answering this question: How would improving the relational dynamic of your team increase its effectiveness? There will be multiple winners per day! You can also follow me on Twitter or “Like” Dr. Bill Donahue on FB for more chances to win!

The SGI assessment has been used with universities, hospitals, churches and businesses. It is a proven tool that we have refined for greater use. So we added a simple leader’s DVD to help guide a group or team toward health and productivity. The multiple-page SGI results (sent immediately to each person online) provide awesome feedback about how each member of the team connects with others. This insight into each person, combined with information on how to work better as a team, will create an authentic environment where you can build healthy relationships and get the mission done more effectively.

Respond below for your chance to receive a free copy!

Leadership: Whose Values?

Leaders thrive in tension. But they can also be torn apart by poorly navigated tension. This is especially true when dealing with personal and organizational values. Zealots of the past age embrace the tried and true while visionary dreamers of amazing futures are guided by the new, the hip, and the “just imagine what we could be!”

So which values make it on the list? Or better yet – WHOSE values? Those of the senior leader? The team? The customer/target audience? When you start talking values – as I do with groups and leaders I coach – you get a lot of tension. It looks like this:

Preserve the Past ————-VALUES—————Embrace the Future

The tension created here is no small thing. Preservation of the past is not bad. There is “value” to what got you here. The people and leaders who shouldered the problems of the past should not be ignored as you shape the paradigms of the future. The energy that fuels the future must be unleashed without crushing the spirits of those who built the past.

Tension is good and necessary. Why?

Tension and leadership are partners. Without tension, there is no need for leadership. Navigating the “pull” of many good forces in many different directions is the challenge of every leader. Today, for example, I will have to manage the tension between some self-leadership issues (taking advantage of some personal growth opportunities) while still reaching out to others to serve them through my coaching and consulting. Both are necessary for me.

Personal and organizational values are tested and forged in such tension. So here are three questions to ask when shaping values, given to me by a mentor many years ago.

1) What to we want to Avoid? Those who wish to preserve the past love this question. It is the guiding motif behind their energy and commitment to “keep both feet firmly planted” in what they believe. Fear – sometimes legitimate fear — of losing hard-fought ground is behind this. Or people are worried that a core value will be lost in the future.

Example: A company wants to receive just-in-time data for decision-making. Sounds like a great value (“there should be no one standing in the information line!”).

But without a filter or a process for sifting through that information (guided by strategic values and frameworks) the leadership team may act impulsively: “well, the new data tell us that we should…” So leaders who embrace the value of timely information and data must wrestle with the value to maintain brand quality, vision clarity, and consistent implementation of strategy. Or else the group will shift and sway with every new piece of data that comes down the pike.

So what might these leaders want to avoid? Impulsive decision-making; the kind that comes from an effort to be hip or current, instead of being wise.

2) What do we want to Preserve? Example: A new effort is being designed to get everyone in a group or on a team, because of a timeless value — No One Stands Alone. If we hold to a long-term value like this in the face of needed change, do we appear to be stuck in the past? Be careful here. A long-held value does not imply a lack of creativity. It simply means a desire for continuity at the core level. Fresh strategic thinking can still embrace enduring values while adding new values that will guide the future.

It can be a win-win effort.

3) What do we want to Achieve? Those committed to taking the proverbial “next hill” love this question. The problem is they often leave those committed to #1 and #2 above lying wounded on the previous hill. Vision-casters are “next hill” people. We need them. But they will look over their shoulders and see no one following if they do not re-group, re-align, and re-invest in the development of staff and volunteers who fought the last battle.

Potential achievements must never eclipse past accomplishments. Reward and recognize as you renew and re-envision.

Final Thoughts: Obsession with the future at the expense of the past is leadership suicide (let’s watch how Apple handles this the next 12 months) and obsession with the past at the expense of the future is organizational suicide (go to school on the last decade and present decisions by HP!).

Granted, there are people who will never move ahead. But there are many who will, and they just need someone who values their contribution and challenges them to become a learning community with eyes to the future. Strong companies, schools, churches, boards, and agencies that have been around understand this.

They may lack the sizzle of a Groupon. But they won’t get fried either.

How are you navigating the “Values” tension with your team?


What We Need 10 Years after 9/11

Ask people what we need more of in this world and many will say “love” or “hope” or “justice.” All of these are good answers. Especially as we reflect on the 10 years since the tragedy of 9/11/2001. But today I was challenged by some comments in the editor’s introduction to the Weavings Journal for Sept/Oct 2000. Founding Editor John Mogabgab writes,

“…The real explanation for the force shaping the course of things is gathered up in one radiant word: mercy. Creation in its entirety is a work of God’s love and though it is fractured by every sort of strife, it cannot escape the gravity of mercy. God’s mercy fills the earth (Ps. 33:5), an outpouring of costly care that is not merely one among several of God’s dispositions toward misery and need.

Mercy is the deepest quality of God’s love, the most encompassing movement of God’s heart, the most stunningly unexpected evidence of God’s generosity, the most enduring commitment of God’s sovereignty…Flexible and strong, mercy is capable of bearing sorrow’s weight and of supporting every honest effort to build new life.”

I was taken aback by the richness of these thoughts and the depth of God’s compassion — to all who have experienced grief and loss and pain and despair. We need mercy. Leaders need it, politicians need it, teachers need it, pastors need it, and God knows I really need it.

So, this week, perhaps a thought about mercy. Mogabgab observes, “In the paradoxical economy of God’s realm, what is freely given away often returns greatly multiplied (Mk. 6:30-44).”

Mercy is exactly what you need. So go ahead — give some away.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Mt. 5:7)