What script are you reading from?

conflict-in-recruitment"What did he say?" Bill (not his real name) was eager to find out what his partner had talked to me about. Bill and Abe (not his real name) were in the middle of a fight that threatened the productivity of their employees and gave the whole company and uncomfortable edge - even their customers had picked up on the tension.
"He is open to an engagement to facilitate your board meetings" I responded.
Bill and I had been introduced by his attorney because the attorney could not get these two partners talking and he knew that I did facilitation work. In the weeks preceding my conversation with Abe, Bill and I talked about the power of facilitation and the way it could help he and his board overcome the gridlock they were in. Bill had been consistently open and optimistic about the potential of facilitation - that is until I reported on the results of my conversation with Abe.
Bill jumped from calm and measured to intense and angry, "He's not sincere - he will tell you anything you want to hear. It's his pattern. I won't continue this charade of change. I need to buy him out and get on with things."
"Bill," I queried, "Abe sounded pretty sincere to me. He asked probing questions, wanted to know how facilitation had worked in other organizations and expressed his own frustration with the gridlock. Why don't we engage a face to face and define what facilitation looks like for your company and what objectives we need to hit?"
Bill continued his tirade about Abe. What I didn't tell Bill was that Abe had spent the first forty-five minutes of our conversation expressing his frustration with Bill. These two men fell into the same pattern of offense, accusation, counter-accusation, and rejection in every conversation they engaged. I wondered what had started this down-spiraling pattern that now held each of them prisoner to their own silence about what they needed. In fact, it was their silence about their need that was most astonishing to me in the face of their loud protests about the suspected motives of the other.
Is there a way out of a toxic conversational pattern? The answer is yes, but with some significant conditions.
First, will you stop and recognize that the pattern that emerges in every conversation is predictable and toxic? Employees in Bill and Abe's company told me that they could predict each board meeting's conversational pattern. They actually had a pool on the side that predicted when the conversation would go off the rails and they could recite the "script" that Bill and Abe used on each other when the meeting decayed into hostility. It was the same script every time with very little alteration. People "addicted" to anger and one-up-man-ship, like an alcoholic, must first admit they have a problem. Once a person is willing to see that the toxic communication pattern is their problem, not the problem of their nemesis they take the first healthy step - they break the pattern.
Second, will you be vulnerable enough to talk about what you need from the conversation? It's interesting to me that Abe insisted that he told Bill in every meeting that he needed real numbers to make sound decisions. "Abe," I responded, "may I give you some feedback on that?"
Abe looked at me askance for a moment and then agreed, "Ok" he said.
"You don't ask for what you need, you accuse Bill of massaging his numbers to manipulate the decision," I replied.
"Yea," Abe retorted, "I can't make strategic decisions with numbers that I know don't include realistic sales forecasts. I need clear cost analysis and projected gross profit that takes into account our history and the current market conditions. I tell Bill in every meeting this is what I need."
"Abe, do you see the difference between a request for specific parameters and an accusation that Bill is trying to manipulate the meeting?" I asked. "Listen to what you just said, you don't tell Bill what you need you tell Bill his numbers are wrong. He defends his numbers, you show him your numbers and the conversation disintegrates from there."
"Ah," Abe reflected for a moment, "I think I see what you mean."
"Abe is the problem the numbers or is the problem that you don't feel Bill respects your expertise and perspective?" I asked.
"Geese Ray, where do you get that?" Abe responded.
"You told me that in our last lunch meeting," I replied.
Abe's eyes turned to the carpet and he grunted. "Humph, I hate talking with you." He looked up, "I need to think about this."
Third, exercise low-level inference rather than high-level inference listening skills. How much do you infer from the verbal and nonverbal communication you receive? Low-level inference doesn't "read into" what is said, rather it asks for insight into the reasons something is said or done. High-level inference assumes an understanding of unstated motivations and intentions.  If a listener cannot listen to understand rather than listen to respond and if they assume they understand unstated motivations - the conversation rapidly disintegrates into a volley of accusations and counter accusations.
Will these three skills resolve embedded and toxic communication patterns?  No, but they are a significant first step to that end. When practiced they open the door past conflict to communication where the real work begins. Can toxic communication patterns change without these three skills and the decision to employ them?  No. Without these first steps, the organization will limp along toward its ultimate demise while it sheds its best talent and misses its best opportunities while the principals in the conflict continue their charade of power.

Three questions successful people routinely ask themselves

successI had the pleasure of addressing the incoming class at Bethesda University in Anaheim, California this morning. They are a wonderfully diverse student body, many of whom are the first generation to enter college. In my time teaching there I was privileged to hear the stories of change, courage, and the desire to give back to their communities.  In thinking about what would both inspire and challenge them this morning I thought of three blunt and transformative encounters Jesus had with his disciples. The narratives of these encounters are stacked up together in Luke 9:46-55.  In the first (v 46-48) Jesus addresses the idea of greatness. In the second (v 49-50) Jesus addresses the idea of synergy with others. In the third (v 51-56) Jesus addresses the subject of anger in the face of rejection.  These three encounters frame the questions I find successful people ask themselves to remain focused on the important rather than the urgent. This kind of focus helps them see opportunity others simply walk past. And, it is this ability to see that seems to drop new opportunity at their doors step regularly. So, let’s look at the questions and how they work to generate focus and new ways of seeing.

What is your ambition?

The disciples clearly had ambition (a drive toward a new future and a trajectory away from a past). However, their ambition had gone down the road of power acquisition and prestige. Somewhere along the way, they began to run to the goal of dominance rather than destiny.  This detour along the way doesn’t take a person toward their future – rather it reasserts the past as a diminishment to be avoided rather than a foundation on which to build a future.  Those who are running from their past have not yet made peace with their past and end up running into an ever increasing intensity of shame and denial.

Jesus redirected the disciple’s debate by pointing to a child and asking them to receive or relate to the child. I think of my grandchildren who don’t care about the fact I have an earned doctorate, or that I own a successful company, or that I am recognized as an effect adjunct professor. All they know is that I engage them at their level with attentiveness, love, and a desire to see them succeed.

Jesus reduced the question about who is the greatest to a willingness to engage life like one engages a child.  This generates a posture of learning v showmanship, curiosity v arrogance, and vulnerable v defensiveness. Refine your ambition – dream big AND do it as a learner, not an expert.

How do you see others?

Small minded people interpret knowledge as power and the means for exclusivity. Jesus redirected the disciples who shut down the effective efforts of some unnamed person flourishing in the works of God simply because that person wasn’t part of their “in-group.”

Jesus’ response had two parts. First, DON’T HINDER HIM. The success of others is not a threat – it is a point of potential synergy! If you view the success of others as a threat to your own power/prestige then you will never achieve the greatest part of your ambition. You won’t be a change agent you will be a toxic tyrant.

Second, Jesus’ lesson is powerful, listen to it. WHOEVER IS NOT AGAINST YOU IS FOR YOU! This is a significant shift in perspective and will keep you from being so afraid of loss that you fail to see friends. Highly successful people have large networks of highly successful friends. Why? They don’t view the success of others as a threat rather; they see the success of others as a potential point of synergy and momentum to their own ambition.

If you are proud about getting rid of others who threatened your own prominence, then competitors are about to eat your lunch. You got rid of the very people who would both accelerate and help sustain your own ambition.

What do you do with anger?

James and John were furious at the way the Samaritans refused to help them. They wanted revenge for the rejection and betrayal they felt.  The reality is that in life rejection and betrayal happen. The question isn’t whether one has face rejection or betrayal it is whether they will engage in the ruinous circle of revenge or the virtuous circle of forgiveness. The cycle of anger and revenge is what destroys many communities and organizations and holds them in poverty and mediocrity.

You can choose to break the cycle of revenge and anger and be a healing force in your community or organization.  If you want to transform your community or organization you won’t do it through anger and revenge – you will do it through forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process (or the result of a process) that involves a change in emotion and attitude regarding an offender. Most scholars view this as an intentional and voluntary process, driven by a deliberate decision to forgive.  Forgiveness possesses behavioral corollaries i.e., reductions in revenge and avoidance motivations and an increased ability to wish the offender well impact behavioral intention without obliging reconciliation. Forgiveness can be a one-sided process. Johnson defines forgiveness as “A willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love toward him or her...” (Craig E. Johnson. Ethics in the Workplace: Tools and Tactics for Organizational Transformation, 2007, 116).

 Conclusion

So, what are the three questions highly successful people often ask themselves?

  • What is my ambition?
  • How do I see others?
  • What will I do with anger?

How do you answer these questions?

Refocus your energy!

downloadOne of the themes that emerging from my client conversations lately is the need to refocus. What do you do when you or your organization experiences gridlock and a lack of energy? Or when increased activities just don't result in the desired ends? Being gridlocked shows up in three ways: (1) an unending treadmill of trying harder, (2) looking for answers rather than re-framing questions, and (3) either/and or thinking that creates false dichotomies.
Sometimes a leader just needs to stop and refocus. The pressures of the daily grind and challenges that constantly jump in the way of progress have a tendency of dulling clarity and shifting actions to activities that have no direct impact on results. Take several steps to refocus your efforts and the work of your team.
First, identify the questions that are nagging at the back of your head. This requires some honest reflection - identify the "self-talk" that develops just behind your conscious mind. One client paused for a moment and said, "Oh, I get it." Then he began to list his nagging questions,"Am I making a difference? Is this really worth it? Is this what I really want to do? Why have I failed in every major endeavor?" He paused, "This is tiring, I'm exhausted just saying these things."
I sat on the phone quietly for a moment then responded, "Didn't you start this conversation by saying you were exhausted and lacked energy?"
"Yes," he said.
He had been working harder, looking for solutions and all he really accomplished was reducing his field of vision to false dichotomies e.g., his team was either loyal or disloyal, customers were either about to leave or diminish their orders, his spouse was either supportive or undermining his success. He identified the nagging questions, now he was ready for the next step. "Let's re-frame the questions," I said.
Second, re-frame the questions that had been nagging you at the back of your mind. The client above re-framed each of his questions in the following way: "In what ways do I make a difference? In what ways is this worth the effort or in what ways can my efforts be better directed? In what ways does the present contribute to my ultimate contribution in life?" (He had done the work previously of identifying what he wanted his ultimate contribution to be.) "In what ways have past failures positioned me for success in the present?"
As he re-framed the questions the cadence of his speech increased, his tone sounded more optimistic, and his thoughts became more prolific - less ponderous. The more he worked to re-frame the questions the more energy came over the phone and the more creative his brainstorming became.
Third, go back to your personal mission statement. If you don't have a personal mission statement its a good idea to build one. It helps to focus attention on activity that contributes to the right end rather than getting caught in the treadmill of activity seeking to convince yourself that you are legitimate. When I suggested this my client just sighed. "I think," he said, "I lost track of my purpose somewhere in the midst of this year's challenges." He restated his purpose and immediately determined to drop three initiatives that had no bearing on what he really wanted to accomplish.
Each of these steps can help pull a leader out of gridlock and back into being a contributor to a measurable purpose.
Use the same steps to turn your team around. Brainstorm with them to identify the questions nagging their performance and identity. Re-frame those questions together and watch new alternatives and new ideas begin to accelerate. Return to the mission of the organization and review the activities people are engaged in - stop and redirect activities that have no bearing on producing the value associated with your organizational mission.
Everyone loses focus at some point. Don't let the nagging questions become the pimp of your talent selling your best energy to actions that have no return and no promise. One of my students in Kenya responded to these principles in a lecture by saying, "You metaphorically ask me to eat and elephant. Do you know how to eat an elephant Dr. Wheeler?" he paused with a twinkle in his eye. Then after the appropriate pregnant hesitation, he continued, "One bite at a time!"  So, go ahead face your elephant and start eating!

Discussing Social Issues as a Follower of Christ

conflict-in-recruitment"So you strain the Scriptures and mislead your reader."  The frustration and antagonism in the writer's voice was palpable. He wanted me to unequivocally condemn another writer for his view. I wanted the respondents to engage each other in honest communication about their biases, commitments, and background reasoning to their social commitments. I failed to draw anyone into that kind of discussion. Some were encouraged, some were enraged, some were disappointed, and some were ruthless in their proclamation of what I should have said.
The conflict among my group of friends rapidly jumped from disagreement to an ugly display of religious proclamation, fixed attitudes, hardened identities and closed hearts.
I generated an argument between people who found it easier to throw ideological stones from the safety of a fenced off belief system than engage a dialogue with real people.
One observer shared his candid observation of the discussion with me off-line. He said, "I also observe that the tone and content of some people's words are not one of work or inner turmoil, but rather of hatred and of aggression. I believe the absence of passion in the moderator [myself] of a discussion can be a critical tool in advancing the discourse. However, the absence of passion (or decisive marginalization) in the face of persistent, willful, hateful rhetoric is, in my view, corrosive to the soul; yours, and the other participants in the discussion."
I couldn't disagree with that assessment. Where did I drop the ball? More importantly, am I clear about my own convictions and statement of logical starting points? In this blog, I outline ways to manage conflict with comments about how well I did or didn't deal with the conflict I generated and make my own assumptions clear for those who wish to engage me in the future.
First, how is conflict approached?  Mark Gerzon identified three common responses to conflict: demagoguery, management, and mediation with the later being the most effective.
The demagogue addresses conflict through fear, threats, and intimidation turns opponents into scapegoats. The demagogue dehumanizes others and resorts to violence to dominate and destroy the other. I had one especially insistent demogogue in the argument. I felt like turning into a demagogue myself in the face of mounting stress. However, throwing back the same kind of rant I was being served would not do a thing.
The manager faces conflict on the basis of an exclusive or limited definition of "us". He/she defines purpose in terms of the self-interest of his or her group and cannot or will not deal with issues, decisions, or conflicts that cross boundaries. Managers are very effective in directing and controlling resources and the activities of other people for the benefit of a particular group. Gerzon points out that this approach is limited.
I recognized a wide variety of people who served as the audience to the argument. I knew that every intransigent statement, every belief hurled in anger, every example offered as a proof text would only exacerbate the argument. I attempted to pull back the participants - to get them to listen to each other. They were not ready and I failed to provide them a bridge to get there.  Each wanted me to side with them or absolutely disagree with them. I failed to state my starting point clearly and as a result, I failed to bring the appropriate people together.
In contrast, Gerzon states that the mediator approaches conflict by striving to act on behalf of the whole (cf. John 3:16 as a definition of the church's scope of concern).  Mediators have the capacity to discover the whole and to act in the best interest of the whole. Mediators work on the collaborative principle which Gerzon defines as:
 
If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with reliable information, they will create authentic vision and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community.
The mediator thinks systemically and is committed to ongoing learning.  The mediator builds trust by building bridges across dividing lines and seeks innovation and opportunity in order to transform conflict. I wanted to go here, I did not arrive.
In hindsight, I failed in the ability to ask questions that unlock essential information about the conflict that is vital to understanding how to transform conflict so that it becomes an opportunity. I failed to communicate that the point of inquiry is not the loss of conviction or strong beliefs but the realization that one's views are discovered and renewed through inquiry. Mediators of conflict naturally want to learn more; "What else can I learn about this situation?" "Is there some useful, perhaps vital, information that I lack?" "Do I truly understand the way others see the situation?" "Should I consult with others before I intervene?"The rule of thumb in facing any conflict is: inquiry must precede any form of advocacy.
My other conclusion is that social media used as a discussion point requires a highly structured set of rules for engaging a discussion that participants must agree to before entering and that must be enforced aggressively to create an environment where listening to clarify positions is the goal. Clear convictions can be communicated without expressing hatred. But when participants are dehumanized and made into moral positions only, it's easier to just shoot at them.
Will I engage another such discussion again on social media?  Yes. Why? It allows an audience who deeply wrestles with difficult questions to work through their thinking by listening to others.  I will encourage concise statements of conviction, and then encourage inquiry to dissenting views. To what end? Understanding and respect. Can my goal be achieved with every person? Here I have to agree with Machiavelli, no. Why? Because there are evil people whose only goal is the destruction of others. Additionally, there fundamentalist individuals who disallow any dissenting opinion from their own.
Religious convictions require another a short discussion about why the founding fathers of the United States wanted to limit the establishment of religion by the state? They saw in their own history the evil unleashed when political power is mixed with religious absolutism. My friends who want to legislate their Christian beliefs to the exclusion of other systems in civil society would only succeed in reducing civil society to the tyranny of their enforced moral codes. History consistently demonstrates the failure of this. Instead, civil society acknowledges the diversity of core moral conviction and allows for its influence in a discussion involving every participant. Hence it is, in my view, equally dangerous to prohibit the discussion of religion or religious convictions.
The American experiment used the foundation of compromise to create a form of government that allows for religious freedom and offers representation to a diverse populace.  I prefer this form of government over others I have seen even with its flaws and limitations. Paradoxically, fundamentalists who want to see America great again, fail to differentiate compromise as "the ability to listen to two sides in a dispute and devise concessions acceptable to both" from compromise as "the fearful abandonment of conviction in an attempt to minimize the contrast of their convictions to a perceived norm or power." As a result, fundamentalists consistently press for an oligarchy composed of religiously acceptable candidates who state religiously acceptable convictions.  The hypocrisy and tyranny of such a system are constantly illustrated in the despotism that always results.
Paradoxically, fundamentalists who want to see America great again, fail to differentiate compromise as "the ability to listen to two sides in a dispute and devise concessions acceptable to both" from compromise as "the fearful abandonment of conviction in an attempt to blend into the perceived norm or power."
Second, in light of what others in the argument describe as my own fuzzy commitment, I thought it a good exercise to state my own commitments as clearly as possible. I am one who follows Jesus the Christ. I have an unapologetic and inquisitive faith that informs the assumptions I begin with when it comes to moral and social issues. But, I am not fundamentalist in my perspectives. By fundamentalist I mean a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts, especially within American Protestantism and Islam. I hold to the centrality of the Christian Scriptures and recognize that given their diverse literary forms (i.e., poetry, prose, law/statutory, prophetic, historical narrative, parable, and proverbial/wisdom) that a "literal" interpretation does a disservice to a proper interpretation of the text.
In full disclosure, I also understand Jesus made an exclusive claim when he said, "I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:9-11)  Does this reduce me to a mindless automaton closed to learning and assuming full and complete knowledge of all that is spiritual?  No, it makes me a disciple i.e., literally one who is learning. And as one who is learning, I recognize that I live in a diverse and pluralistic society from whom I can also learn.  Has faith answered every question? No, it answered the main question e.g., about purpose and meaning and it opens new questions that I still ponder.
So, I reject fundamentalism as inherently flawed both historically and reasonably. I see a different model in the Bible particularly evident in the growth of the first-century church from a sect of Judaism to a multi-cultural entity. The rapid expansion of the church in the first century moved the faith community of the church from the comfort of a modified theocracy (often more an oligarchy of socially or religiously powerful and corrupt leaders) experienced in the history of Israel to existence as a unique community and social force in a culturally and religiously pluralistic world. Paul, the apostle most influential in teaching the fledgling church to live in a pluralistic world wrote this advice,
"Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:7-10)
So, if you hang out with me I will demonstrate this commitment to loving my neighbor. I also demonstrate a commitment to faith in Jesus Christ. I am open talking about my relationship with Jesus Christ in a way that is neither in-the-face of my neighbor nor hidden from my neighbor. I understand that in loving my neighbor I fulfill the law and in fact, make its provisions clear as well as the promise inherent in the grace of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ. I practice listening skills and invite those with whom I strongly disagreed to talk while I listen. We engage a discussion rather than a diatribe.
Are you looking for a way to love your neighbor? Do you want to be heard about your faith? Start by listening especially in a day when religiously induced hatred and hostility is passed off as indicative of Christianity. Listening skills may be tested by conducting a simple exercise.  Invite someone with whom you have strongly disagreed to talk with you while you listen - take the following steps.
  • Find a good space. Choose a place to talk without distractions.
  • Take the time. Let the other person tell their story.
  • Respond (versus react). Choose your body language, tone, and intention.
  • Show interest. Make eye contact; focus on the person speaking; don't answer your phone or look at your BlackBerry.
  • Be patient. It's not easy for people to talk about important things.
  • Listen for content and emotion. Both carry the meaning at hand.  It's OK sometimes to ask, "How are you doing with all this?"
  • Learn. Listen for their perspective, their view. Listen for their experience.  Discover or learn a new way of seeing something.
  • Follow their lead. See where they want to go. Ask what is important to them (rather than deciding where their story must go or how it must end).
  • Be kind. Listen with the heart as well as with the mind.
After doing this notice what difference this makes in you feel about your relationship with the other person.  Pay attention to how your act of listening often (though not always and rarely immediately) opens others' hearts and mind to ask about your faith. The act of listening not only brings clarity for both people in the conversation it often brings items to light that have never been considered before.  One conversation does not have to resolve all issues, however; a good act of listening goes a long way in bridging seemingly unbridgeable differences.  Listening is a good step in demonstrating the love God has for the world about you.
Want to know more about faith in Jesus Christ? Contact me directly. My contact information is listed on the "About Me" tab of this blog.
Want to know more about conflict?  Read Mark Gerzon (2006).Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities.  Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. 273 pages.
Want to know more about where I attend church? See http://madeforfellowship.com/.

An Attorney Called

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The last two years have started in the same way - a call from an attorney.

"Is this Dr. Ray Wheeler?" the voice on the other end of the phone began the conversation.
"Yes, I am Ray, how may I assist you?" I asked.
"I am Sam Smith (pseudonym) attorney at law and one of my clients has a challenge I would like your help with. My client is a privately owned business run by three brothers. They have been in business for 30 years but have recently been unable to agree on anything. They need someone to facilitate their board meetings and help them work through their conflict. Do you do this?"
And so the year began. As I have reflected on the year, I realized that the diversity of client requests I have had this year paints a compelling picture of the reason coaching is so powerful. The following is a list of client engagements in descending order of intensity as determined by the size of the engagement.
Executive team building - engaging the strengths and perspectives of executive teams when key members have changed or when the team has hit a stalemate in disagreement (this is more often rooted in interpersonal tension than in strategic direction). In one case the executive team was caught in a pattern of behavior that grew out of working around the dysfunctions of their former CEO. They realized that their behavior toward the new CEO was stuck in the same patterns and that as a team they were not making decisions or moving forward.
Organizational health - refocusing the organization's vision and communication. When the owner of one company called, the urgency of his voice nearly pushed me against the wall. "I need help," he began, "I recently bought a new agency and developed a new partnership - I have three different cultures and ways of looking at the market that will undermine everything we meant to accomplish by the mergers. Can you help with this?" We talked about the steps we could take together in coaching to work with his employees and key influencers to shape an organizational culture that supported the strategic direction of the new agency.
Executive coaching - with a focus on developing people skills, purpose, and communication skills. These CEOs felt the need to develop themselves to face new challenges in their organizations. They took the initiative to find a coach.
Board facilitation - like executive team building this board was caught in interpersonal conflicts that played the same disagreements over and over with varying levels of intensity and undermining. This engagement facilitated their meetings and engaged each member in executive coaching.
Coaching for change - with a focus on perspective in the face of rapidly changing market dynamics. These owners/executives simply needed a voice to help them go the balcony and identify the opportunity in the chaos of change.  These leaders understand that without someone to help them think through their situation they would either remain stuck in the rut of their past thinking/analysis or caught in the bog of panic. It isn't that they lacked analytics or business acumen. Rather, they simply needed a nudge, the right questions, to analyze their situation and the data from a different perspective.
Remedial coaching - this client had managers who were stuck in their development and needed to see themselves and the impact of their behavior from a different perspective.  The reality is that in many organizations mid-level managers and supervisors are promoted into wider responsibility without the benefit of coaching to help them redefine their people skills or the self-understanding to know the impact of their behaviors. Coaching raises their self-awareness and helps them define their strengths in constructive ways.
What impresses me most about the diversity of these requests is that more companies have made a commitment to (a) develop their team members and (b) face and work through conflict because they understand both the cost of conflict and the high cost of losing/replacing talent.  It is an interesting year. How does your organization manage the need for coaching?

Five qualities of leaders who produce superior results

men and women mentor"Get it done." These words ended the instructions I received from the CEO. He outlined in general terms where he wanted to see the company go and it was up to me as the operations director to translate his strategic concepts into action. What does it take to turn an idea into action that produces superior results?  In my experience, there are five essential qualities.
1. Vision
This word is beat to death in leadership literature. However, without vision i.e., without the ability to frame a reality that is distinctively different from what is presently experienced, leadership doesn't exist. In the absence of vision, those with the responsibility to lead are reduced to platitudes about change and resort to displays of manipulation, coercion, or force. Where does vision come from? Its genesis may be extreme dissatisfaction with the present that wrestles with how things could be different. Or, it may emerge in a moment of transcendent insight. In my experience, the most powerful visions are birthed rather than hatched. They require the rigor and pain of wrestling through a new way of seeing.
2. Drive
 
Leaders who produce results are driven but that is not to say they are abusive. Rather, by driven I mean they possess an irrepressible and indefatigable impulse to bring their vision into reality. This drive sustains them through setbacks, failures, rejection, and success. Drive of this depth is not like a fire hose, it is more like a gentle stream that persistently erodes barriers in an almost unnoticeable gentle way. Drive is not like a bull in a china shop as much as it is the way a stream reshapes the terrain through which it flows. The leaders I know who possess the deepest sense of drive are a strange combination of patience and insistence.
3. Relevant capital
 
Leaders who produce superior results have learned to leverage their sense of self (meeting challenges, enduring hardships, leveraging capabilities, recognizing weaknesses) to continuously develop. But self-development is only part of the capital needed. Successful leaders also appreciate the need to develop and sustain a wide array of relationships up to and beyond the organizational level. It is from these relationships they acquire insight, connections to other resources (talent, monetary, facility, assets). These leaders know how to pull from their capital sources to provide support and momentum to their vision.
4. Habitus
 
Habitus is a general constitution and disposition that is structured in practice usually toward practical functions. It is that sense of presence that exudes from leaders who have been tested and proven in the mundane, intense, routine, and extraordinary situations that arise in everyday experience. The focus here is practice. The mere acquisition of experience i.e., time on the job, does not produce a powerful habitus. A dynamic sense of presence is the result of practiced discipline in making good choices, exercising character, deliberate learning, and openness to feedback. Habitus commands attention and it is what gives gravity to what a leader says and intends to communicate. Without this kind of habitus "leaders" are simply dismissed as lightweights who are following the latest fad and who can be ignored because next month's fad will replace this month's.
5. Bridging strategy
 
A bridging strategy outlines the discrete steps that must be taken to get from where the organization is today to where it needs to be tomorrow. A bridging strategy exercises the disciplined thought needed to confront the brutal facts of the present and the dogged persistence needed to move forward in change. It recognizes the accelerators and hindrances that any move to a new future encompasses. It is specific and deliberate but not so rigid that it can't adjust to the unexpected twists and turns of change.
High capacity leaders, leaders who simultaneously leverage each of the qualities above, live and work in a way that integrates concrete and abstract worlds. They know how to inspire new ways of seeing reality because they spend time thinking about how to think and how to perceive reality around them. In other words, they live by faith, faith that sees a different reality and the potential of moving toward it.

Beware your ascension to power

hand-fist-power1Motivations are sometimes difficult to isolate. The variety of experiences one gleans through a career of interactions with those in power has a significant shaping effect on how power is perceived. I have observed a sometimes benign and other times toxic reaction to bad leadership that sets the stage for amplified emotional impact at work.  I call this reaction, "backdoor leadership lessons." Backdoor leadership lessons are those insights one gains by watching leaders act in a way that contradicts constructive leadership action. Leaders who fail to manage their stress resort to manipulation, frustration, insults, or rage to force things through the system. Because they have power they have initial success as people comply out of fear. However, over time, the success are fewer and farther between as people feign compliance with a head nod, avoidance, and passive impertinence.

The benign and even constructive backdoor leadership lessons emerge from observation and an internal commitment to be a different kind of leader. If one could listen to the self-talk inside the emerging leader's head they might hear thoughts like, "I will never treat my team like that. I will never cut innovative people off out of frustration. I will never be that headstrong." These backdoor lessons often lead to constructive self-awareness and the development of emotional intelligence and skill. Stepping into benign or constructive backdoor leadership lessons requires the exercise of forgiveness and the rigor of critical reflection on both the actions of a toxic leader and oneself. Without forgiveness and critical reflection, a toxic backdoor lesson emerges in the life of the leader.

Toxic backdoor leadership lessons also emerge from observation but take a subtly different road when it comes to internal commitment. Instead of rendering a commitment to be a different kind of leader toxic lessons result in a commitment to expunge the influence and legacy of the toxic leader. Rather than forgiveness and self-reflection, smug self-confidence emerges that sees the eradication of a prior leader's influence and legacy as a primary objective to the acquisition of power.  The self-talk that occurs in this emerging leader yields thoughts like, "I will destroy his/her toxicity.  I will redirect this organization to a more profitable or more effective strategy. I will pull this ship back into its rightful competitive position."  Both forgiveness and critical self-reflection are absent in this response which yields hubris more than insight.

Hence, I state, beware your ascension to power. If you think the acquisition of power is the solution to the bad decisions, poor interpersonal skills, inadequate strategy, or abusive arrogance you are on the trajectory to be a step worse as a leader than the individual you react to. Why? Because that leader becomes the model of your leadership by an inability to step away to a different focus. I ran across this observation the first time in a heavy equipment operator in my first congregation. Jim (not his real name) was a man's man kind of guy. He didn't speak much but when he did he often had great insights I benefited from. I didn't know the trauma that made up his personal life - that is until the day he dropped by my office.

Jim collapsed into one of the chairs in front of my desk and broke into sobs, the kind of sobs that men cry when they can no longer hold in the pain of their experience. "I hate my dad," he blurted out between heaving agonizing howls of emotional pain. "And I have become him."  Jim identified a connection that seems to me to be unyielding - the person you hate the most is the person you become because they are the target of your attention and affection.

In the words of one of my early mentors, "Ray, you will hit what you aim at."

Beware your ascension to power. Strategy and vindictiveness are not the same. I have watched men step into roles of power with the only objective of erasing the memory and work of their predecessor. They present themselves as innovators and prophets of a new day. They tirelessly work on change. However, they don't bring strategy, they bring destruction. They amplify the worst characteristics of their predecessors because they hit what they aim at.

Experience can teach leaders a tremendous amount of powerful lessons. But leaders gain little without the discipline of self-reflection and the exercise of forgiveness. Look in the mirror. What do you see? Do you see the dad, the boss, the mother, or the teacher that you hate?  Have you come to the revelation Jim came to?  Step back, consider your own behavior. Find a mentor or therapist who can help you walk back through the years of pain, bitterness, and the quest for revenge to get to the healing work of forgiveness. Don't confuse vindictiveness for strategy.

If you talk with Jim today, you see a different man entirely. He emanates a grace, a wisdom, and life insight that is almost under spoken but has the effect of causing others to reflect on their own trajectory in life. He is no longer trying to not be his dad. He is discovering what it means to be himself. His ascension to power nearly broke him. Now, his ascension to power has become a source of dynamic innovation and healing. Those around him no longer give him head nods of passive impertinence. Instead, they engage each challenge with vigor, courage, and initiative - all of which they have learned from Jim. What are you aiming at?

Thank you to my readers: 2015 in review

You used my blog for educational insights, shared insights with your team, and personal coaching. Look for more to come in 2016 as I continue to write on the nuances of leadership. Also, watch for my new book that will compile some of my best blog articles and if you haven't read my current book, Change the Paradigm, pick it up at Amazon.com. Following are the specifics that the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared regarding 2015.

Here's an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,100 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Vulgarization of Leadership

There are times in history when the character of leadership takes on a vulgar quality. The vulgarization of leadership is not new. Plato, for example, rightly indicated that leaders armed with only with an untrained mind that naively accepts perception as real, whether that is the confused and contradictory messages of the senses or the equally inconsistent popular notions of morality are not ready for leadership. Yet, there is a sense in which the political and popular rhetoric evident in many discussions today fail to rise above this level of reasoning – Plato’s lowest level of cognition.[i] Abraham Lincoln’s behavior in the face of the greatest threat to the union we have faced until now stands in stark contrast to the virulent monologs that characterize much of today’s political and social discussion. Lincoln made it clear that vengeance or spite could not function as the foundation of leadership. Lincoln wrote regarding Louisiana’s readmission to the union, “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”[ii] Listening to today’s politicians on the threat of terrorism it appears we may have lost that lesson.

By the vulgarization of leadership, I mean that quality that is incapable of ascending above the ostentatious, showy, gaudy, and distasteful behaviors of the lowest common denominators of society. Such men or women become so enamored by the ability to exercise raw power in the manipulation of others that they mistake inciting the frustrations and fears of people as a vision for the future. Inciting rather than leading a trap described in part by James MacGregor Burns who warned: “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.” Incitement does not have the will to investigate the ethical implications of its claims and furies. Incitement languishes in fuzzy half truths and an accusatory tone that fails to either credit other’s good ideas or work toward a mutually beneficial public policy.

Examples of the vulgarization of leadership abound. Hillary Clinton rightly observed,

I really deplore the tone of his campaign, the inflammatory rhetoric that he is using to divide people and his going after groups of people with hateful, incendiary rhetoric," she said after a campaign event in Fairfield Tuesday. "Nothing really surprises me anymore. I don't know that he has any boundaries at all. His bigotry, his bluster, his bullying have become his campaign. And he has to keep sort of upping the stakes and going even further.[iii]

Yet, Clinton is not above using the inflammatory rhetoric of her own to incite popular support. This is perhaps most notably evidenced in her assertion that ISIS is "going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists."[iv]

Donald Trump is a virtual cornucopia of examples of the vulgarization of leadership. Trump's speeches have rendered so many examples that I prefer to avoid repeating them here. To find examples of Trump’s vulgarization of leadership simply Google “Trump” on any subject to find ample material to make the case.

Rubio and Cruz are also guilty of half-truths and falsifications all used in an attempt to strengthen their position in the eyes of voters. A quick check of www.politifact.com provides numerous illustrations.

So, what exactly is the problem? I venture that there is no leader who hasn’t stretched the truth in their presentation of themselves or their data. If the exercise of falsification is so common what makes it warrant my derisive title, the vulgarization of leadership?  In short the question is a postulate of my position. If vulgarization is behavior that meets the standard of the lowest common denominator then its commonality is the verification of my title and its consequences make my point. The vulgarization of leadership does not summon people to a higher vision that works for change but to a coarse vision that seeks to ensconce prejudice, fear, and isolationism as the core values of our society.

The vulgarization of leadership calls out the worst in people rather than the best in people. It calcifies ideologies rather than exploring ideas with a critical eye. It contributes to reactionary regulation rather than negotiated policy. The vulgarization of leadership is, as Burns insists, a reduction of leadership to mere management and technique – it looks only at the zero sum game of political brinkmanship and hence loses a sense of the common good in its periphery.

Like other critical periods in human experience, we need leaders today who are capable of instilling a commitment to change that mobilizes and focuses the energy of a diverse populace, who call people to responsibility in the formation of a different future. We need leaders capable of explaining their moral foundation clearly and who are then ready to rigorously explore how to work with those who hold different perspectives.

At its birth, the United States attempted to make assumed moral assumptions explicit,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness[v].

The Declaration of Independence assumed: (1) a transcendent moral foundation versus a utilitarian one (i.e., endowed by their Creator); (2) unalienable rights, which we have attempted to define within the kaleidoscope of culture and social difference ever since; and (3) the responsibility of people to design and sustain a form of governance that worked in harmony with this moral foundation and unalienable rights of every person. The United States has never gotten this perfect, the exclusion of women or the exclusion of slaves, or the exclusion of those who did not own property under its colonial beginning illustrate this. The biases against the Irish or the internment of Americans of Japanese decent are well-documented failures that illustrate our ongoing struggle.  But struggling to align behavior to the ideal is not a failure unless we learn nothing in the process. A failure to learn is a failure to exercise metanoia i.e., a shift of mind. As Senge asserts, “To grasp the meaning of ‘metanoia’ is to grasp the deeper meaning of ‘learning,’ for learning also involves a fundamental shift or movement of the mind.”[vi]

So what is the escape from the pattern of vulgarized leadership I see in today’s political and social dialogue? First, it is a movement toward metanoia, some of our perspectives are wrong; we are stuck in the cave of Plato’s allegory blindfolded by biases and prejudices we can’t see to admit. Without this first step of change, we will only run deeper into the cave. Leaders must be open about admitting their lack of knowledge or miscalculations or faulty information. Fact checks should not be an afterthought but part of the process of learning especially for politicians.

Second, it is a movement of engagement that addresses difficult and complex issues of the day with the courage to admit our core convictions and moral foundations. Zero progress is possible without this kind of vulnerability and admission of our differences. No one has a corner on truth; even those who may claim perception of the truth have to admit they only “see through a glass darkly” rather than with clarity and comprehension.[vii] Every leader must start with a clear description of their core commitments and follow that up with a clear understanding of the core commitments of their opponents. This calls for true debates that remained disciplined enough to get at the positions without degenerating to school yard name calling and insults.

Third, it is an effort to create a culture of critique rather than cynicism, of investigation rather than accusation, of the will to act in the common good rather than pacing one’s step along the path of the latest poll. Encourage dialogue. Let people disagree but back their disagreement with reasons based on their own commitments. Then engage the conversation with awareness and vulnerability.

What kind of conversation do you contribute to the issues?  Are you caught up in the vulgarization of leadership or will you stand boldly out from the cacophony of noise to raise the questions and clarify the values that we need to wrestle with together? Let’s have the conversations that we need to engage.

[i] Plato. Republic 7.514

[ii] Donald T. Phillips. Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. New York, NY: Warner Books, 1992, 58.

[iii] Hillary Clinton. Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hillary-clinton-responds-to-donald-trumps-schld-insult; Accessed 23 December 2015.

[iv] Source: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/dec/19/hillary-clinton/fact-checking-hillary-clintons-claim-isis-using-vi/; Accessed 28 December 2015.

[v] Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.htmll Accessed 28 December 2015.

[vi] Peter M. Senge. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1990, 13.

[vii] 1 Corinthians 13:12-13.

My Birthday: A Reflection on Mortality and Flourishing

As I reflect about my life, influence, and future plans on my birthday, I also reflect on my own mortality. "That's great Ray, way to be a happy person" you might say. Ah, but the exercise is not rooted in feeling morose. Instead, it's rooted in feeling purposeful and alive. Such reflections serve to recalibrate efforts around what is: important and not just urgent, significant and not just productive, and sustainable not just impactful. I wrote about this kind of reflection elsewhere.[i] One of my graduate professors, Bobby Clinton, was fond of repeating, “Begin with the end in mind.” He started his leadership emergence classes by asking everyone to write their epitaph i.e., the inscription they wanted on their tombstone. This exercise sounds easier than it is for some people. Many of us thought and thought to say something succinct enough to fit on a tomb stone and of sufficient gravity to appropriately summarize the work of a life time. Bobby’s point was simply that leadership is a life-long process of learning.  If leaders intend to finish well they must begin with the end in mind.

Living with the end in mind is profoundly focusing.  I am intrigued by stories of near death experiences. People emerge from such experiences with a completely different hierarchy of priorities than they had before the experience. Life itself becomes more precious than accomplishment or power. People who have this experience rearrange their lives with a new perspective that keeps the end in mind. An interesting take on living with the end in mind came from a palliative care nurse who summarized the regrets of the dying she had heard over the years into a book.[ii] She documented five recurring regrets including:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Clearly, Jesus’ actions are the opposite of these regrets – he began with the end in mind.  Jesus was true to himself.  Jesus did not get caught up in maintaining spin. Jesus took time to rest.  Jesus expressed his feelings openly – we even have non-verbal indications of his feelings (Mark 7:24; 8:12).

What is interesting about Jesus’ times of rest and rejuvenation is that these times themselves provided or opened opportunities for the demonstration of God’s power that was catalytic to new insights and breakthroughs.  In contrast, leaders who never take a break, never “get a break.”  Their flurry of activity never moves beyond mediocrity. Perhaps this is because the “chance” meetings that would lead to new insights, new connections, or breakthroughs are usurped by attempts to maintain spin and the weariness that results. If you are working hard and wondering why those who have time to play get all the “breaks,” then perhaps it is time to take stock of how you manage your own energy.

Clinton’s point that leaders live with the end in mind is reflected in the renaissance works of western art. For example this work by Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490-1567) showing Jerome in his study.[iii]

Figure: Jerome in His Study

Figure 7.jpg

What do you see?  Notice the juxtaposition of the skull with the picture of the resurrection the illustrated text. See the crucifix and the skull suggesting Jesus’ own identification with our mortality. Jerome’s hands point to the dual reality that mortality is inevitable and so is the power of the resurrection. The entire picture points us toward the nature of God’s working that summons us to a hope that is alive and working and is yet not consummated. This is the eschatological nature of the kingdom of God i.e., that God’s reign and power is revealed in Christ and made available in the present but is not yet consummated. Death has not yet been destroyed. In Christian history the contemplation of death was not a moribund exercise. Contemplating death in light of the resurrection of Christ has served as a way of checking in with the tenuous nature of life that helped great men and women of faith focus on what was important in life.

The regrets of the dying illustrate the importance of beginning with the end in mind and exercising this kind of reflection on our own mortality. The behavioral and perceptual changes in those who have described near-death experiences serve as a tutorial for those who listen.  In recent years, researchers have spent time cataloging the following changes in those who experience near death events:[iv]

  • Life paradoxes begin to take on a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Forgiveness tends to replace former needs to criticize and condemn
  • Loving and accepting others without the usual attachments and conditions society expects
  • Loss of the fear of death
  • More spiritual and less religious
  • Easily engage in abstract thinking
  • More philosophical

In what ways might you be more effective as a leader if you adopted these behaviors and perceptions?

[i] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today's World. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015, 135-138.

[ii] Source: http://www.realfarmacy.com/the-top-5-regrets-of-the-dying/; Accessed 26 September 2013.

[iii] Source: http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/2011/02/01/inside-the-masterpiece-marinus-van-reymerswaeles-saint-jerome-in-his-study/; accessed 16 April 2013.

[iv] P.M.H. Atwater. “After Effects of Near Death States.” Source: http://iands.org/aftereffects-of-near-death-states.html; accessed 16 April 2013.

Facing Constant Discontinuous Change - What a Pain or What an Adventure

Boring"Ray, I hate my job," Scott lamented as we met together. "It is everything I have in me to get up and go to work on Monday mornings" he confided. It is not that unusual to have a client confide that they wish they had not taken the job they now feel stuck in. The impact of the 2008 Great Recession made many people gun-shy about looking for work and even as the economy recovers many are reluctant to consider something new. As I listen to clients a common theme emerges. Being stuck in a job is not a function of the economy, it is a matter of perception. Finding something new IS impossible if one is not looking. Dislodge your perception. Why is this a matter of perception and not circumstance?  In a word, agency. We all have the capacity to act in any given environment. It is the concept of agency that summons us to be responsible and accountable for how we act. People deny agency when they deny responsibility for their decisions and behaviors. In 2,000 I found myself in a transition away from leading a congregation. I say transition, but it felt more like a cataclysmic convulsion. I found myself outside a career path that was rapidly changing with only an MA in Intercultural Studies. An MA in intercultural studies prepared me to lead a mission organization or congregation (that is what I was doing when I went to school). But the organization changed, leadership changed, a vision for what was needed changed and I was unceremoniously dislocated. In walking through this tumultuous experience, I learned several things about agency and change.

Obsolescence in skill is a fact of life. Consider the rate of technological changes and it is clear that skills require routine updates. But I faced a deeper issue; the same issue faced by my clients. I misinterpreted an obsolescence in skill with a personal obsolescence. In other words, I believed I could not do anything else.  This is the rub, your belief about yourself will limit where you can go.

I sat with a friend at breakfast one morning and talked about my next steps. In our conversation, I reframed how to use my knowledge base. As it turns out my skills in management, knowledge retention, team development, budgeting, organizational design, human resource management, systems development/analysis, and persuasion weren't so obsolete, they just needed to be framed in a new context. I left breakfast with a job offer, Director of Operations for a hospitality software company in the midst of a turnaround. This is not to say I didn't have a steep learning curve. I immersed myself in learning the software, the basics of crystal reporting, data analysis/decision-making, and sales while I also restructured our operation to turn around a hemorrhage of customers and cash.

Learning is not limited to what I did in school. Learning is a life skill that requires an ability to embrace unsettling ambiguity and strong feelings of incompetence in the process of applying new perspectives and knowledge. Employees with experience are only as valuable as they are capable of (1) continually learning and (2) integrating experience with new skill and knowledge. I have noticed that people who share my particular demographic position split into two basic groups: those invigorated by learning and those who vainly pursue the entitlement of past learning and accomplishment, "I've paid my dues," they repeat with irritated intensity. Refusing to learn is like refusing to breath - just because you did it once does not mean you can stop and simultaneously enjoy the same quality of life. Learning is not just a reality of maintaining the ability to survive in the job market, it is a necessity to maintain quality of life. Some research indicates that education programs offer a simple, low-cost way of helping people to reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety (two obvious characteristics in those I meet who feel stuck).  Learning can boost self-confidence and self-esteem, help build a sense of purpose, and help people connect with others.

Courage to change required an ability to see my situation plainly and to decide to act. The unvarnished reality in which we live is that the labor market is a buyers market. In a buyer’s market, the first two things that employers care about are (1) bottom-line-contributing, transferable skills, and (2) the promise of delivering profitable results.  It's up to you do distinguish between companies that show this is all they care about and companies that include a wider scope of concerns built on the capacity to stay profitable in a highly competitive environment. When the events of 911 drove the software company into bankruptcy, I found myself unemployed again. I had a couple of contract assignments, one in China training managers and one in Atlanta writing training curriculum. But, I needed full-time employment. A friend (notice the theme of friendships) called to ask me to consider going to work in the company he worked. He was a VP and noted that they needed someone with my unique skills to help them change the culture of their organization. We had met at church where I served on the board then as chairman of the board and had introduced some significant change in how the board accomplished their fiduciary and governance responsibilities.

My friend set up an interview offsite with VP of operations named Gary. We all sat at a table and ordered breakfast. Gary picked up my resume, threw across the room and said obnoxiously, "I don't know why I'm here. This resume says nothing but pastor. What do you have to offer our firm."

"Well," I thought, "this interview is off to a great start." I had done some research on the industry of this company and so I took a deep breath and began.

"Let's see, Gary. I take it you don't have many employees in your company." The statement was a setup and a chance for Gary to frame the need for my skills.

"We have 150 employees, you should come ready to an interview - if you were, you'd know this" he sneered.

"And you have 15 managers of various rank, You have 80%+ turnover annually. The cost of your turnover assuming training costs, lost productivity, lost knowledge, and recruiting costs are conservatively about $4,500 per employee and in excess of $540,000 per year in lost revenue. I managed a team of 150 volunteers for three years with zero turnover - I may have something to teach you about managing people and their motivation," I said.  Gary just squinted.

"Your budget is what?" I queried.

"We have a budget of $7M annually," Gary's chest seemed to puff out as he spoke.

"So, you are running payroll at over 64% of your total budget including turnover and you can't get better results?" I may have something to give in terms of cost savings and efficiencies," I narrowed my gaze and looked him in the eye.

I continued, "Your next set of challenges include helping the owner step into a different role and get out-of-the-way of the company's growth, but I'm pretty sure you don't know how to help him understand why it's important or how to carry it out or what it will mean to greater profitability. I can help you with that."  I sat back in my chair and let everything simmer. "The question," I began again, "is not why are you here, but why am I here?  I can help you improve your company, but I'm not sure you are ready to make the commitment and changes needed to carry this out." I knew this sounded bold, but Gary frankly ticked me off.

Gary's eyes began to twinkle, a grin started etching its way across his face and he said, "We need to schedule a follow-up to this interview." We spent the rest of breakfast talking about his vision for the company and the opportunity and risk they had in front of them. They hired me. I had to learn new software, a new industry, and new ways to apply my knowledge.  I had to prove how my skills were transferable. I had to learn about the industry before I met with Gary. I had to exercise courage, the kind of courage that was willing to step up and swing at the opportunity. I had to exercise humility, the kind of humility that recognized I could make a difference if I was willing to learn.

Opportunity often comes in clothing that scares the snot out of me. Everything I have done since that transition in 2000 has been new. I have not succeeded at everything. I bombed one of the most important sales presentations I have ever had when I could not speak knowledgeably about how to calculate the ROI of training to a corporate CFO. I couldn't speak his language and completely missed who the power players were in the room. But, as much as I wanted to run to the hills with my tail between my legs, I decided instead to take my lumps and learn. I can calculate ROI on training and coaching now.

"Ray," the voice on the other end of the phone was a friend of mine. "How would you like to teach a research methods course?"

My graduate education had focused on qualitative research methods. I'm comfortable with qualitative research and routinely conduct social research projects for clients. However, I knew this offer included having to learn and teach quantitative research as well.  My friend described the course, an undergraduate course worth 2 units. My heart seemed to have beat up into my chest as I blurted out, "I'd love to teach that course, and I am looking for a mentor in quantitative research."

"Great," came the reply. "I will recommend you and I am willing to mentor you."

The idea of learning didn't scare me, it's the performance standards I have that get in my way. I want to teach the course like I've done it for years. Knowing this about myself is an important part of overcoming fear. I will be fine and I will teach the course like it's the first time out of the shoot. Know what scares you, then look it in the eye and decide to move forward anyway.

Many of my mentors are now younger than I. This is the weirdest part for me. Young professionals surround me who are much more knowledgeable than I about technology and certain analytical methods. Yet, we find a mutually symbiotic relationship - they cherish my life experience and I enjoy their enthusiasm to teach me new tricks of the trade. I don't feel the need to project independent power - to stay aloof from these up and coming professionals. I don't get all of their social references, that is part of the challenge of being in different generations. However, I do get their drive and their hunger for success, contribution, meaning, and purpose.

Life changes. Time is like a steamroller that buries you or a wave to ride until the last wipeout. Choose to see change as a welcome friend who prods you into life, to new adventures, new relationships, and a new sense of contribution. If you are in a transition - consider these things. Find resources to help you through the tumult of change. For example, if your job skills need updating, the Department of Labor funds job training programs to improve the employment prospects of adults, youth, and dislocated workers. Look into this. If your perception about your life purpose needs updating find a coach who can walk you through a change of perspective. You have a contribution to others that is valuable and you have options if you look for them. On the other hand, you could choose to move from skill obsolescence to personal obsolescence - but doing so is a lonely horrible way to die a slow death.

Friendships - Traveling through Past and Future

With the father of the bride.I recently traveled with Janice to the Great Pacific Northwest to attend the wedding of one of our friend's children. We have known Rick and Sue for years as co-laborers, friends, prayer partners, and fellow pilgrims in a strange land looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. It is interesting to me that seeing long time friends is like traveling back in time and into the future concurrently. We have so many reference points in our shared history we pick up conversations as though the gap of 5 to 10 to 20 years between each simply hasn't happened and yet...we traverse new ground each time we are together because our lives are not static but growing. We have new leadership experiences to share, new questions to explore, new victories to rejoice in and new grief to shoulder together. Life is not static and neither is our friendship.

An occasion like a wedding offers a myriad of opportunities to engage this simultaneous time travel of past and future. We saw friends and acquaintances we have not seen for years. We caught up, we shared perspectives on the past that illuminated the future and explained things we did not understand when we experienced them together. One encounter was particularly moving.

"Steve," I said to one friend who was so significant in my first pastorate, "we have missed you." Steve and I picked up conversations past and future.

"Ray," he inquired, "why didn't you return to visit?" His eyes were penetrating, looking for explanation, testing my response, and expressing pain.

"We were prohibited from returning to our first pastorate to visit by the pastor who took our place. We repeatedly asked for permission to visit and were repeatedly prohibited. It was his prerogative in the governance structure of the denomination."

Steve's eyes began to fill with tears, "I didn't know that," he said. "Dave was so insecure...." his voice trailed off and his hug said he had always wondered why we had just disappeared from the scene when our assignment wooed us out of the Northwest to Southern California.  I don't know why Steve thought we made our selves scarce, but in our conversation and in our shared bear hugs whatever questions and pain from the past melted into oblivion and our shared past shed light on a shared future. We talked about future opportunities and support of one another in networking and prayer.

What a joy to have friends across time. Some friends are constant companions in the journey, we connect every time we can, like Rick and Sue. We meet up in the UK, the Northwest, the Southwest, or any other place our paths cross. Other friends are like beacons along the path we see on occasion. Our contacts are episodic, spaced by time, but no less precious when the connection occurs. There is something encouraging about seeing each other like distance runners at a turn in the course we cheer each other on and take courage from the fact we are still in the race.

And of course, there are those acquaintances we saw who caused us great pain, friends who betrayed our friendship. What about these?  We had a couple of these encounters. Were they awkward?  No, surprisingly. They were filled with grace. Forgiveness has long ago released us from the want of revenge and the pain of betrayal. And they apparently also extended forgiveness and like us have grown and changed. The past and the future collided in these encounters with healing and an uncertain future. It is possible to be free of the pain of the past yet remain unreconciled - no longer enemies filled with suspicion but also no longer close. There is a grace in this as well, to embrace with a love that forgives and offers a future that if taken may result in a new friendship.

The longer I am around, the more intrigued I am by this time travel of past and future connection. Friends are a comfort, they are teachers, they are counselors, they are examples, and they are a reminder of what is most significant in life. Nurture your friendships they pull out your best, show you your worst, and offer you a path to a different future.

Make a Difference! Lead Like a Servant

web versionHave you ever had something you wanted to say that you knew had the potential of changing the game? Have you been so convinced of its significance that you were willing to put it to the test of review, the discipline of systematic research and reflection, and the vulnerability of distribution?  Then you understand the passion of writing a book with the hope that it will amplify your message and your communication capacity. I have a message for market place and non-profit leaders who want to integrate their faith and leadership best practices. There are some very strong books on leading like Jesus. Why did I write another book? I saw something missing. The way Jesus led not only transforms the way a leader acts; it also transforms the way an organization behaves for the better. Changing the way we think about leaders and their organizations is the intent of Change the Paradigm.

Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World is a clarion call to apply the concept of servant leadership to every organizational context. It is a handbook that demonstrates how the concept of Servant Leadership goes to work in the leader and in the organization. It investigates Servant Leadership through five perspectives: (1) the lens of Jesus’ call to serve; (2) the Missional impetus of the church and its foundation in a future hope made present in experience; (3) the latest insights from research into effective leadership; (4) the influence of an organization’s development on leadership practices and (5) leadership development. Servant Leadership is fundamentally a transforming perspective and composite of personal motivations that impact how the act of leading is expressed. It alters the way leaders view and value followers and stakeholders. Servant Leadership engages a personal relationship with God that changes a person's definition of: self, ambition, values, situation, and the development of other leaders.

Change the Paradigm is available now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a paper back or an e-book. We are working on agreements to get it into book stores everywhere in 2016. Get a jump on the crowd and order it today. It will show you how to think differently about the act of leadership.

It's Not About Gender!

downloadIn a literature review on mentoring for a graduate course I ran across a table outlining gender differences.  I was struck by the caricature inherent in the gender definitions offered by the author. One author illustrated the differences between how men and women approach life in a the table of traits, one representing men and the other representing women. As is typical of lists like this it seemed to reflect biases rather than insights. I find such caricatures unhelpful in illuminating what it means to be a man or woman. Bifurcated and stiff gender caricatures trouble me because I observe that typical gender differences are not at all helpful in guiding the development of men and women or of describing their capabilities (which exercises designed to define gender differences seem to perennially attempt). Rather attempts at identifying gender differences often have a toxic consequence relationally and developmentally in people’s thinking.  I described the problem elsewhere,

The social mores by which the concept of male or female is defined often create a bigger barrier to growth than a help.  The failure to differentiate between the idea of sex (the biology of what makes men different from women) and gender (the social constructs that outline what it means to be a man or woman) has led to faulty conclusions and stereotypes about what defines the ideal man or women. When stereotypes are uncritically accepted as “biblical” models of maleness or femaleness, important distinctions between men and women are lost amid either/or descriptions that fail to account for basic humanness.  The challenge to approaches that formalize radical stereo types of gender is that the rich diversity of the calling of God in individual lives is lost to the many that simply don’t fit the mold.  In other words, confident women, sensitive men don’t make the gender cut.[1]

So, what did the author propose as predictable gender differences?

Table 1: Differing Emphases of Gender[2]

Gender v Human_Page_1

Elmore declares his table to be “the primary differences between men and women in the practice of mentoring.”[3] Before I go on I should note that I am not targeting Elmore specifically rather I use Elmore as an example of an error that Fine points toward when it comes to identifying gender differences.  In Fine’s view the role of culture and socialization has a far greater impact on how we define gender than our genetic makeup. It is this impact that Fine emphasizes and the fact that research or observations like those of Elmore, start with biases about gender so that popular writing seems to use neuro-research or one’s own observations as a way to reinforce sexism and not uncover deeper insights into the male and female mind.[4]

The question that arose in my mind is do we regularly interpret data about male and female behavior with a biased lens that inhibits us from seeing any results outside our expected stereotypes?  To address the question I put together a questionnaire that asked men and women to idenfity which of the characteristics named by Elmore they felt best described themselves. The questionnaire simply listed Elmore’s traits and asked people to decide which traits they were most like using a five point Likert scale. The survey is non-scientific.  I did not validate the traits nor did I have a valid sample group. The participants were self selecting based on an open invitation which did not assure that the sample group I used was random. I had 25 participants (9 male and 16 female). The ages of the participants ranged from 30 to over 60 years of age.

Having provided the disclaimer which simply is to say what results I record are interesting but may not reflect the general population – I will never-the-less question the observations characterized in Elmore’s work.

When reading the following charts it is important to know the scale respondents used. The Likert scale I used was: 1, very much like me; 2, somewhat like me; 3, neutral; 4, not much like me; and 5, not at all like me.

Chart 1: Female Respondents

Chart 1

Chart 1 record the gender roles assigned by Elmore to women (the red line) and the self selected characteristic of the women who responded to the survey (the blue line). Notice in Chart 1 that Elmore’s contention that women are more feeler than they are thinkers was not at all supported by what the women in the survey said about themselves. The median score on the “thinker” characteristic for women was 1 (i.e., very much like me). The raw scores ranged from 1 to 4 (i.e., not much like me).

Similarly results contrasting relational focus to results focus were not as distinct as Elmore observed but much more nuanced. Women agreed that they are relationally focused (mean score of 1, very much like me) but also claim to be definitely results focused (mean score of 2 i.e., somewhat like me). The high individual score on results focused was 4 (i.e., not much like me).  On the empathetic versus problem solving descriptors Elmore’s observations were flatly wrong to the small sample I surveyed. The margin of error for the holistic v categorical items was significant as well among the women who responded to the survey. So, how did the men do?

Chart 2: Male Respondents

Chart 2

The male respondents demonstrated that they were much more feeler oriented than Elmore implied and much less categorical. The median scores show a fairly inclusive set of character traits with median scores of 2 (i.e., somewhat like me) on the: relational focused, results focused, communicator, doer, detail oriented and empathetic scores. Like the women, the men simply did not correspond to the holistic versus categorical score in any significant way.

Chart 3: Male and Female Respondents

Chart 3

The differences highlighted in Chart 3 between men and women are extremely nuanced in this sample and do not correspond with Elmore’s ideals.

Here’s my point, trying to decide who you are by the use of gender differentials is about as futile an exercise as can be engaged. What may be more helpful is to use characteristics like those identified by Elmore as simply personality characteristics that may be exhibited by men or women. Viewing oneself as a unique person with unique capabilities and unique perspectives and characteristics gets rid of the nuisance created when we try to make the differences between men and women something other than differences in sexual identity. Does this mean that unique perspectives or ways of seeing are not evident between men and women?  No. Fine contributes two important observations:

If hormones determine the roles, one would expect to find the same sex occupying the same roles in all societies. This is patently not the case.[5]

...Genes don't determine our brains (or our bodies), but they do constrain them. The developmental possibilities for an individual are neither infinitely malleable nor solely in the hands of the environment. But the insight that thinking, behavior, and experiences change the brain, directly, or through changes in genetic activity, seems to strip the word 'hardwiring' of much useful meaning....we should 'view biology as potential, as capacity and not as static entity.[6]

We simply cannot force people into a stereotypical behaviors that make them men or women. We cannot make whether a person is a man or women the criteria for ability. It is far more a matter of personality and inherent cognitive ability. I illustrate the challenge of trying to define set gender roles in the following:

I often ask students in my leadership courses to make two lists. On one side of a sheet of paper I ask them to write out descriptions of what it means to be a man.  On another side of the paper I ask them to write out what it means to be a woman. Typically they describe men with adjectives such as: strong, confident, firm, forceful, carefree, aggressive, bossy, sarcastic, rude, feeling superior. They describe women as: patient, sensitive, devoted, responsible, appreciative, timid, weak, needing approval, dependent, or nervous. After we discuss the observations they have made I ask them to return to their lists to identify adjectives that apply to Christ.  To the astonishment of my students they highlight all the positive traits they identified as male and female i.e., Jesus is patient, strong, sensitive, confident, devoted, firm, responsible, forceful, appreciative, and carefree.  What does this mean? Was Jesus confused about his gender identity or are our categories fluid and inaccurate?  Since there is nothing in the gospel record to suggest Jesus ever demonstrated any question about his sexual identity it is safe to assume that our ideas of appropriate gender behavior are more fluid than they are rigid. When gender stereotypes are interpreted as rigid and worse when this rigidity is described as “biblically” rooted both men and women suffer in their sense of identity.[7]

Conclusion

Men and women both can find a new sense of identity and confidence in being themselves, unique, gifted, wired like Jesus. Understand your own emotional being to exercise self-awareness and a sense of the impact you have on others. This is a far better path to self-definition and understanding than charts like those illustrated in Elmore’s work. Again, it’s not about gender it’s about personality.

[1] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015, 115.

[2] Tim Elmore. Mentoring: How to Invest your life in Others.  Atlanta, GA: Equip, 1998, 42.

[3] Elmore, 42.

[4] Cordelia Fine. Delusions of Gender: How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010.

[5] Fine, 127.

[6] Fine, 177-178.

[7] Wheeler, 118.

Define Your Ambition!

Ray at summitWhat is it that you want to accomplish? How clearly can you state your ambition? Ambition defined is as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

Ambition has a bad rap with many and for good reason. There are those whose ambition for power, prestige, or pleasure has made them into users and abusers of people.

But does the abuse of a trait by some make it negative in every instance? Can ambition be good? I argue that ambition is imperative. It helps people clarify their goals and purpose and live/work with focus and impact. Jesus, the master leader understood the power of ambition and its potential for abuse. Consider for a moment that Jesus often asked people directly and indirectly to clarify their ambition.

Jesus' questions intended to elicit honesty about what his listeners really wanted. In addressing the crowds about John the Baptist Jesus asked, "What did you go out to see?" He queried their deepest desire - people didn't go to see John because he was eccentric, they went because he offered hope for change. In confronting religious leaders on the tyranny that resulted from their dishonest ambition Jesus told a story about two debtors both forgiven their debts. Then he asked, "Which of [the two debtors] will love him [the creditor] more?" The answer exposed these leader's warped self-centered ambition. When approached by James and John who requested positions of prominence in Jesus' kingdom Jesus asked, "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?"

Jesus' response refocused the ambition of James and John. Jesus did not rebuke their ambition - he shaped it and showed it to be misdirected. The question any leader faces is whether they will come out from inside themselves to be as honest as James and John about what they are really after. Ambition exposed can be shaped, challenged, encouraged, or redirected. Ambition hidden only warps, deceives, tyrannize, and suppresses others. Have you been honest about your ambition? Are you willing to allow God to reshape and redirect it? Like James and John honesty will result in a much larger commission than their original ambition was able to conceive. God will "blow you mind." Go ahead, expose and submit your ambition to God and see what God does in you.

How Do you Measure the Health of Your Christian Organization?

10931217_10205220733576419_4977262972998137073_nHow do you measure the overall health of your Christian organization? In this presentation I discuss the correlation between spiritual awakening and mission. Inevitably understanding spiritual vibrancy leads to a different way of assessing organizational health. This presentation was made at the Great Commission Mobilizer Summit for the Student Volunteer Movement 2 (SVM2). For more of the speakers and for the power point that corresponds to my presentation below go to http://www.svm2.net/special-events/gcsummit/gcsummitresources/. Cut and past the following link into your browser to access the mp3 file.  http://www.svm2.net/Correlation_between_Spiritual_awakening_and_missions.mp3.

Change the Paradigm

51Pv2jzHD3L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The title is ambitious I admit. But, the way we think about leadership and express it in the church and in business needs a change in my view. I wrote this book because I see the possibility of unleashing something radically life changing by altering the way we lead. Why? Uncritically adopted leadership styles often promise efficiency and effectiveness but they just as often fail to address the challenge - congregations and businesses feel compressed, threatened, and lost in the radical shifts occurring all around them.  At worst churches and Christian organizations act no different from any other corporation in how they relate to their employees and their members. Jesus changed the formula of leadership - he initiated a hope that is transforming and healing and not oppressive and disillusioning. This book is a blue print for how to lead like Jesus and produce extraordinary results. I am committed to being a part of a changing paradigm of leadership. Its my hope that writing a handbook on how to put a new perspective to work encourage a new conversation and a different way of leading.

Here is what those who reviewed the manuscript had to say about.

"...well written, organized, and amazingly detailed...Ray writes in an intellectual tone that doesn't come off as arrogant or stiff, but rather uplifting and humble." Editorial Team, Xulon Press.

"...challenges my paradigms on being a leader.... I wish I had read earlier on in my leadership experiences." Steve MorganGlobal Leadership Development, CRU

"...elegant and powerful.  I don't read Christian books on leadership. They just don't have the content. But your manuscript is new and needed I could not put it down."  Mark Simmonsbusiness entrepreneur,Seattle, Washington.

"...a must read for anyone seeking increased effectiveness leading an organization through a holistic approach aligned with Scriptural principles."  Jim J. Adams, President, LIFE Pacific College

"...profound, practical and prophetic in its impact. I believe it can shape a culture that can change the world!” Glenn C. Burris, Jr., President, The Foursquare Church

"...will transform how you engage others. Dare to apply Ray’s assertions…they will change your life…from the inside out." Dennis Bachman,Executive Pastor. NewSong Church, San Dimas, California

“This Book will take you to a place you were not expecting to go - the transformation of your own heart.” Casey Cox, Pastor, Living Faith Fellowship, San Dimas, California

Pick up a copy today at:

Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Change-Paradigm-Raymond-L-Wheeler/dp/1498440169/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1436281607

Barnes & Noble, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/change-the-paradigm-raymond-l-wheeler/1122227562?ean=9781498440165