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).


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?

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:; Accessed 26 September 2013.

[iii] Source:; accessed 16 April 2013.

[iv] P.M.H. Atwater. “After Effects of Near Death States.” Source:; accessed 16 April 2013.

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.

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:


Barnes & Noble,

One CEO's Conundrum 

Scale“There are times that I wonder how to balance the needs of the organization with compassion.” My client sat pondering the issue for a moment then continued, “But then that is the responsibility of the CEO.” Jayne (not her real name) was right. There are few positions that juxtapose organizational and individual needs like that of the CEO. Everything hinges on the CEO’s ability to support the dynamic tension between the needs of the organization and the needs of all the stake holders – in this case a key employee. Jayne runs a 30 million dollar operation in senior life care with 300 employees. She follows a CEO whose style can best be described as laissez-faire. The outgoing CEO neither had the emotional intelligence nor the drive to pull together a workable executive team. He focused on his own strengths and interpersonal forcefulness to build himself a legacy and push things through the system. Effective?  Yes, it got the things done that were important to his legacy. Healthy? No. As a result, Jayne is working through her executive team replacing toxic people with healthy ones and literally resetting the organization from the chaos left in the absence of the kingpin to a healthy team that knows what the organization needs and has the values and skills to get it there.  One of Jayne's executive team (a VP) is struggling.

“She told me the other day that I intimidate her, I am not sure I feel bad about that,” Jayne said.

“Apparently your VP wanted you to feel bad about it?” I queried.

“Yes, that was the clear message – in her words I have ruined her life by demanding performance proper to her level of employment.” Jayne paused. “The VP said, ‘I can’t even get dressed in the morning without wondering if Jayne will approve of my wardrobe – I am not sure I will ever win your approval.”  Jayne locked eyes with me for a moment and said, “I have never said I disapprove of her wardrobe or of her as a person. She said I was killing her personality. She is right on one hand I do disapprove of her lack of performance.” Jayne’s tone changed as she turned to face me.

“I understand holding people to a change in performance.” Jane began. “But how do I hold them accountable for their personality?”

I could tell the question troubled her. I suggested, “Perhaps it is your choice of vocabulary that has you stymied. Your VP can’t change her personality and in fact, that is not the issue. The issue is behavior and she can change behavior.”

“Oh, that helps,” Jayne said.

The VP, like many challenging employees, sought to blame something external to herself (the CEO) for the consequences of her own behaviors. The fact is that concern on the part of the VP about her job is right. She should consider whether she wants to grow her capacity by modifying her behavior or look for job with less responsibility somewhere elsewhere.

On writing on the leadership of George Washington, Richard Brookhiser observed, “Problems, and a leader’s solutions to them, consist of ideas, forces, and facts of life. But they are always accompanied by, or incarnated in, people. Judging people accurately and managing them well can make the difference between success and failure.[1]

When leaders avoid the discomfort associated with addressing problems the result is that they only transfer conflict (the evidence of problems) to larger groups of people in the organization they serve.  This transfer has a cascading effect that disrupts large segments of the organization’s performance. This contributes to employee angst and job misery more than anything else in organizational life.

How do you work through conflict in the organization you lead?  Judging people accurately includes the awareness of their uniqueness and their stress points. Any leader’s job not only includes helping others work at their peak skills but also of performing in their most constructive behaviors.  Hold people, and yourself, accountable for both performance and behavior and watch your people become the high performing team you always wanted to see.

[1] Richard Brookhiser. George Washington on Leadership. (New York, NY: MJF Books, 2008), 83.

Restoring a Wounded or Broken Leader

broken-potA friend of mine recently wrote me to ask, "A local friend who is a professional consultant for non-profits and church ministry (organizational leadership) went through a divorce this past year (after 20 years of marriage and 5 kids). We meet together last week. I sought him out to for purely relational follow-up  - we had been out of touch for just short of 3 years. He took advantage of my invitation to share with me all that had transpired. In our discussion I asked if he had any sort of "restoration" or "rehabilitation" to leadership in place for himself. (As this may be important for future clients to know.) Nothing official as such. He has sought individual services and support, but nothing that is outside of his own initiative. Hence, he invited me to present a plan or concept  - to which he would be most grateful.   I thought I'd ask you if - you had any quick thoughts on this or reference points handy." I wrote him the following response.

Yes, I have personal thoughts on this however I don't have any resources for you. So, let me start with a definition and move on to come comments. Restore: renew, rebuild, or to bring back into existence. It is a process epitomized in Psalm 51: 10-15.
Typically the issue around Christian ministers is that some governing body has suspended their credential because of some mitigating circumstance or trauma to: (1) build the margins needed to work through the trauma; (2) work through the pain and the loss incurred to seek restoration of broken relationships if possible; (3) reaffirm the gifts and the calling of God for the sake of the one being restored (God's gifts and calling are without repentance however the one traumatized is often filled with self-deprecating grief and guilt); (4) represent the person to the body of Christ as one who has been made whole/healed and so is able to re-engage the demands of ministry with integrity and accountability.
In the case you outline the only thing missing is a governing body that would start the restoration. So, your friend is subject to the diverse opinion of his potential clients. These fall into three categories in my experience:
1.  Those who know him  and know of the way he has worked over the years to attempt restoration to no avail.  These watch at times with uncomfortable uncertainty about what to do while others make sure that he does not collapse from weariness, guilt, grief, or shame or any combination of these by checking in with him regularly.  A process of restoration is important for this group because they care about his well-being and such a process will reassure them.
2.  Those who don't know him and may treat him as though his trauma is contagious (it is actually a reminder that nothing in life is certain and that scares people). They may reject him or marginalize him by holding him at arm's length not really trusting the integrity of his character and spiritual health or because they simply are uncomfortable facing the messy, painful realities of following Christ in a broken world. A process of restoration is important for this group because they need to see that painful loss is not the end - they need the reassurance from others that your friend is a trustworthy man in whom they can be confident.
3. Those who don't know him but will gladly throw him under whatever self-righteous bus happens to pass by. I have never really understood the rationale of these except it seems to me that causing pain somehow momentarily eases their own pain or at least gives them someone else to focus on before the gravity of their own narcissism pulls them back into themselves. A process of restoration is important because it will combat the attempt to destroy your friends reputation and ministry that these people will attempt.
To enter a process of restoration (on the assumption that something has been lost and something has died) requires a group of leaders that your friend trusts and that others respect as leaders - people who can help him walk through any blind spots, or areas still immobilized by grief, or emotions that have yet to find good expression, or anger that still must be processed and expressed, or fears that try to limit his reach.  This group must have permission to probe and ask hard questions. They must name, with your friend, what the end of restoration looks like because they put their reputations on the line for your friend.  This is what the body of Christ looks like.
I urge you to put together such a proposal, ask your friend who he trusts, and then recruit these people to (1) hear his story completely; (2) define what restoration looks like for him; (3) walk out the process I just described; (4) affirm when the goals have been reached for both your friend and anyone else who asks; (5) so that his ministry in the body of Christ can be warmly received and released without fear of future failure stemming from some unresolved residual issue around the mitigating crisis.
That's all I've got, he is fortunate to have a friend like you who has raised the subject.

Leadership Lessons from the County Fair

220px-Baton_long“You need to get out of the office for a while, you’re stressed out,” my wife’s voice sounded with empathy and emphasis. I was in the middle of conflict. The organization I led was growing and I keenly felt new performance pressures on my own skills, disappointments from those around me, and open challenges to my leadership role (some people wanted me gone). I agreed to meet my family at the fair and drove my body there at the appointed time. My mind however was still engaged in determining my next strategic and tactical moves. Neither my wife’s welcoming kiss nor the smell of deep-fried fair food was strong enough to disengage my thoughts. I wandered around the fair like zombie-dad - physically there but mentally unreachable by my children and my wife.

We turned a corner in time to see a Karate demonstration about to begin. Violence – now that sounded interesting to me at that point. The narrator explained he would play the part of a victim while his partner acted as an assailant. The assailant had a big pole which he maneuvered with the confidence of a tested warrior.  I felt a bit sorry for the narrator and awaited his ultimate demise - with a certain gleefulness. I wanted someone else to hurt like I was hurting.

In the blink of an eye the attack was over. I stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the assailant lay spread eagle on the ground with the victim standing over him. The victim stood with a foot on the assailant' throat and the assailant’s weapon in his hand. I wasn't sure what I had just saw.

The victim helped the assailant up and still narrating said, “Now, let’s slow things down so you can see what just happened.”

“Geese,” I thought, “this ought to be awesome.”

The players reset, the assailant with the pole and the victim with nothing but his hands. “Begin the attack,” the victim narrated.

“Notice how the assailant is swinging the pole at me,” the victim began. “The natural tendency is to move away from the pole – but the power of the swing is at the end of the pole. Moving away can result in a serious injury or death.  I move into the assailant.” He paused just a moment to let that fact sink in and the action continued.

“As I move toward the assailant I turn with his momentum,” the victim continued. “The natural tendency here is to attempt to overpower the assailant but in most cases the assailant has the advantage of momentum which means I do not have the leverage I need to mount a counter force. I intend to move with his momentum to lower the potential for injury.”

The victim had turned with the assailant’s momentum and continued, “Now I am in a place to act as a fulcrum. The assailant has committed his energy to swinging the pole and all I have to do is use his momentum against him,” the victim had not knocked the assailant off-balance and was taking away his pole as he fell to the ground.

Boom, victim became the victor!  I ruminated on the stages of the attack and the response of the victim as I compared it to my own situation.

In what seemed an eternal moment of pause, I felt as though God’s own voice was reaffirming the leadership lesson I had just saw.

Move toward the assailant.  I had tried to avoid the controversy swirling around the changes I had made in the organization. It seemed the harder I tried to extricate myself the deeper I fell into critical assessments.  I smarted under the power of my assailant’s swing as I tried to escape. I did not understand their motive or their concerns and had made the mistake of thinking I could avoid having to spend the time to know them.

Do not attempt to overpower their momentum. I had failed here as well as I was marshaling my resources for a display of power – if my critics wanted conflict I would give them a mega-dose. Going down fighting seemed like the only alternative I had – however, being new meant that I was playing the role of the martyr. It was foolish to attempt a head to head contest against people who had been in the organization longer. I thought, “What are my critics saying that I can agree with and thereby join not resist the momentum of their attack?”  I knew I had to understand their core concerns and discern their motive.

Use their momentum to knock them off-balance and remove their weapon. I wondered what the tipping point would be as I got to know my opposition. How could I disarm them and help us both win? Or, how could I defang them in such a way that I survived their push to oust me?

The next several weeks saw a significant change in my demeanor and my activities. I acted much less like a zombie-dad and more like a human engaged in life and relationship. I moved in close to those people who opposed the changes that I made in the organization.  I listened to their concerns. I spent time working to understand their motivations and needs. I did not pull back from the conflict and in so doing I was not hurt to the degree I would have been. Surprisingly to me, the one person driving the tumult exposed in his own toxic behavior. When I was finally able to define and address the differences in perspective this man's behavior called to question his credibility and ability as a leader. Ultimately I had to let the tumultuous person go – I fired him. People grieved the lack of reconciliation between us but understood that I had finally done everything I could to turn the situation around.

The organization became healthier and our people more engaged. They realized that I would not hide from conflict nor would I arrogantly insist that I had all the right answers.  I have never been as happy to attend a county fair as I was that year. The lesson I learned at the fair have stayed with me all this time.

Curiosity still leads me - so I started a company to engage it

whySomeone recently asked me why I started Leadership Praxis. I started Leadership Praxis because I am curious about what makes leaders effective. Leadership is a tough job - I know, I have led administrative departments, sales divisions, operations, congregations, international programs, and regional church planting efforts. The challenges are the same for leaders in any field of endeavor. My curiosity led me back to school and in the process started a company that allowed me to encourage and coach leaders as a trusted advisor.  I get to think about, research, and observe leadership from the front row of life. I get to integrate and synthesize faith, organizational development and leadership development.

This is why the word praxis is part of the name of the company. The word praxis signifies ethical action in a political context, or purposeful human conduct, or behavior guided by purposes, intentions, motives, morals, emotions, and values as well as the facts or science.  Praxis implies a duality in action: (1) of consciousness and reflection and (2) of action and commitment. Praxis is far more than reflexive or mechanical response that so often characterize modern management theory - it is conscious, reflective, intentional action of the kind that characterizes highly effective leaders.

The ideals of the word praxis capture the character of service that is so important to leadership. In my view serving others is the proper domain of leadership and of leadership development.  Servant leaders use power, influence, and authority with awareness that avoids the trap of toxicity.

I am married to Janice. We are celebrating 40 years together. We have raised a family.  Work/life balance? I understand those tensions as well and know that the challenge is not answered in trying to balance life and work (something that is impractical) but in remaining present and attentive.

I have authored some great failures and successes.

I love working with leaders.

I understand the pressures, challenges, opportunities, risks and motivations.

I wanted a coaching company that synthesized all my experience in leadership and life in a way that provided other leaders with a safe place to be transparent and gain clarity and focus.   So, I started a company designed to do just that and so far the adventure has been rewarding, challenging, and enriching. I love what I do.

Do You Act Like a Leader or a Hamster?

cute-hamster-hamster-wheel-10434221 Activities that Characterize Servant Leaders and Amplify Team Potency[1]

John stood at the door of my office, “Ray, how are you doing?”

I let out a sigh that I had not meant to express. “John, I am stressed. I am not sure that I am being effective. I am so busy I’m overwhelmed,” I confessed. I really felt like a hamster running on a wheel going nowhere.

“I see,” said John. “You are working like a jack of all trades.” After an awkwardly long pause he concluded, “And master of none.”

Impotent expressed how I felt that day and John, one of our board members, had observed this in me. John’s real question for me that day was, “I see you working hard, but are you doing the right work?”

I had no way to answer John’s question that day. As we talked it became more clear to me that the act of leading required that I turn insight, moral commitments, and ethical decision-making into measurable action that inspired others to engage planning, execution, and reflection to carry out specific ends and create a healing community in which people experience team potency.

Team potency is the collective belief the team can succeed that influences a team to start action, exert effort to reach goals, and sustain their effort over time. Team potency is the result of authentic leadership like that exhibited by servant leaders.[2] Servant leaders build an environment where people experience self-determination, security, and trust, enabling them to focus their time and abilities on accomplishing goals and on creatively solving problems and responding to opportunities.[3]

Some leaders, like me the day John dropped by, are so absorbed in the stuff that has to get done they fail to do the work that only they can do. So how do leaders amplify the team potency of their people? How do they avoid developing unhealthy leader/follower relationships or unhealthy dependencies that undermine delegation and true team potency? The answer rests on focusing on those activities that contribute to sustained effectiveness and not the flurry of activity many leaders get caught in that look more like a drowning man flailing in the water than a champion swimmer working toward a gold medal.

People rightly expect servant leaders to support the personal and organizational margins needed to sustain effectiveness. Servant leaders recognize that they work in three spheres of activity: (1) actions internal to the leader; (2) actions that involve the follower; and (3) actions engaging the servant leader and the follower.

These activities help leaders rejuvenate, refresh, and review what they are doing in a way that keeps them focused. They define the way a leader spends his or her time.[4] These activities are especially important aspects of the leader’s life when he or she engages the tasks inherent in leading an organization. Without a clear guide to healthy action leaders run a greater risk of task saturation, weariness, and burnout.  So what are these critical leadership tasks?


Withdrawal is the ability to exercise systematic neglect i.e., the ability to differentiate between the important and the less important and the urgent from the important. It is sometimes referred to metaphorically as going to the balcony. The ability to withdrawal is often the best way to “changing the game” in situations where conversation has disintegrated to a war of power or fixed positions.  I start with this activity because without the commitment to withdrawal leaders often find themselves blindsided by political posturing, competitive pressures, and changing customer preferences they would have seen if they had taken the time to reflect. Why is this important?

The first rule of organizational power is that the person with the greatest power wins.  Servant leaders who experience conflict with their boards or an influential stakeholder in the organization must learn to change the game or face the loss inflicted by someone with more power.  Servant leaders in business who experience conflict with their boss or another department must also learn to change the game or face termination because they don’t have the right combination of power.

Changing the game is not a one-time effort but a series of repeated efforts that begins to turn the pattern of behavior away from a win/loose orientation to a joint problem-solving exercise. [5]  It is a necessary skill of leadership and one continuously practiced by Jesus cf., Matthew 14:23 and Mark 1:35-37, where Jesus withdraws from the crowd to pray; Matthew 21: 23-27 where Jesus reframed the question of authority.  In all of Jesus’ interactions with hostile groups a wealth of information exists describing how to change the game. It behooves all servant leaders to sharpen their political skills.


Foresight emerges from the ability of the leader to understand the lessons of the past (both historical lessons and lessons from his/her own experience), the realities of the present and the likely consequences of a decision in the future.  Many leaders do not want to look at the unvarnished present.  However, without a clear view of the current realities, future thinking may dissolve into hubris and a quixotic pursuit of fantasy and not hope. Other leaders remain ignorant of the past or have failed to reflect on the past.  The foresight of a servant leader can have the prophetic insight expressed as intuition. This ability to understand consequences and see opportunity brings courage and confidence to followers and helps them accepts responsibility for their own actions.


Awareness looks two directions; it is self-awareness (the leader’s awareness of their own strengths and needs and potential stress points) and situational awareness.

In situational awareness, it is the leader’s ability to sense, see and analyze what is going on around him or her with different frames. By frame I mean the mental models by which people make sense of the world around them. When the servant leader assesses the organization the use of four different frames helps to limit blind spots in the servant leader’s assessment and perspective. The practice of seeing through each of these four frames is a way to exercise moral reasoning and strategic thinking.[6]  These frames include:

  • Structural: an understanding of how social and organizational structures work as a whole system. What are the hierarchies of power and tasks needed in the organization?
  • Relational: an understanding of how interpersonal relationships often work together, such as in family systems theory.
  • Political: an understanding of how power is used and valued within an organization or social group.
  • Symbolic: an understanding of the meanings assigned inanimate objects that are used to short-hand a groups’ relationship to important values, such as the way buildings are decorated or in symbols of authority like academic regalia or boardroom decor.

In exercising personal awareness the servant leader seeks to know how he or she approaches different aspects of relationship. Everyone has three layers to who they are: their visible and usual behavior, the need that must be met for their usual behavior to be useful, and the stress that results when needs are not met.  Aware leaders use their stress points to recognize when their needs are not being met and then exercise vulnerability to discuss those needs to support their most effective self and to avoid the knee-jerk responses that emanate from stress that end up damaging relationships with others.


The act of listening allows the leader to find the needs of the group and the true barriers the group experiences in the movement toward accomplishing their aims. Listening keeps the leader from seeing situations through their own bias and thus acting prematurely, disproportionately, or erroneously.  The activity of listening is asking questions until one understands the intent of the communicator.  Listening helps clarify values, fears, and needs while uncovering new perspectives.

Listening is also an act of prayer – when used in prayer listening spends deliberate time remaining silent toward God with attentiveness to God’s still small voice that is God’s intimate communication with friends.


Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of another. It is clear in the life of Jesus and precedes many of his miraculous works.  Empathy is visible in the phrase, “…and being moved with compassion.” For example:

Mk 9:22; the demonic father’s request for compassion (sometimes translated “pity”).

Mt 15:32; Jesus announced his compassion for the hungry crowd.

Mt 20:29-34; Jesus had compassion on the blind man.

The list goes on.  The simple fact is that servant leaders act because they love people.  There is a great joy in loving others as well as a significant vulnerability to pain and disappointment. Servant leaders embrace both joy and pain.


Servant leaders have a profound opportunity to heal follower’s hurts, disappointments, and brokenness resulting from being around toxic leaders.  Healing is making people whole and does not happen overnight.

Rita, a manager in one company I worked with, had become trapped in psychologically and spiritually in an affair with one of our department heads. She told me one day in tears that her promotion to manager was a quid pro quo result of an ultimatum to have sex to advance in the company or be terminated for poor performance. As a single mom termination was untenable to her. The warping that occurred in Rita’s life was painful to hear. After reporting the offense and after the proper investigation and response by the company Rita remained in our employment. Rita and I had many long conversations that helped her over time begin to untie the Gordian knot of shame and guilt and to step up to her need for training and development so she could actually succeed as a manager. Part of the challenge for Rita as she became healthier was the need to re-approach authority and leaders with  a new sense of self and not the whipping post her former department had induced fear, shame, and guilt.


Conceptualization is the ability to see the big picture and to act on more than the day-to-day realities that engage people’s energies. The ability to conceptualize sees threats and opportunities in the long-term and uses this orientation to keep short-term decisions moving in the right direction for the health of the organization.  It is the ability to name core principles (values) of operation and structure that allows others to also frame their daily events in the big picture. It is the ability to see the future of the group or organization in terms of an inspiring picture of the future and to invite people to contribute to this preferred future by their actions.  Conceptualization sees a future of promise and possibility and lays hold of that promise to influence and bring change to the present realities.


Persuasion is the ability to convince others of a decision or action or show a previously unseen need so that people accept an idea as their own. It is the opposite of coercion. Questions are a significant tool in persuasion because questions, properly framed, can help others understand that their current views may not be adequate for the future far faster than trying to describe inadequacies. Stories also help. Nathan persuaded David to repent for his sin with Bathsheba with a story (2 Samuel 12:1-7).  Steve Jobs persuaded his early partners at Apple to work like slaves for a vision of the future (he also manipulated and threatened – neither quality is one that can be used with effectiveness over time). While not a paragon of servant leadership Jobs’ ability to inspire by story far outstripped is technical expertise and on his better days out shined his manipulation. Persuasion happens with groups or people. Persuasion is an ability every servant leader must humbly develop.


Execution is the link between vision and results. It is the ability to align actions in such a way that the group achieves what they set out to do. Execution is the ability of defining a course from a series of options (seeing what is, what is not and what could be), leading to a specific goal that maintains a competitive advantage or overcomes specific opposition, to successfully meet an end.  Part of defining a course of options rests in knowing what outcomes should characterize the work of servant leadership. Jesus described what to expect in servant leadership when he said;

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to Preach the Gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”[7]

Characterizing the aims of execution either in the church or in business can start with Jesus’ description and then move toward how to apply this to specific settings. Servant leaders keep three things in mind:

  • Execution is a discipline and integral to strategy
  • Execution is the major job of the servant leader
  • Execution must be a core element of the organization’s culture

If we dare to execute on what we really believe all heaven could break loose. To encourage a culture of execution in my last pastorate, I had small placards made for everyone’s computer monitor that read, “Just do it!” Some people thought I had borrowed the slogan of the Nike Company when in fact I borrowed Nike’s slogan to point the team to the epistle of James who wrote, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”[8]  Every leader understands two things about execution.  First it is far easier to direct and develop people who have hope for the future of the type Jesus aims at in Luke 4. Second, that it is far easier to direct and develop others who already have a bias toward action like that described by James than it is to redirect or develop people who have become accustomed to inaction and blame shifting.

Building Community

A community is a group of people with a common characteristic or interest in living together within a larger society.  The servant leader works to build a sense of community at work or in the congregation.  It is community that characterized the church of Acts and drew people to the church (Acts 4:32-5:6).


Servant leaders show the ability to influence or command thought, opinion, and behavior. They do this from a place legitimized by those who follow them because followers see leadership character and actions that end in clarity, healing, mission and flourishing. This is the essence of authority.

Servant leaders put their values (virtues or ethical decision-making) to work in actions that are internal to themselves, actions that involve followers and actions that engage the leader and the followers. Servant leaders understand that it is the application of values in daily activities that make up work and thus build something great that stands the test of time.

  1. Rate your use of the activities of a servant leader. Are you engaging the right activities in the use of your time and resources? Think about: withdrawal, foresight, awareness, listening, empathy, healing, conceptualization, persuasion, execution and building community.
  2. In what ways have you nurtured authority in your life when exerting power would have been faster or easier?
  3. Think about how people legitimize your leadership. What specific observations about you have they made?
  4. If you cannot answer number 2 ask some of those who follow you to give you feedback on what you are doing well as a leader and what you might improve.
  5. In light of the insights you glean from either question 2 or 3, how to you feel about the affirming words or in what way does affirmation help you develop as a leader?
  6. In light of the feedback you have received what help do you need to ask for from others to continue to grow as a servant leader?

[1] This article adapted from Raymond L Wheeler. “The Servant Leader’s Unique Authority – Focusing on Influence not Power” in An Inconvenient Power: the Practice of Servant Leadership (Claremont, CA: Unpublished Manuscript, 2013), 56-80. Used with Permission.

[2] Arménio Rego, Andreia Vitória, Ana Magalhães, Neuza Riberio, Miguel Pina e Cunha. “Are Authentic Leaders Associated with More Virtuous, Committed and Potent Teams?” The Leadership Quarterly 24 (2013):62

[3] Rego et al, 65.

[4] Greenleaf 2002, 32. Greenleaf identified many of these same behavioral characteristics. I have adapted his work and added my own research to the descriptions of these traits as well as later synthesizing them with the leader’s tasks see Chapter 4.

[5] William Ury. Getting Past No (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1993), 13.

[6] Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership 3rd ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 12-19.

[7] Luke 4: 18-19 (NASB)

[8] James 1:22 (NASB)

Spiritual Leadership or Its Absence Affects Your Bottom Line

Spiritual leadership is the missing piece of the puzzle. Spiritual leadership impacts the bottom line

Most leaders understand the necessity of developing skills and leveraging their unique personality. Fewer leaders understand the antecedent of spiritual formation in the development of leaders. Fewer leaders still believe that spiritual formation has any bearing on their bottom line.  However, research begs to differ with what leaders believe or don’t believe.

So what difference does spiritual formation and spiritual leadership make according to the research?[i] Every significant metric of employee performance i.e., commitment, productivity, performance, character, and competence are positively affected by spiritual leadership. The reverse is also true; the lack of spiritual leadership exists as a drag on these same metrics. The fact is that spiritual leadership melts the impediments that keep organizations and businesses from hitting sustained bottom line performance. How?

First, spiritual leadership positively predicts calling (i.e., the experience of transcendence that defines how one makes a difference through service to others and thus derives a meaning and purpose in life). How calling is generated in followers is the concern of the spiritual leader.  Calling is that sense of meaning or purpose that makes up the triad of intrinsic motivation (competence, mastery, and purpose – see Pink).  As Fry et al describe it:

“The term calling has long been used as one of the defining characteristics of a professional. Professionals in general have expertise in a specialized body of knowledge, ethics centered on selfless service to clients/customers, an obligation to maintain quality standards within the profession, calling to their field, dedication to their work, and a strong commitment to their careers.”[ii]

Second, spiritual leadership positively predicts membership (i.e., the fundamental need to be understood and appreciated – this emerges in followers as the leader manifests the characteristics of spiritual leadership and so generates a sense of mutual care and concern so that followers gain a sense of membership). Spiritual leadership contributes to the altruistic love of each team member toward the other as they jointly develop a common vision. Altruistic love and a common vision is a prerequisite to developing hope – a characteristic that expressed in a “do what it takes” pursuit of “a vision of transcendent service to stakeholders.”[iii]

Third, the positive relationship between spiritual leadership and organizational commitment and performance is fully mediated by calling and membership.  Leaders who tap into their followers needs of calling and membership find that shared experience helps the emergence of trust, intrinsic motivation, and organizational commitment needed to enhance the team’s performance.  Researchers explain the dynamic at play in shared experience as:

“Concerning spiritual leadership, over time these individuals would begin to form shared or compatible mental models of altruistic love, vision, and hope/faith of the group, thereby increasing the group’s sense of calling and membership, and ultimately influence each other toward increasingly greater levels of commitment and performance.”[iv]

Spiritual leadership is a game changer

Clearly the exercise of spiritual leadership is a game changer. So what is spiritual leadership? It is an expression of vision, altruistic love, and faith/hope that characterizes the leader’s approach to exercising influence and power.  Spiritual leadership is a composite variable in organizational performance. It cannot be adequately deconstructed to create a reflective construct but does serve as a formative construct i.e., causal action flows from indicators to create a composite variable.  The formative indicators of spiritual leadership include:

  1. Vision – a picture of the future based on implicit or explicit commentary describing why people should work to create that future.
  2. Altruistic love – “…a sense of wholeness, harmony, and well being produced through care, concern and appreciation for both self and others.” (262)
  3. Hope/faith – hope is a want with the certainty of fulfillment; faith adds certainty to hope. People with hope and faith have clarity in where they are going and how to get there and are willing to endure hardship or setbacks along the way without losing the conviction behind their goal.

Taking care to help leaders in their spiritual formation is action designed to help them develop a clear vision, love for others, and hope/faith.  The methods of spiritual formation vary but always need a mentor who helps the emerging or existing leader frame their insight and communicate their vision and hope clearly.  Spirituality is that transcendent aspect of humanness that seeks out a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It may take on a variety of forms or expressions. Spirituality is distinct from religion. Religion is concerned with theological system of beliefs and rituals and related formalized practices and ideas. This distinction is important to keep up not only to avoid the violation of human resource law but to cut misunderstanding that wrongly equates spirituality and religion in a way that then disassociate its importance to the business goal.

In contrast to the idea of spiritual leadership, some leaders assume that the only needed tool of effective leadership is a dispassionate commitment to “the numbers”. The value of analytics is not in dispute.  What is in dispute is the assumption that analytics alone are enough to lead the sustained performance of any group. Research simply does not support the belief that a manager can be effective and stay dispassionately disengaged from the people they manage while hiding behind “the numbers.” Nor does research support the idea that the idea of meaning/purpose is secondary to the real business of making money or completing tasks. Meaning/purpose are primary factors to high employee motivation, sense of calling, and feeling of membership with the group.


How do you make room for the development of your own spiritual leadership?  How clear are you about your own sense of purpose or the meaning of life and work?  Do your vision, love, and hope/faith rise to the level of responsibility you now hold or did your spiritual formation arrest under the press to acquire the skill needed to master the technical aspects of your current role?  If spiritual formation has not been a conscious exercise in your professional development you may just have found the reason your team’s performance continues to lag behind the competition and your organization’s expectations.  Need help in kick starting your spiritual formation?  Then it is time to talk with a coach who gets it.

Afterward: The relationship of spiritual leadership and servant leadership

According to Fry et al, spiritual leadership addresses four key areas that research in servant leadership has not yet examined: (1) the specific cultural values that are necessary for servant leadership; (2) the role of servant leadership in achieving value congruence across organizational levels; (3) the personal outcomes of servant leadership; and (4) the apparent contradiction of placing the needs of people higher than the needs of the organization.  It must be noted on this last point that Fry observes a popular perception not a data supported by experience in servant leadership.  Servant leadership works at the level of motivation with organizational views in mind and indications are that organizational outcomes are enhanced by this perception as Fry et al also acknowledge in their definition of professionals above. What may be a more accurate statement is that a spiritual leadership perspective is the antecedent of the exercise of servant leadership.


[i] Louis W Fry, Sean T. Hannah, Michael Noel and Fred O. Walumbwa. “Impact of Spiritual Leadership on Unit Performance,” The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 22, Issue 2, April 2011, 259-270. 11 pages.

[ii] Fry et al 263

[iii] Ibid. 263

[iv] Ibid. 261

Leadership Development - A New Horizon: Preparing Servant Leaders for Sustained Organizational Success

Drive Strategic Value A report by Bersin in October 2008 reinforced that it is more important than ever for organizations to invest in leadership.   Why? Because the investment is strategic:

…not all training drives the same level of strategic value. What companies need most vigorously today is …talent-driven learning programs, particularly leadership development.[i]

The competitive environment of today’s global venues provides a strong reason to develop leaders. The speed at which competitors rise requires an agility that can only be accomplished by exercising a range of leadership skills across organizational functions.

In addition to the competitive landscape organizations today stand at an unprecedented generational crossroad.  The retirement of Baby-Boomers and entry of Millennials into the workplace presents organizations with a trillion-dollar question mark according to the Seattle Times.[ii] Many Boomers expect to continue working well into the traditional retirement years – a fact that provides a false sense of security for some organizations who feel they can put off developing new leaders.  The sheer number of Baby Boomers that will leave the workplace places many organizations in jeopardy of losing key leaders at a time they need them most.

So how ready are organizations to make a leadership transition? Only 36 percent of companies surveyed in 2008 felt prepared to immediately fill leadership positions – See Figure 1.

Leadership Development

Three challenges standout: (1) the need to define leadership clearly and strategically; (2) the need to find qualified candidates to fill current and future leadership roles; and (3) the need for a comprehensive leadership program to cultivate and develop the leaders of tomorrow.

Leadership and the Competitive Environment – A Changing Terrain

Developing leaders the leaders of tomorrow is not a simple extension of the styles and values of yesterday’s leader.  Programs entrenched in yesterday’s ideas of leadership will be left behind in the competitive dust of lost opportunity. Why?

Universally, it seemed that people had grown frustrated by a world dominated by codes of what they saw as traditionally masculine thinking and behavior: codes of control, competition, aggression, and black-and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal.[iii]

The change identified by Gerzema and D’Antonio’s research quoted above cannot be ignored. A global shift is happening in how leadership is defined.  Leadership in tomorrow’s world must be able to break gridlock through reason and not ideology or sheer aggression. The leaders of tomorrow must be intuitive as well as empirical, think long-term as well as short-term, and bring about sustainable solutions and not posturing for expediency. Another way to describe this kind of leadership is servant leadership.

Servant leadership is interconnected and interdependent perspective on the act of leading. It works from a win/win not a zero sum game. Servant leadership is decisive and resilient and is so out of an orientation that is neither controlling nor stubborn.  Instead servant leadership operates from a clear value base that informs a leader’s decisions, reactions, plans, and ethics.

A servant leadership approach appeals to the intrinsic motivations if people to carry out organizational goals.  Does it work?  According to Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company it does. When Mulally took the helm in 2006, Ford was losing billions of dollars and was on the brink of bankruptcy. Since Mulally stepped in, Ford has posted a profit every year since 2009.  When asked about his leadership style, Mulally responded,

At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve—at whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit…. Starting from that foundation, it is important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward—is so important, because that is what you are here for—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone’s contribution is respected, so everyone should participate….A big part of leadership is being authentic to who you are, thinking about what you really believe in and behaving accordingly. At Ford, we have a card with our business plan on one side and the behaviors we expect listed on the other. It is the result of 43 years of doing this.[iv]

Leadership is changing – the world is changing.  What does a leadership development plan look like that aims at developing servant leaders?

Seven Design Components of Effective Leadership Development Programs

One: Determine the Leadership Culture and Life Cycle Position of Your Organization

What is the leadership culture of your organization?  The concept of culture is wildly popular if not always understood. The significance of starting with a view to what makes up the way your organization actually works is that all leadership action is done in a context and must be appropriate to that context. To initiate a leadership development plan without understanding the culture of the organization is like insisting that the operational norms of a McDonald’s drive through should be the basis for developing leaders at Ruth Chris’ Steak House.

Organizational culture can be defined as:

…a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.[v]

Identify your organization’s culture. What are the implicit rules of operation, relationship to power, the nature of vendor relationships, the rules for relating to stakeholders, and the rules to promoting up,  etcetera? Will your organization’s culture support servant leadership?

Define your organization’s life cycle place. Organizational needs and focus shifts depending on the life cycle age of the organization.  Younger organizations tend to be creative, aggressive, sales focused, et cetera.  Prime organizations are disciplined, opportunity drivers, attentive to policies designed to maximize resources, et cetera.  Aging and stuck organizations tend to be autocratic, highly formal, and characterized by a lost sense of mission other than profit.  The skills and traits required of leaders in each life cycle stage are different. So, not only is it important to know where the organization is at today in its life cycle but also where it expects to be in tomorrow.

Evaluate the gaps between your current organization culture and a culture of servant leadership.  Gaps show a shift is needed in how leaders are developed and socialized into your organization. What does a servant leadership culture look like?  Here is an insight from Greenleaf:

…today is the urgent need, around the world, for leadership by strong ethical persons – those who by nature are disposed to be servants (in the sense of helping others to become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely themselves to be servants) and who therefore can help others to move in constructive directions.  Servant –leaders are healers in the sense of making whole by helping others to a larger and nobler vision and purpose than they would be likely to attain for themselves.[vi]

If you find gaps be honest about them. Look, no organization is perfect – but everyone wants to work for an organization that is improving the way it sees itself.  Pull your people into the process and help them own the changes that will make your organization world-class in its culture as well as its performance.

Two: Identify Current and Potential Leaders within Your Organization

Start by identifying the competencies your organization needs.  When developing leaders look at the whole picture. Use dynamic management as well as leadership skills.

Identify the competencies that are needed in both poles of leadership (i.e., management and leadership). Leadership Praxis measures these competencies using a statistically reliable and validated 360 leadership assessment.  These include:

  • Spirituality: the ability to define a sense of ultimate (or immaterial) reality. Spirituality enables yourself and others to discover the essence of being, their deepest values, and meaning by which they make decisions.
  • Vision Casting: the ability to define a preferred future, communicate it to others in a way that inspires commitment, confidence, conviction and contribution in others.
  • Ensure Long-term Results: the ability to think strategically by integrating industry knowledge with organizational knowledge and knowledge of your customers.
  • Build Strong Teams: the ability to help the members of your work translate strategic goals and initiatives into specific responsibilities and priorities.
  • Managing Outcomes: the ability to set up measurable outcomes and create systems for monitoring progress toward them that includes ethical evaluation and specific activities.
  • Developing Others: capacity for building the strength and continuity of the organization by recognizing individual potential and acting to developing them through training, coaching, and performance evaluation.
  • Delegate: readiness to explain expectations, give appropriate resources, and assist with regular and unscheduled coaching.
  • Decision Making: ability to stay strategic, results oriented, and productive without losing sight of the complexity of issues and the diverse views of others. Capable of making implicit assumptions explicit prior to acting and anticipates potential outcomes to all actions.
  • Courage: the ability to speak out in the face of opposition, acknowledge conflict, and work openly toward strategically aligned solutions.
  • Resilience: ability to solicit and act on constructive feedback, challenge yourself with tough assignments, and demonstrate resilience and courage in the face of setbacks and opposition.

Do the work needed to correlate these competencies to the job skills needed at every level of your organizational leadership structure.  The objective in any leadership development program is not just to find whether these competencies exist and how to introduce them as effective behaviors but to build a capacity for complexity in the exercise of these competencies.

Test your leaders for these competencies via your performance appraisal process and the use of the Leadership Praxis 360 degree leadership assessment. Then assess the goals to development and the length of time it will take for a leader to be ready to assume a position.

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The criterion for assessing potential leaders also includes values. What are the values that show a leader understands the concept of service in behavior?  These values determine how a leader relates to their environment and people and offer the foundation for sustained performance.

  • Conceptualization – the act of looking empirically and symbolically at how things work and an ability to forecast changes in future behavior as a result.  The opposite behavior is vanity metrics i.e., using numbers to make one look good rather than make decisions.
  • Awareness – entering every situation and personal interaction with one’s full attention and emotional intelligence.  The opposite is an appeal to rationalism characterized by unilateral control, minimization of loosing and maximization of winning, and suppression of negative feelings or feedback.
  • Differentiation – the recognition of one’s unique contribution both direct and indirect and a commitment to help others discover and use their unique skills and abilities as well as holding others responsible for their own emotional well-being. The opposite is a victimization posture that yields personal responsibility for wellbeing and performance to forces outside oneself.
  • Stewardship – a commitment to use resources with the recognition of their cost both real and symbolic. The opposite is an arrogance that assumes the source of all available resources is the direct result of one’s own efforts – results in competition, one-upmanship and brinkmanship.
  • Foresight – the commitment to work to understand the lessons of the past to change activity in the present to altering the consequences of the future. The opposite is the failure to learn from experience so that work patterns are simply engaged with greater intensity without regard to outcomes.
  • Healing Community – a commitment to building an organizational culture and work environment where people can be their best selves who are rewarded and not castigated for their creativity and innovation. The opposite is a culture of one-sided task demand that fails to recognize the impact of employee engagement, commitment, and direct and indirect contribution.
  • Persuasion – the realization that power is the least effective means of sustained performance and reliance upon building systems that leverage intrinsic v extrinsic motivations.  The opposite is the use of power to cajole, threaten, and suppress opinions or data sources that do not find its source in the person with power or contradicts the mental models of the powerful.
  • Service – a commitment to the holistic development of others in work. The opposite sees employees as expendable resources to be controlled and discarded when their immediate usefulness is exhausted.

Developing internal talent is an advantage.  Internal talent achieves productivity almost 50 percent faster than external candidates.  This is particularly true for organizations in which the knowledge of internal politics and structures is required to get the job done.

Developing leadership competencies does not occur from a singular source.  A world-class leadership development process takes deliberate advantage of serendipitous as well as formal and informal development methods as is illustrated in Figure 1. [vii]

Leadership Development_Page_3

Start identifying leaders in your recruitment process. Pre-hiring assessments can be used to drop candidates that do not pass a minimum threshold score in the pre-hiring assessment screen that includes assessments, resume review, and reference reviews.  Focus your time on the more promising candidates.  Automated pre-screening can offer up to 42% increase in recruiter efficiency if the right tools are in play.  Use recruiting to build your bench strength of future leaders.

Three: Identify Leadership Gaps

Identifying leadership gaps is a function of individual and organizational readiness. It considers the life-cycle stage of the organization, the competency development of candidates, and the cultural behavior of the organization’s leaders.

  • Determine current and future leadership requirements
  • Compare those requirements with the current leadership team
  • Identify current leaders who may be at risk of leaving
  • Identify succession plans for those at risk of leaving or planning to leave
  • Look at leadership development pipeline
  • Identify gaps in skill and the time required to fill those gaps
  • Identify gaps in values i.e., the degree to which servant leadership values are exhibited in future leader behaviors

Look at the sample gap analysis below. This type of summary is helpful in surveying the potential talent pool.

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If your organization uses a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) to catalogue performance appraisals and development plans/activities this summary takes little time. If your organization has not leveraged a HRIS this information should be on file in your personnel office.

Four: Develop Succession Plans for Critical Roles

Succession planning is not a luxury – it is a necessity even in organizations that simply do not anticipate a change in any of its critical leadership roles. Life is unpredictable and no organization escapes the disruption and employee trauma that occurs when key leaders leave the organization. Succession planning is an insurance program that admits the unpredictability of the future and prepares to thrive in spite of the potential for the unexpected. Succession planning should be a company policy, dealt with openly and deliberately by corporate boards and corporate officers and leaders.

Succession planning should not be limited to executive roles. As part of a leadership program, organizations should test all critical leadership roles.  One survey found that whereas more than 70 percent of large companies have succession plans at the director level, only 41 percent have them at the manager level, and just 11 percent included first-line supervisors.

Enduring great organizations carry out succession planning across all levels of the organization – they are proactive and deliberate at getting the right people.  In contrast the lack of bench strength in other organizations creates significant vulnerabilities in the neglect of mission-critical roles.

Coaching and mentoring has gained in usage as a critical element of succession planning.  The American Management Association (AMA) reported that of the 1,000 business leaders surveyed nearly 60 percent use coaching for high-potential employees. These leaders used primarily outside versus inside coaches because outside coaching brought greater objectivity, fresh perspectives, higher levels of confidentiality, and a broad base of experience in many different organizations.[viii]

Increase efficiency in succession planning by using technology systems to support the succession planning process. The best technology systems provide the ability to:

  • Create back fill strategies that use data captured in the recruiting and performance review processes, coupled with individual career plans
  • Add multiple candidates to a succession short list and view all the best options – with necessarily adding them to the plan
  • Displace multiple talent profiles – from C-level to individual contributors – side by side to quickly identify the best fit
  • Track candidates readiness based on skills, competencies, and performance; promote top candidates based on relative ranking and composite feedback scores

Five: Develop Career Planning Goals for Potential Leaders

Companies that support career planning for their employees gain in retention, engagement, and protection of the leadership pipeline. 61 percent of employed college graduates surveyed by Taleo Research in 2008 said they left their first employer because there was no potential for career advancement or organizational opportunities.  Career planning is not just the responsibility of the person any more if companies want to keep top talent.

If companies do not offer employees with career planning and advancement opportunities, their competitors will. 77 percent of workers ages 36-40 (right in the middle of the pipeline for leadership) last in new jobs less than five years.  This rate of turnover represents a high cost and loss to organizations that fail to offer career planning.

Combining employee development and career planning enables employees to explore potential career paths and to watch and progress through the development activities necessary to meet them. Competencies tied to relevant development activities can be incorporated into the performance review process and thus support succession planning.

This kind of approach to employee development recognizes that people are intrinsically motivated and that this motivation possesses three critical elements: (1) Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; (2) Mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and (3) Purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.[ix] As a result of using leveraging intrinsic motivation, the engagement and commitment levels of employees rises significantly. This makes it far more likely that the organization will retain its investment and capitalize in significant returns through talent retention and performance.

Six: Develop a Skills Roadmap for Future Leaders

A skills road map provides the direction high potential employees need to direct their learning.  Connecting competencies to a skills map and identifying the type of training needed (formal as in academic work, non-formal as in seminars, and informal as in coaching) allows the employee and the company to track progress.

See Table 2 following as a sample skills map.  In one organization the COO mounted this as a poster outside his office and used it to conduct ad hoc coaching and mentoring sessions encouraging key employees to pursue more competencies that potentially positioned them for future open positions.  Notice that this skills map includes all levels of this organization’s leadership.

Seven: Develop Retention Programs for Current and Future Leaders

Monetary and non-monetary rewards can be used to improve retention of any employee.  Recognize excellent performance through tools like: salary increases, bonus plans, promotions, additional paid vacation or sick days, public recognition, acknowledgement through private praise, and stock options.  Retention is critical not only because its cost is high but because top performance dive best business performance.


A well designed leadership development program is the key to identifying, attracting, filling, and retaining world-class organizational leadership. The benefits of an optimized leadership develop program include: a pipeline of leadership talent, talent aligned with corporate goals, improved morale, increased retention, improved leadership skills, and consistent measurement through development and performance management. (To request a PDF copy of this article email

[i] “Driving Performance: Why Leadership Development Matters in Difficult Times.” Source: Accessed; 18 Mar 2014.

[ii] John Gallager. “Retirement of baby boomers may reverberate in the workplace.”  Source: Accessed; 18 Mar 2014

[iii] John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio. The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 7.

[iv] Rik Kirkland. “Leading in the 21st Century: An Interview with Ford’s Alan Mulally,” McKinsey & Company, November 2013.

[v] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership 4th ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 18.

[vi] Robert Greenleaf. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition. (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2002), 240.

[vii] Raymond L. Wheeler. An Inconvenient Power: The Practice of Servant Leadership. (Claremont, CA: Unpublished Manuscript, 2014), 357.

[viii] “Coaching: A Global Study of Successful Practices.” AMA, 2008. Source: Accessed: 19 Mar 2014.

[ix] Daniel H. Pink. Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009), 204.

Leadership and Doing the Unprecedented – Lessons from the Life of Gideon

What is a Leader? compass 1What is the difference between a leader and someone who simply holds a functional place in an organization?  Leaders have a commitment to act in unprecedented ways – sometimes with little empiric evidence of future success.  They have a vision, they understand the cost, yet they see (indeed almost taste) a different future that must change the present. Functionaries are precedent keepers afraid of failure almost as much as they are afraid of rocking the boat or standing out.

As part of my own development and personal renewal I read through the Bible every year. The experiences the Bible records of the intersection between faith and leadership is more than inspirational – I often find it deeply challenging. If the Bible is read with the humanness of its characters in mind (not simply read as a mystical book of inspirational thoughts) then it jumps off the page with a contemporary vibrancy that is astonishing.  Men and women portrayed in the bible face the same challenges of: decision-making, risk mitigation, managing outcomes, building trust, ensuring long-term results, building strong teams, delegating, developing others, courage, and resilience every leader today faces.  I find myself sometimes cheering them on and at others bemoaning their stupidity and the consequences that emerge as a result.

I read through Judges this week. The context of the book is that the third generation since their exodus from Egypt had forgotten the fundamental values and commitments so hard-won in their grandparent’s generation.  The parallels to what occur in family business the third generation from the founder are uncanny. Stalk and Foley note:

In the United States, a familiar aphorism—“Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”—describes the propensity of family owned enterprises to fail by the time the founder’s grandchildren have taken charge. Variations on that phrase appear in other languages, too. The data support the saying. Some 70% of family owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. Just 10% remain active, privately held companies for the third generation to lead. In contrast to publicly owned firms, where the average CEO tenure is six years, many family businesses have the same leaders for 20 or 25 years, and these extended tenures can increase the difficulties of coping with shifts in technology, business models, and consumer behavior.[i]

Israel found themselves under the competitive pressure of a group called the Midianites who had dominated them and were in the process of pillaging their livelihood.  Gideon was no one of particular importance prior to where the narrative picks him up. He was however an apparent cauldron of burning questions.  What unfolds in the narrative presents five principles of leadership emergence that I see played out constantly. The case study of Gideon is worth the time for every organizational leader to review to avoid the trap of precedent. For every future leader the narrative should be mandatory so that they understand what they are getting into.   The five principles listed here are explained below:

  • Principle 1: the emergence of leadership begins by pondering a different future, a different reality. Emerging leaders interrogate the present by asking, “why?”
  • Principle 2: facing the test of their personal fears and sense of inadequacy is the first hurdle in acting on their vision of the future.
  • Principle 3: facing the test of public scrutiny and backlash clarifies the leader’s vision and galvanize their deepest commitments and values.
  • Principle 4: the greatest challenge a leader faces is not failure but success.  It is success that tempts them toward arrogance.
  • Principle 5: leaders who successfully pass the test of arrogance are positioned to create systems that sustain greatness.

Principle 1: the emergence of leadership begins by pondering a different future, a different reality. Emerging leaders interrogate the present by asking, “why?”

Gideon was approached by an angel who greets him with a destiny shaping statement, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12 RSV)  This divine encounter uncorks a flood of pent-up reflection. (I won’t make a defense for the presence of angelic beings here – if you have ever had a divine encounter you need no one to convince you of the possibility or the impact. The fact is that the presence of questions does not need a divine encounter for the principle to apply.)  The observation is that leaders spend time considering the unprecedented which makes those around them nervous.

If you work with a leader you have no doubt learned to (1) be sounding board for their “why” questions and their exploration of alternative futures and (2) manage your own cognitive dissonance and emotion as you help these leaders focus on the next productive action.

If you are a leader like this, understand you are not the only one who generates puzzled looks and nervous laughter from those closest to you. Like other leaders you may have received your share of veiled threats from those serving around you that aim to reign in your “insubordination.”  The most important thing you will wrestle with if you are a leader like this is the realization that what you see as possible not only alters your destiny but the destiny of those around you.  This presents the responsibility inherent in leadership to not “go off half-cocked.” Leadership decisions impact other people’s lives. At the same time you have to ask the questions. These “why” questions are the beginning of innovation.

Principle 2: facing the test of their personal fears and sense of inadequacy is the first hurdle in acting on their vision of the future.

The answer to Gideon’s “why” question was unexpected. “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.  Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14 NASB) The acceptance of personal responsibility is the differentiation between lazy negativity masquerading as insight and true leadership.  Anyone can complain – it takes courage to act. This point really brings up three aspects of effective leadership: (1) legitimization; (2) courage; and (3) authenticity.

If you work around this kind of leader you will see that they work from a vision larger than themselves. Your support and their larger vision is the authentication of their leadership. Gideon received an invitation to put faith to work – or using a colloquialism – to put his money where his mouth was. Leaders who ask the “why” questions discover a deep passion within themselves to act on what they see.   God asked Gideon to put his own faith to work. Wrestling with destiny questions always ultimately forces leaders to make a choice to act or stop asking the questions.

If you are a leader, courage is required. To act Gideon must do the unprecedented and work against the prevailing mental model of his community.[ii]  The idea of leading has the idea of going first. Think about being the first one to try something.  How often have you stepped up to be the first?  Many so-called leaders prefer to have someone else (like a younger sibling) go first.  Then, if all goes well the so-called leaders can step up and claim credit for the success.  It takes courage to go first.

If you hang out with real leaders it doesn’t take long do discover that they are authentic – not super human.  If you are a leader you need people around you who can listen to why you are not the best person to go first. Like Gideon you may not have the experience, or the recognition (pre-established support or track record), or the confidence in your ability to lead.  Some people see this as a contradiction in leadership.  It really is a deeper wrestling with an intuitive awareness of the risks involved in leading.

Principle 3: facing the test of public scrutiny and backlash clarifies the leader’s vision and galvanize their deepest commitments and values.

Gideon’s first act was to topple the community idol and offer sacrifice to God.  Theologically speaking, an idol is any symbolic source of security, provision, protection, or reverence that has usurped the place of God in a person’s life. Idols become symbols and explanations of success. The problem with these symbols of success is that: (1) they are never causative and (2) they empower mental models with an aura of unchallengeable authority. The result is that a defensive reasoning emerges as a means of self-protection. Defensive reasoning is a learned behavior for dealing with difficult situations.  These mental models set up a bifurcation between espoused theories of action and a very different theory-in-use.[iii]  The latter are usually resorted to in times of stress.

Theories-in-use in organizations have four similar values: 1) unilateral control; 2) maximization of winning and minimization of loosing; 3) suppression of negative feelings; and 4) appeals to rationalism.  The stress of introducing change to any system results in defensive reasoning because it alters the political and symbolic frames of the organization or group i.e., it attacks their idols.

If you are a leader don’t avoid conflict.  Conflict pushes the theory-in-use to the front of everyone’s conversation and causes them to test the utility and actuality of their mental models.  If conflict is avoided then the myth of a mental model’s unassailability will continue to keep people from knowing a new reality.  They will remain under the thumb of whatever belief keeps them from moving to an alternative future.

For leaders conflict clarifies their thinking and helps them galvanize their actions. In Gideon’s case an important theological assumption emerges. Notice that in the conflict Gideon does not stand alone, he has a first follower – his dad, Joash. Joash made this statement when the community threatens to kill Gideon for tampering with their idol, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? …If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his alter.” (Judges 6:31 NASB)  What is the important lesson?  God is self-authenticating.  By extension the most important thing a leader gains in conflict is: (1) the emergence of first followers – early adopters; and (2) the awareness that their motivation for acting is self authenticating to those who do step in as first followers.  The synergy that formed between Gideon and his first followers became contagious as it does of any leader in this situation.

Principle 4: the greatest challenge a leader faces is not failure but success.  It is success that tempts them toward arrogance.

The potential for failure at any point in the story of Gideon seems more probable than success.  For leaders who have stepped out and faced the conflict inherent in challenging the mental models of those around them failure is sometimes seen as a preferable exit. Why do I say this?  I have seen leaders in the middle of success and conflicts orchestrate their own failure to escape the pressures of leading. Success in leadership is the greater challenge. Success can lead to arrogance and hubris that ultimately undoes a leader who believes they can do anything they want and still experience success.

Gideon recruited a significant army as a result of the synergy developed in conflict. However, God asks him to cut the numbers of volunteers so that a victory would not be misunderstood to be the result of purely human effort but the intervention of the same God Gideon questioned at the beginning of the narrative. It is interesting to me that every great leader “…apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck)” according to Collins’ research.[iv] Whether or not you belief in God’s intervention great leaders understand that it is not their efforts that ultimately lead to or sustain significant discovery or sustained success. It is luck or divine intervention.

This is why the development of character in leadership is imperative if success is to be sustained over a life time and leaders are to grow in their capacity to lead.  Peter said, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and area increasing, the render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8 NASB) Leadership character is appropriately defined by Peter’s admonition to develop these virtues.

Principle 5: leaders who successfully pass the test of arrogance are positioned to create systems that sustain greatness.

Unfortunately sustained greatness was not the case with Gideon. He was tested by the request of the people to be their king and he initially rejected that offer pointing them to God as king. However, in rejecting the offer he determined to commemorate his victory with a gold-embroidered garment often used as a symbol of priestly authority by ancient Israel. The commemorative garment became an idol. Gideon had a chance to significantly alter the political and social values, symbols, and commitments of the country but it seems that he preferred to return to a quiet life away from the challenge of leadership.  His meager attempt at commemoration rather than transformation set up ultimate failure. Leaders today face the same temptation.


What is your leadership context? Have you been irritated with nagging “why” questions?  Are you honest about your questions? Will you accept responsibility to make a difference in what you see or do you find it easier to simply join the chorus of cynicism and negativity that exists somewhere in every organization?  Are you authentic in your self assessment? If you are willing to make a difference do you see that conflict is unavoidable?  How will you process these questions and ultimately how will you finish well in life?  The lessons of Gideon are still lively and troubling.

[i] George Stalk and Henry Foley. “Avoid the Traps That Can Destroy Family Businesses” Harvard Business Review. January – February 2012. Source: Accessed 20 Mar 2014.

[ii] Mental models: Beliefs, ideas, images, and verbal descriptions that we consciously or unconsciously form from our experiences and which (when formed) guide our thoughts and actions within narrow channels. Source: Accessed 20 March 2014.

[iii] Chris Argyris. “Good Communication that Blocks Learning” in Harvard Business Review. July August 1994, 77-85.

[iv] Jim Collins. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other Don’t (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001), 35.

Stop Facilitating Toxic Leadership Behavior!

bad boss“We love to play our staff against one another.” I turned to look at my friend who had just uttered this aside in a discussion about coaching. “I want to come back to that statement,” I said.  And as soon as the meeting was over I pulled my friend aside and asked him what he meant.

“Our pastor loves to play the staff against one another, he thinks this heightens creativity and innovation,” he responded.  However, my friend’s expression and tone, now turning dark and hushed, did not look like creativity or innovation to me.

“So,” he continued, “the staff knows this and they talk together before they complete any assignment because they have all learned to play the game.”

I wanted to ask a question but it was late and everyone dispersed from the meeting quickly. As I drove home I pondered this. It is not the first time I have met this kind of thinking – in fact playing employees or staff against one another is celebrated by many of the CEOs and owners I know who read the biography of Steve Jobs as though it were a text-book on how to create an effective money-making machine.  The behavior does not work in business, it only adds cost as employees devise ways to stonewall unreasonable demands and backtrack over the relational wreckage created the wake of bad leadership behavior.

The behavior does not work in the church either. It is the opposite of the vulnerable, transparent, and healing behaviors Jesus led his disciples toward.  How is it that we (people who are the church) don’t make the connection between our behavior and the toxic behavior of bad leaders. We lament scandal and corruption and wonder what happen.

Stop! You and I bear accountability in the failure and misdeeds of bad leaders. Accountability is built into the nature of Christ’s church. Yet, board members and other organizational influencers continue to think that they are protecting the reputation of the church by hiding its dirty laundry.  The church is like the king and his new clothes. Do you know that story? The tailors of the kingdom decide that their monarch’s arrogance has become so destructive to the kingdom that they play to his arrogance at the anniversary of his coronation. They present him with fabric so exquisite that only the wisest most astute men can see its beauty.  The king can’t admit he sees nothing in their hands and so he agrees to let them tailor festive robes for the coronation celebration. According to the story, the king parades through most of his kingdom to the snickers of his subjects before he realizes that he is in fact walking naked. The tailors in the story of the King and his new clothes model what it means to respect, honor, and esteem a leader without falling prey to celebrity worship.

Covering over dirty laundry only makes a bigger stench. How does a world in need of change find a road map to change if the church fails to model what it means to confess, repent, and be transformed in the midst of its own humanity? We are hypocrites!

Authenticity takes courage. I know, I have seen how bad leaders use their power to punish those who disagree – and I have seen others sit silently by to watch one of their own be belittled and marginalized or ousted by a leader in the midst of an adolescent rage.

Leaders ultimately have no more power than the power granted them.  There is nothing inherent about a leader’s power!

The question I wanted to ask my friends was simple, “do you love your pastor?”

Why love?  It is love that finds the courage to approach and question behavior. It is love that endures rage while pointing to the rage as an example of bad behavior. It is love that refuses to be put off by denial and persist in raising questions. It is love that respects another enough to walk with them through periods of vulnerability and change. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not hide from the truth but allows the truth to challenge and transform.

I will encourage my friends to talk with their pastor in love and respect to ask him if he understands the impact of his behavior. If he listens I will encourage them to work together to change the way they all behave. If he does not listen I will encourage my friends to go to the board of their mega-church to ask them engage the pastor’s poor behavior. I will encourage my friends to do this with the intent of growing together as a team of people who powerfully and tangibly illustrate what it means to know Jesus Christ and grow as healthy people. Enough with the spin and damage control – it isn’t working it is just getting stinky!

Stop facilitating toxic behavior.  Let’s develop healthy and healing organizations that show what it means to follow Christ.

Developing Servant Leaders - by Chance and On Purpose

Leaders developingDavid Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard was once asked about his theory of leadership. He sat silent for moment then answered, “Bill Hewlett and I just always did the things we loved to do, and we were so happy that people wanted to join us.”[1] Hewlett and Packard not only set out to do what they loved to do they set out the change the way technology worked…and as a result how the world experienced things. I start with the story of Hewlett and Packard for three reasons. First, David Packard did not give an outline of his developmental process or theory of leadership.  He started with his passion.  This is where all effective servant leaders start and why understanding the differentiated self is so important.  All good servant leaders have an idea about how to develop others. At first they develop leaders by chance. As time progresses however, the best ideas ultimately become explicit processes that are tested and improved over time.

Second, the company called Hewlett-Packard started with a team, Bill Hewlett and David Packard did not start out alone.  Entrepreneurs who go it alone fail. Hiring committees look for a professional catalyst that will either make sure the survival of existing programs or turn languishing programs into fabulously flourishing hallmarks of greatness. Find someone you want to work with to change the world or to make a difference in a specific context! Loneliness is a real challenge in leadership in any venue, so friendships are valuable and necessary but they need vulnerability. No one can effectively lead without being vulnerable – they can dictate or be a tyrant or a laze faire manager, but they can’t lead. Leading well often means that others who have you on a pedestal will be disappointment when you fail to live up to their expectations. Embrace that fact and show people how to live authentically. Friendships are built over time and tested by behavior.

Third, the recruiting strategy initially used by Hewlett and Packard is telling. People who also wanted to change the world joined them in the work. Finding people who want to join the mission is only as difficult as actually doing the mission. People are drawn to activity that does what it claims to do. Collins identifies this dynamic in the flywheel concept he described in four phases: (a) leaders act according to their strategic plan; (b) they produce results; (c) people line up behind results; and (d) momentum is generated.[2] When I first saw the flywheel concept I realized the many leaders attempt to push the flywheel backwards in that they declare what they want to do and insist on momentum (that everyone offer praise and support of the idea) without demonstrating that their big idea or latest craze actually works.

If these three points are a foundation to development then how does developing leaders or talent work?  Development is a process in which servant leaders help emerging servant leaders: (1) to bring latent talent to fruition; (2) to mature their ability to carry increasing responsibility successfully; (3) to face and understand the consequences of their own behavior on others; and (4) to experience and reproduce the power of developing others.  Maturity is important because it is “…the capacity to withstand ego-destroying experiences and not lose one’s perspective in the ego-building experiences.”[3]  Leaders must experience ego (self) building so that they also have the capacity to withstand the complexities and challenges of leading.

There are two challenges in developing leaders.  The first is how to master the discipline of servant leadership in one’s own values, behavior, and perspectives.  The second is how to reproduce servant leadership values, behaviors, and perspectives in others.

The dynamics of leadership development occur in the daily interaction between leaders and their followers, the results they produce, the context in which they serve, the accountability they have within that context, the mentors they have inside and outside the context and the time the leader spends reflecting on what they are learning. The servant leader facilitating the development of others works to make sure that interaction, accountability, feedback, results, and reflection become learning that changes the leader’s mental models and behaviors.

I illustrate the interrelated dynamics of how leaders develop in Figure 1. I designed the figure to offer a snapshot that allows a leader to see development opportunities that may be missed and to also realize that development occurs serendipitously as well as intentionally in daily life.

The figure visualizes the various dynamics that help shape how a leader thinks and how they act. The arrows indicate feedback loops that alert the leader to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of their actions. Feedback alerts a leader to the need for altering behaviors or actions, increasing resources or reflection that challenges the leader’s prevailing mental model about how to define reality and causation.  If the leader’s mental model is left unchallenged then incomplete correlations between causation and outcome lead to frustration and increased activity that has little bearing on effecting altering outcomes.

Figure 1: Dynamics of Leadership Development

Leadership Development

Each group of feedback has a triad of primary spheres of influence on the developing leader. For example, the context creates a triad of influence that includes the leader and his or her direct supervisor. As the leader and his or her direct supervisor grapple with circumstances, challenges and opportunities that arise in their daily routines they are reinforcing assumptions and behaviors about how to lead. If their relationship includes a healthy reflective practice that encourages them to think about cause and effect then they have the opportunity to find what assumptions and behaviors are effective or ineffective and why.

When building your organization's leadership development pipeline keep the reality of intentional and serendipitous development opportunities in mind. Recognize the various influences that contribute to or derail an individual’s development as illustrated in Figure 1. Use the figure as a diagnostic to find weakness or fatal flaws in your organization’s development processes. Organizations that succeed in developing leaders and talent are typically organizations that are fun to work for and capable of sustained excellence, profitability and purpose.

[1] Peter M. Senge. “Afterward” in Servant Leadership: a Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2002), 356.

[2] Jim Collins. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001), 175.

[3] Robert K. Greenleaf. The Power of Servant Leadership, Larry Spears, ed. (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1998), 63.

7 Syndromes that Undermine Servant Leadership

stethoscopeI don't know any pastoral leaders who explicitly argue against the idea of servant leadership. It is after all the basis of legitimate leadership as described by Jesus. However, I do know leaders who are implicitly stuck in behavior that contradicts servant leadership in their organizations. If the behaviors that constrict or stifle expressions of servant leadership are made explicit they become much easier to overcome. Once we understand the implicit resistance the work needed to fix a trajectory of servant leadership in the organization is easier. I have identified seven syndromes evident in leaders who lose their way under the pressure of getting things done or keeping up with the growing demands inherent in effective in ministry.[1] Not only does keeping up have to do with the capacity of the leader to internally manage a growing complexity of challenges it also has to do with adjusting the organization's capacity to meet challenges and opportunity without losing the servant leader culture that caused it to grow in the first place.

Organizations must exercise flexibility to expand capacity, keep the correct controls so that its work remains focused, and engage the giftedness of the people who make up the organization. This means organizations must create mechanisms consistent with servant leadership to mobilize the spiritual gifts and abilities of new leaders constantly to meet their future opportunities with focus and discipline.

Without a means of fixing the trajectory of servant leadership in the organizational culture organizations face the challenge of supplanting their mission with structures. Seven common symptoms indicate that clarity in mission has broken down.

The vending machine syndrome – occurs when leaders create processes to avoid relationship as a way to coping with failed energy management. This syndrome robs vital personal relationships from both the leaders and the followers. When leaders fail to manage their energy and overextend themselves because they are not developing others they turn to processes and policies as a way to hide. One of the first questions I ask an organization when I consult with them is, are you policies bridges to your mission or barriers to personal interaction because you do not know how to discipline people or effectively control the mission? Hirsch describes the problem this way,

As we shall see, structures are absolutely necessary for cooperative human action as well as for maintaining some form of coherent social patterns.  However, it seems that over time the increasingly impersonal structures of the institution assume roles, responsibilities, and authority that legitimately belong to the whole people of God in their local and grassroots expressions.  It is at this point that things go awry.[2]

The manikin syndrome – occurs when leaders spend time rearranging and dressing up forms and structures that give nothing to the mission of the organization but give the impression of great activity.  Some leaders remind me of the retail workers I watched one morning racing about a department store moving and redressing manikins before their customers arrived.  The point can’t be the manikins! One of the signs of a loss of purpose is sometimes an increase in activity that seeks legitimacy by virtue of the amount of stuff the leader is doing. Jesus consistently pulled away from the crowds and the hubbub of popularity to reconnect with God and refocus his work so that the activity he did engage was fruitful to his mission.  Organizational leaders must do the same or end up with what Hendricks describes,

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with institutions.  But how easily they become the enemy of spiritual life!  In some cases we even have ecclesiastical structures with no spiritual life.[3]

Wrong script syndrome – is a condition that occurs when leaders adopt the latest church growth or discipleship craze without doing their own critical thinking about mission. Running from seminar to seminar to find the secret to success brings great success – to seminar presenters. We all tend to look for shortcuts but the danger to not doing the hard work of differentiating one’s own identity and calling is that we adopt a script and live like an actor in a play.  After a while the play becomes meaningless and a sense of aimlessness takes root – it is as though the leader is acting off the wrong script.  I have watched pastors, spouses, and congregational members wake up one morning and simply walk away from their families and friends because they have forgotten how to get access to their own identity and their own convictions and their own sense of purpose.  The same thing happens in entire organizations. Hirsch and Ford describe the results this way,

It is one of my deepest held beliefs that all of Jesus’ people contain the potential for world transformation in them.  Our problem is not that we don’t have the potential, but rather that we have forgotten how to access these potentials because we have been so deeply scripted to think of ourselves through more domesticated, non-missional manifestations of Christianity.[4]

Tunnel vision syndrome – occurs then leaders reacting to abuse or toxicity elsewhere decide to create a healthy environment but fail to see the lessons of history or the healthy diversity around them. They become the only healthy organization in their minds and cut themselves off from advice and wider connections that challenge the smugness that precedes their own fall. I had arranged for a series of interviews with pastors in the Portland area for a research project I was working on. One of them was an acquaintance I knew from a distance when I worked for our denominational mission department. After I left the department I worked in several denominations. As we sat down for the interview he said, “Ray, before we begin may I ask, do you have a covering?”  For those unfamiliar with this code language he meant to ask whether I had a system of accountability to which I was answerable. Then as now I am a part of a local congregation in which I have ongoing personal relationships, I keep up a group of personal advisors with whom I exercise vulnerable transparency and I have several layers of professional accountability determined by various certifications.

“Thanks for asking Reese,” I replied, “I do.”

“But,” he said with genuine concern, “guys like us born into this movement need to stay connected because we have a unique history.”   His suggestion was interesting.

“Do you mean to imply that accountability is only valid if it occurs within the purview of the movement you are a part of?” I queried.

“You have a history here,” he continued, “you need to be faithful to the family you were raised in, we need men like you.”

“Ah,” I said, “I see.  First, thank you for validating my contribution to the church. Second, you do know that I was not raised in the movement, I did not graduate from the movement’s college and I have no genetic family in the movement. I was raised Lutheran, baptized as an infant and I sometimes drink Luther’s favorite beverage when I study the scriptures.”  The wide-eyed expression surrounding his gaping mouth alerted me to the fact that he was unaware that I was one of “them” – those strangers somehow let into the organization and given credentials whose very existence threatened the “purity” (his earlier description not mine) of the denomination’s doctrine. I took the moment to transition to the interview I wanted to conduct.

All the servant leaders I have been around have a working grasp on church history and wide connections in the global church that help them avoid the pitfall of parochialism.  If we do not grasp our wider connection to history and the body of Christ outside our immediate tradition we will fail to develop true community at a local level.  Frazee describes the challenge this way,

“One peculiar thing about early Christianity was the way in which the intimate, close-knit life of the local groups was seen to be simultaneously part of a much larger, indeed ultimately worldwide, movement or entity.”…The principle of sharing a common purpose is not new; it is an ancient principle that must be rediscovered.  Its presence is simply not optional if you want true community.[5]

The disequilibrium paradox – occurs when leader’s actions resist the change they acknowledge they need to engage. Any time a group faces challenges that their current coping mechanisms are inadequate to address they face disequilibrium that causes them to lose confidence. Disequilibrium is manifest in anxiety, anger, panic and a rush to deny new realities in favor of turning the clock back to the way it was before. Change of any kind predicts the disequilibrium paradox. Jesus knew it well and modeled how to walk people past its gravitational pull to a new way of seeing. Jesus used a variety of communication methods to leverage learning including: narrative, interrogative, corrective, didactic and non-verbal. Leaders who want to move people past disequilibrium are wise to develop the same kind of diversity in communication and to exercise confident patience. Ford verifies the existence of this paradox and Regele and Schultz outline the needed response,

It’s not that churches deny the need to change – to move out into a transforming journey.  Church members frequently invoke the need for transformation when they hire new pastors or ministry leaders. But these same leaders face a paradox: The churches resist the very change they claim to need.[6]

What are the options? Simply, we can die because of our hidebound resistance to change, or we can die in order to live. As an institution, the American church must choose between these two.[7]

The Theory X syndrome – occurs when leaders view their followers as possessing an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if they can. Such leaders complain that people need to be coerced, controlled, directed, and threatened with punishment to motivate them toward any adequate effort to achievement organizational objectives.[8] MacGreggor framed Theory X and made clear that he did not equate autocratic decisions with theory X, sometimes autocratic decisions carry a prophetic significance or are needed to bypass danger or give a call to action in the face of unseen hazard. Servant leadership works with the intrinsic motivations of people. The inadequacy of the Theory X syndrome is described by Easum this way,

Tightly controlled organizations and institutions will not do well in the Quantum Age.  The top-down oppressive approach of bureaucracy is on its way out.  In its place are emerging permission-giving networks. These networks are freeing and empowering people to explore their spiritual gifts individually and in teams on behalf of the Body of Christ.[9]

The Peter Principle syndrome – occurs when leaders realize that the growth of their organization has outstripped their capability to lead it. The danger of this syndrome is that it limits the leader's visible options to either resignation of fruitlessness or escapism. In many ways leaving or escaping is easier than learning and engaging the potential of expanding leadership capacity. The Peter Principle syndrome is only a problem when leaders either decide not to learn or cannot see the mentors around them they need to engage learning. The fact is every leader faces this syndrome more than once in their ministry. Corderio described his own encounter with the Peter Principle syndrome this way,

The church outgrew me in its first month. If it weren’t for the outstanding servant whom God brought to serve there, I am sure I would be locked away in a mental ward of a state institution by now.[10]

What do these seven syndromes have in common?  They all share the potential of derailing the organization’s mission by implementing a structure (implicitly or explicitly) that constricts or even contradicts the mission. Servant leadership recognizes the tension inherent in change and works to build and support an organizational culture and structure that engages its noble mission and purpose.  This was the call of Greenleaf as he saw the need in the corporate world,

…today is the urgent need, around the world, for leadership by strong ethical persons – those who by nature are disposed to be servants (in the sense of helping others to become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely themselves to be servants) and who therefore can help others to move in constructive directions.  Servant –leaders are healers in the sense of making whole by helping others to a larger and nobler vision and purpose than they would be likely to attain for themselves.[11]

When you look at your leadership or your organization what do you see? If these syndromes are chronic then it is time to reconsider the values from which the organization implicitly works and how to move toward a deliberate approach to servant leadership and clarity in mission and purpose.

[1] Leaders also lose their way when they have not differentiated their own identity from that of their profession. The failure to be a differentiated person leads to an abuse of organizational design because the organization becomes an extension of the leader’s sense of identity and the people connected to the organization are then effectively recruited to make sure the leader’s ego is continuously stroked. These leaders are overwhelmed trying to define their purpose and collapse under requests that they help the organization define its purpose because it is really all about them.  Consider for a moment the toxicity that results when the organization becomes the body of the leader and not an expression of the body of Christ.

[2] Alan Hirsch. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 23.

[3] William D. Hendricks. Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why Some People are Leaving the Church (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1993), 274.

[4] Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford. Right Here Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 30.

[5] Randy Frazee. The Connecting Church: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2001), 56-7.

[6] Kevin G. Ford. Transforming Church: Bringing ou the Good to Get to Great (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 3.

[7] Mike Regele with Mark Schulz. The Death of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1995), 19.

[8] MacGregor, 45-47.

[9] William M. Easum. Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers: Ministry Anytime Anywhere by Anyone (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 29.

[10] Wayne Cordeiro. Doing Church as a Team (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001), 12.

[11] Robert K. Green leaf. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

Servant Leaders Show Up With Great Effect

Publication1Leaders who understand the power of servant leadership share an important characteristic - they “show up” in every relationship and are able to adjust to the needs of the person in front of them. By “showing up” I mean that the servant leader is attentive to other people’s motivations and needs.  Servant leadership is an approach to leading that is identifiable in the belief that others want to bring their best selves and their best contribution to work. As a result servant leaders engage and develop the knowledge and energy of all employees.  Simultaneously servant leaders expect and encourages the best contribution of others. Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael illustrates what it means to "show up" in a relationship and provides a great insight into how servant leadership works.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets spoke, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”[1]

Jesus recognized that Nathanael was a man intent on knowing and deciphering truth – this is the meaning of saying Nathanael was without fraud or deceit. Jesus’ assessment amazed Nathanael for the insight into Nathanael’s character and for the verdict of guileless inquiry. Nathanael was a skeptic. Jesus did not shy away from addressing skepticism head on. Nathanael’s skepticism is rooted in his awareness that Nazareth (Jesus' home town) did not play into the prophetic narrative of Jewish Scriptures regarding the Messiah.  The skepticism of today’s workforce is often rooted in their experience with leaders who are uncaring, inconsistent and concerned only for their own prestige and survival.

In contrast to Jesus, some leaders fail to “show up” in any relationship because they are distracted by what must be accomplished or recent challenges or new opportunities. Distracted leaders are self-absorbed leaders who would not have recognized the potential in Nathanael much less exhibited the presence or insight to speak directly to Nathanael’s skepticism. Instead distracted leaders often interpret anything other than compliance as insubordination and see skepticism as equal to disapproval.

How a leader is present in every relationship demonstrates the degree to which they believe that it is important to know and address the needs of those in front of them. This is one of the reasons why being with servant leaders is encouraging and inspiring to others.  Servant leaders call out the kind of commitment and behaviors that lead people to be their best. Barclay’s description of Nathanael’s experience is profound,

…Jesus had read the thoughts of his inmost heart.  So Nathanael said to himself: “Here is the man who understands my dreams! Here is the man who knows my prayers! Here is the man who has seen into my most intimate and secret longings which I have never even dared to put into words!  Here is the man who can translate the inarticulate sigh of my soul!”[2]

Who wouldn’t find a leader like this intriguing? This simple, direct, and abbreviated encounter between Jesus and Nathanael illustrates the power of believing in others and knowing what they need to thrive and be their best.  Servant leaders make explicit what is implicit. This kind of insight into others is not out of the reach of servant leaders if they exercise six practices of effective servant leadership.

First, believe that others want to be and give their best. Servant leaders work at knowing others. When a leader pays attention to knowing others through observation, vulnerability and questions significant insights into others emerge.

Second, recognize that people are intrinsically motivated and that this motivation possesses three critical elements: (1) autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; (2) mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and (3) purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.[3] Mastery and purpose are understandable in common usage.  Autonomy requires definition. By autonomy I do not mean independence and a quest for narcissism. Instead I use the word as Pink describes it,

Autonomy… is different from independence. It’s not the rugged, go-it-alone, rely-on-nobody individualism of the American cowboy.  It means acting with choice – which means we can be both autonomous and happily interdependent with others.[4]

Jesus gave invited people to decide to act. A 2004 study of 320 small businesses illustrates the power of choice and autonomy. Researchers found that those businesses offering autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented, top-down management companies and had one-third the turnover.

Third, stay engaged. The recognition of autonomy does not mean that servant leaders must practice a laze faire approach to organizational leadership. Servant leaders stay engaged with their operations and the development of their team. They use the right kind of controls. Controls help shape the culture and effectiveness of an organization.  Not all controls however are helpful.  The difference between helpful and damaging controls is the assumptions behind the controls. Controls that presume trust in others are far different in their impact on participation and contribution than controls that assume people cannot be trusted and need extrinsic motivation to work.[5]

Fourth, avoid a focus on empathy that mollifies the emotional immature.  Mollifying the emotionally immature is regressive and toxic in outcome – it is impossible to relate to another person as a peer when the other person fails to exercise responsibility for their well-being and is by nature all take and no give. Servant leaders recognize the difference between causing pain in others (as is often the case in making difficult decisions) and in causing harm to others. The challenge induced by painful experiences is often the development of a greater capacity for self differentiation.

Fifth, use tools that help you define other’s usual behavioral style is and to play to those strengths. Use the tools that do not insult the complexities of each person. I have found that the Birkman Method is the best in providing leaders with an understanding of the unique perspectives and needs of each individual.  The Birkman Method helps people understand the multi-dimensional aspect of human behavior that starts with recognizing the diversity of observable behavioral characteristics.[6]

Sixth practice vulnerability. That servant leaders expose their vulnerable side to enhance communication and relationship seems counter intuitive particularly in times of interpersonal stress. However, vulnerability is an adaptive tool that owns personal emotions and encourages others to take responsibility for their emotions.  Vulnerability is accepting the uncertainty and risk associated with emotional exposure. What is the benefit to this approach? This approach gives opportunity for love to grow.  "Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”[7]  Love is no stranger to servant leadership. Love has everything to do with engaging work as the real you not the “you” others think you should be.


High capacity servant leaders understand their strengths and needs and have developed the skills needed to approach people differently depending upon the unique strengths and needs of their team.  Servant leaders engage interpersonal relationships authentically with attention to the needs and aspirations of the person. Jesus’ illustrates how to use the skepticism so common in organizations today as a foundation for commitment and contribution by identifying the person’s desire for authenticity and interaction.

Those people who understand the importance of relationships and work to enhance their skill in building strong authentic interpersonal connections set the stage to multiply the effectiveness of their organization and multiply leaders around them. Will you be a servant leader?

[1] John 1:45-48 (NASV)

[2] William Barclay.  The Gospel of John, Volume 1, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1956), 78.

[3] Daniel H. Pink. Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us ( New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009), 204

[4] Pink, 90.

[5] Douglas McGregor. The Human Side of the Enterprise, Annotated  ed., (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006), xii.

[6] Sharon Birkman Fink and Stephanie Capparell. The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 65.

[7] Brené Brown. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (City Center, MN: Hazelden, 2010), .

When Life Happens – It is Still Leadership Development: An Overview of Career Coaching/Mentoring Needs

hard questions 2Life Happens and Not Always with Kindness “I feel lost,” the words belied a crisis.  This is a guy who has charged through is career successfully running over barriers, obstacles and inherited mistakes with fun, gusto and obnoxious jubilation. He is contagious, obvious, loud and a lover of people.

“I don’t know where I am going, my life seems shrouded with a cloud” he continued.  His lament stems from a series of losses he has recently experienced. He is my age (we are approaching our 40th high school reunion). He owns a thriving business he intends to give his sons and has a clear succession plan.  The big loss that anchors his grief and redefinition of himself is a back injury that prohibits him from playing basketball and being as active as he has been. Activity has been central to his ability to stay emotionally centered and to work through stress.  He struggles with some of the decisions his children have made. He struggles with redefining his marriage through the emergence of empty nest. He is surprised that these things have affected him at all.

“Listen,” I responded after a moment of taking in the full weight of his situation, “this may not be of too much comfort but what you describe is a normal process in development for men and women our age.”

We sat in silence for a long moment after that.  Then he finally spoke, “Well Ray, it is comforting.”  The conversation meandered after that as we reflected on the reality of being baby boomers. Baby boomers now face the full brunt of life.  Suicide rates among boomers shot up between 1999 and 2010 with the highest increases among men in their 50s, whose rate went up by nearly 50 percent to 30 per 100,000.  The suicide rate among women in their early 60s rose by nearly 60 percent.[1]  Why?  Barry Jacobs, director of behavioral sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Pennsylvania makes this observation.

“There was an illusion of choice — where people thought they’d be able to re-create themselves again and again,” he said. “These people feel a greater sense of disappointment because their expectations of leading glorious lives didn’t come to fruition.”[2]

Like my friend many boomers face loss and face the prospect of finding a new sense of purpose or falling endlessly into despair.  This is an important leadership issue. The need for experienced leaders to mentor emerging generations is often touted. However, these experienced leaders often feel displaced and under used or under valued. I remember a leadership coach once reminded me to prepare for the fact that I would have to redefine myself six to eight times during my career because of the changing social demographic and rapid technological shift. I thought he had fallen prey to hyperbole when he said this in the mid 1980s.  Now I think he was being conservative.  The need to redefine myself arose not only because technology shifted but also because my expectations about what I would accomplish in life fell short. There are multiple forces at work that force a reassessment of self. Now more than ever leadership development needs an exercise of intimacy like that between my friend and I described above. What does this mean for organizations?

Is Your Organization a Safe Place?

Can an organization be a platform for healthy, deliberate and open development of people?  The question is not derived solely from my theology which presumes and expects an answer in the affirmative.  It derives from experience that often finds organizational leaders lacking attentiveness to personal development.  Keagan’s assessment and synthesis on meaning making and development in human experience captures how people experience organizations;

Some head and definers of organizations would probably agree that their institutions are not particularly well suited to the development of the capacity for genuine intimacy in adulthood.  I image they would also be relatively unperturbed in this self-assessment, feeling that the workplace is not intended to serve such a function.  Possibly they might even feel that intimacy flies in the very face of the smooth exercises of the organization…If the notion that most workplaces are not well suited to the development of genuine intimacy is unperturbing to those who shape them, perhaps the notion that the workplace works against a person’s growth in general might be more so.[3]

I posit that the development of genuine intimacy is the center of organizational interaction and is a prerequisite to manifest personal development of any type.  The absence of intimacy is often at the center of employee complaints and disengagement at every level of the organization.  By intimacy I mean a sense of sharing who I am with another without fear of loosing or devaluing a sense of self. I mean a mutually beneficial discovery of uniqueness and similarity, of shared existence and meaning. My conversations in coaching and research persistently orbit intimacy which has a sense of value, personal recognition and a clear contribution.  These concerns are not framed by people as a demand for organizational role. They are framed from the context of a desire for appreciation and interpersonal interaction that can help make sense out of a sometimes senseless world.

Because of my background in pastoral ministry I am often reminded that a congregation possesses a different kind of organizational charter and characteristic from a business.  I find this assertion is duplicitous and contradictory.  Organizations of any kind are people working and living together. While congregations do have a different organizational charter they do not differ at all from businesses in the fact they involve people.

The reality is that every organization lives in a polarity of being a structure and an organism.  This reality points to a need for rethinking development as a out working of intimacy even more than program or training. Think for a moment about your own professional development and I bet you will think of a mentor with whom you shared many intimate encounters – some uncomfortable as your self view or assumptions were pointedly challenged.  The point is that every organization needs to deliberately develop its sense of being an organism as well as being an organization if it is to consistently thrive. (See Table 1)

Table 1: A Polarity of Expectations for Organizational Interaction

Interaction as an Organism (the personal experience & expectation) Interaction as an Organization (the public entity & expectation)
Mutual Responsible
Spontaneous Structured
Respectful Efficient
Open Defined
Intimate Regulated, safe
Developmental Professional
Spiritual Reliable
Vibrant Disciplined
Forgiving Arbitrating
Loving Differentiating

The polarity of expectations outlined in Table 1 however are not mutually exclusive in themselves they are a complimentary set of characteristics that live symbiotically within a healthy or safe organizational system.  The two sets of characteristics in Table 1 must coexist in order to experience a healthy structure and consistent developmental outcomes.

So how does this impact the discussion leadership development or of helping boomers rethink their role? The way people work in their daily existence already bifurcate the personal and the public and continues exerting a perceptual influence into the experience of the organization as a tension between the spiritual and the practical or the personal and the public or the valuable and the measurable.  A person's public experience in the organization limits behavior deemed more appropriate to the private or the personal. As a result intimacy suffers atrophy in interpersonal interactions.

Further, if we view interaction with organizational life from a developmental perspective, then it may best be described as a consistent renegotiation of the public and private perceptions that roughly equate to the dynamic interaction and renegotiation that occurs in developing people between subject and object.  That is people grow through a continuously more complex understanding of themselves uniquely and their identity relative to their integration with or relationship to others.

This means that how an individual perceives the organization, specifically the relationship between the organization as organism and the organization as structure is a function of the process of their internal negotiation between self and others.  Individual perceptions of the value and meaning of organizational relationships evolve through various stages of understanding that essentially shift from vilifying the organization to reassert the self and then to a reintegration of the self as a member of the organization.

If stage development theories can applied to describe the relationship people have to organizations and how they perceive organizations then such theories may show (1) expected times of rejection or withdrawal from organizational life and (2) the point at which development has stalled and embedded itself in a view of organization and self that is no longer functional for the person.  If the latter is true then the tensions involved may explain the personal trauma and eventual social disengagement that results in isolation and disillusionment of they type described above among boomers like my friend.

Understanding Stage Development Helps Negotiate New Life Experience

Three different perspectives, each of which uses a form of stage development as either an overt explanation of human behavior and development or as an assumed model which influenced perspectives on leadership development within an organizational environment are helpful in thinking about establishing intimacy in organizations.

Erickson’s Psychosocial Development.  Making sense out of unexpected situations, the unknown in human experience, is part of what a stage development model attempts.  By looking at usual human development Erikson identified favorable and unfavorable outcomes to developmental challenges that show the relative success of an individual in adjusting to a new sense of self along the development continuum.  The unfavorable outcomes of Erikson’s Stage Theory of “Physchosocial Crises” illustrate the need for breaking down negative choices in favor of positive ones. [4]  Erikson views the life cycle of development, from cradle to grave, as passing through eight stages.  Each stage brings new social experiences and new crises -- which, if surmounted successfully, lead to constant growth and a steadily enriched personality.  The potential for an unfavorable outcome in any stage illustrates the impact and potential for the person to adopt mis-beliefs as true.  The use of Erikson’s model in the context of developing people in organizations recognizes that concepts defining intimacy, meaning and relevance are often rooted in personal and familial interactions. People interpose these interactions onto the organization and not the other way around.  People define respect, meaning, friendship etc., first by personal experience and not by theological or strategic reflection.  As a result personal reflection is strongly influenced by familial experience both past and present.

A leadership development perspective.  J. Robert Clinton’s work on leadership emergence attempted to offer a theological insight into how a Christian leader develops in light of God’s historical working.  By investigating the growth patterns evident in leaders Clinton posits a series of stages in spiritual development or maturity and identifies processes that show God’s formation activity in the life of the leader.[5]  While Clinton did not have Erikson in mind in the development of his model (he approached his work from a theological and not a psychological foundation) there are parallels in Clinton’s outcomes to the goals inherent in Erikson’s favorable outcomes.  The use of Clinton’s model seeks to define how God’s activity may interact to the familial and social influences an individual brings to organizational participation that at times produces dissonance to personal perspective.  However the dissonance that results from an engagement with God’s actual activity serves to further the individual’s growth as a person hence it may reflect social and workplace developmental dynamics.

A mentoring perspective.  Kathy Kram’s work on mentoring in the work place identifies developmental tasks associated with successive career stages.[6]   These are particularly helpful in identifying the workplace mentoring needed to ensure healthy development.  First, the workplace is the primary culture in which values and identity are often shaped.  Second, activities in social groups is a subset of workplace activity for the majority of people and either benefits or defeats developmental outcomes.  The average person approaches the organization from the context of their social grid learned not the values of the workplace perse.  By social grid I mean the meaning making and interpretive clues that cause help an individual define meaning, significance and relationship.  This heightens the need for rethinking the development of intimacy in organizations as a means of helping individuals engage their real selves in workplace relationships.

The following tables synthesize these three views and suggest directions organizations can take to make sure their talent develops without being derailed by what life throws at them.

Table 2: The Adolescent Engagement

Stage & Crisis Favorable Outcome Unfavorable Outcome Spiritual Goals as Defined by Clinton
Transition Years Surrender where the person or the would-be leader aspires to spend a lifetime that counts for God.
Identity versus confusion Seeing oneself as a unique and integrated person Confusion over who and what one really is Ministry perspective.Flexibility and openness to new ideas.Kindling a sense of destiny and identity that encapsulates a sense of personal value and missionBroadening through exposure to others.Owning and developing personal convictions from the Scriptures.

Guidance, decision-making and input are tested one against the other to find a balance.

Pre Career -- Wheeler Competence: In what ways can my life demonstrate a role competence?  Experimentation with social roles and interpersonal roles that provide foundational experience for defining the basis of personal competence.Identify: What abilities and strengths make me unique, give me a reason to contribute or to participate in groups actively?  What aspirations emerge from these early experiences?Commitment: How does involvement and commitment threaten my sense of identity or advance it?  What does it mean to be involved and committed?  How is involvement and commitment differentiated from enmeshment and being taken for granted or being taken advantage of i.e., a loss of personal value?Advancement: Can I advance?  Can I advance without compromising a sense of self and my important values?Relationships:  Can I establish relationships of reciprocity, respect and trust?

Family Role Definition: Who am I within a family unit?  Is familial identify and social identity mutually exclusive or complimentary?  What defines a satisfying personal life?  What kind of lifestyle do I want to establish?

Self/Family Conflict: Do I have an identity independent of family identity?

Table 3: Early Adulthood

Stage & Crisis Favorable Outcome Unfavorable Outcome Spiritual Goals as Defined by Clinton
Entering Adulthood Discovery that competence (ministry) flows from being and not doing.
Intimacy versus isolation Development of interdependent, accountable friendships that confirm a sense of personal purpose and meaning. Loss of personal confidence and tendency to insulate from meaningful personal friendships. Demonstrate the character of God.Understand the purposes of God.Experience the faithfulness of God.Know the power of God.See the sovereignty of God.

Form Christ-like character.

Early Career -- Kram Competence: Can I be effective in the managerial/professional role?  Can I be effective in the role of spouse and/or parent?Identify: Who am I as a manager/professional?  What are my skills and aspirations?Commitment: How involved and committed to the organization do I want to become?  Or do I want to seriously explore other options?Advancement: Do I want to advance?  Can I advance without compromising important values?Relationships:  How can I establish effective relationships with peers and supervisors?

Family Role Definition: How can I establish a satisfying personal life?  What kind of lifestyle do I want to establish?

Work/Family Conflict: How can I effectively manage work and family commitments?  How can I spend time with my family without jeopardizing my career advancement?

Table 4: Middle Age

Stage & Crisis Favorable Outcome Unfavorable Outcome Spiritual Goals as Defined by Clinton
Generativity versus self-absorption Concern for family and society in general Concern only for self -- one’s own well-being and prosperity Recognize that God’s guidance comes through establishing ministry priorities by discerning one’s gifts.A clear vision for the people of God.Clear reflection of the character of God.Maximization of the growth process and investment in the gifts and abilities of others.Consistent defeat of the strategies of the enemy.

Joy of relationship (with God and with others)

Middle Career -- Kram Competence: How do I compare with my peers, with my subordinates, and with my own standards and expectations?Identify: Who am I now that I am no longer a novice?  What does it mean to be a “senior” adult?Commitment:  Do I still want to invest as heavily in my career as I did in previous years?  What can I commit myself to if the goal of advancement no longer exists?Advancement:  Will I have the opportunity to advance?  How can I feel productive if I am going to advance further?Relationships: How can I work effectively with whom I am in direct competition?  How can I work effectively with subordinates who may surpass me?

Family Role Definition: What is my role in the family now that my children are grown?

Work/Family Conflict: How can I make up for the time away from my family when I was launching my career as a novice?

Table 5: Aging Years

Stage & Crisis Favorable Outcome Unfavorable Outcome Spiritual Goals as Defined by Clinton
Integrity versus despair A sense of integrity and fulfillment; willingness to face death Dissatisfaction with life; despair over the prospect of death Extended influence through reflection on life lessons, acquired skills, insights and relationships.
Late Career -- Kram Competence: Can I be effective in a more consultative and less central role, still having influence as the time to leave the organization gets closer?Identify: What will I leave behind of value that will symbolize my contributions during my career?  Who am I apart from a manager/professional and how will it feel to be without that role?Commitment:  What can I commit myself to outside of my career that will provide meaning and a sense of involvement?  How can I let go of my involvement in my work role after so many years?Advancement: Given that my next move is likely to be out of the organization, how do I feel about my final level of advancement?  Am I satisfied with what I have achieved?Relationships: How can I maintain positive relationships with my boss, peers and subordinates as I get ready to disengage from this setting?  Can I continue to mentor and sponsor as my career ends?  What will happen to significant work relationships when I leave?

Family Role Definition: What will my role in the family be when I am no longer involved in a career?  How will my significant relationships with spouse and/or children change?

Work/Family Conflict: Will family and leisure activities suffice, or will I want to begin a new career?

Conclusion - We Need Leaders Who Exercise Intimacy

Many of the organizations and congregations I work with have yet to accept the significance of building intimate relationships that also leverage what is known about human development. Congregations tend to reject these models as “secular” and unrelated to church growth.  Businesses tend to reject these models as a distraction from efficiency and profit generation.  However, it is time for leaders to reconsider such stands.  Building a safe environment in which intimacy contributes to development is not an option it is an imperative to organizational health, relevance and profit (growth).

Use the models above to help your leaders or team members or colleagues define their experience in the context of a developmental process. This recognition sets the stage for people to exercise the power of personal choice.  The fact is that whether one emerges from crisis healthy or as a victim is not dependent on the circumstance they face but the way they decide to respond to that circumstance. These models help show both the choices available and outcomes that are reasonable to expect.

So what about the friend I talked about above?  Like other leaders he is working through his experience in three different phases.

Retrospection. My friend started here. As we talked I asked questions that helped him define his pathos and the trigger event or crisis.  He had to honestly face his own bitterness and resentment and choose to believe something good might result if he looked and choose for forgive the people who contributed to his angst.  Theologically we talk about being broken i.e., recognizing that we do not exist independently but interdependently. In a theological sense it is this stage that help people find their need for God – which often rises out of the wreckage of their own self-absorption.

Future shift. As we moved together through his choice to see his situation from a new perspective (the developmental stages helped with this) and as he chose to forgive those who had hurt him along the way an internal shift from depression to hope emerged.  He saw a potential for something other than disaster and disappointment. He began making plans on how to exercise the future he now sees as possible. Theology describes this as hope. An encounter with the ability and presence of God offers a different view-point to life and a sense of meaning where meaning was lost.

Decision making.  Finally he decided to act on his new perspectives versus remaining a passive victim. He is not done processing his loss yet however, he is on the right track. We will probably traverse this ground a couple more times before the new course is set. Again theologically we call this repentance i.e., a change of course.

I am confident my friend will emerge from his Mid-life crisis with a renewed sense of purpose and a larger idea of what his contribution is in the lives of those around him. My confidence comes from my own experience wrestling with the same kinds of issues.  I have good friends with whom I can share my experience in intimate detail. Further, I have begun to reassess how I relate to others at the various places I work – I am committed to building intimate relationships (read honest, vulnerable, loving and safe) in every environment.  I see the profoundly positive impact this commitment has on others across every generation and on me. How about you?  Will you lead your organization to be a safe place?

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert Kegan. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (Harvard: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 248.

[4] Jerome Kagan and Ernest Havemann, ed.s.  Psychology: An Introduction 4th ed.  (San Diego: Harcout Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1980), 505.

[5] Clinton, J. Robert.  The Making of a Leader.  Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1988.

[6] Kram, Kathy E.  Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life. New York: University Press of America, 1988.

Powerlessness, Greatness and Choice - what every leader needs to remember

leaderHave you ever felt frustrated or powerless at work? A friend of mine recently admitted, “I am at odds at work.  How much commitment do I really want to give to a company that seems compelled to undermine its own success?  Any commitment I do make seems like an exercise in futility.” The question was not trite. The question stemmed from frustration. My friend is a remarkably gifted leader recruited to the company for which he now works to change to a struggling department. However, he feels stymied in the continued development of his department. The impulses of his Vice President derail planned action thus limiting the traction needed to produce consistent positive results.  Unsurprisingly this is a common experience for many managers and directors.

Last week I heard Jim Collins speak – he always encourages and challenges me.  I was reminded of something he wrote,

Most businesses also have a desperate need for greater discipline.  Mediocre companies rarely display the relentless culture of discipline – disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action – that we find in truly great companies.  A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness….we need a new language…reject the naive imposition of the language of business…embrace the language of discipline.[1]

The concept of being great hits me every time I read it. The question I ask myself is, “do I have the discipline and perspective needed to contribute to a truly great enterprise?”  Further more do I contribute to a culture of discipline? The challenge here is to buck any trend toward mediocrity by building a culture of discipline around my responsibilities.

Collins’ research concluded that building a great company occurs in four stages. Think about these stages as I have outlined them in Table 1 and consider; (1) how you contribute to these stages; (2) how do you encourage others to step into this mind-set; (3) whether you are hirable today as one who contributes to these stages and (4) if you are not hirable today in a great company what do you need to change?

One of the most important insights Collins presents in his monograph on the social sector is the insight that Level 5 leaders often exist within diffuse power structures and can be effective in creating pockets of greatness.  Collins identified two kinds of power i.e., executive and legislative.

In executive leadership enough concentrated power exists to simply make right decisions. Executive power makes right decisions no matter how painful they may be. However, many Level 5 leaders do not have this kind of concentrated power. Many leaders in the middle are not the CEO but work somewhere in the mishmash of organizational structure and political reality.

Legislative leadership on the other hand possesses enough structural power to create the conditions for right decisions via persuasion, political currency, and shared interests.  Many leaders have legislative power within their departments or divisions and can take the responsibility to move toward greatness not-with-standing the pressures that push the rest of the organization toward mediocrity.

Table 1: Inputs of Greatness[2]

Inputs of Greatness Defined Actions I can take
Stage 1: Disciplined people
Level 5 Leadership Exhibits personal humility i.e., they are ambitious for a cause and  the organization and professional will i.e., fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition
First who, then what First, get the right people into the right places and the wrong people out and then think about what you need to do i.e., the "what"
Stage 2: Disciplined thought
Confront brutal facts Identify and remove those barriers to being great live the Stockdale paradox i.e., confidence you will ultimately succeed while also identifying all the barriers to that success.
The hedgehog concept Attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, then exercise relentless discipline to exit those things that fail the test – (1) what are you deeply passionate about? (2) What drives your economic engine? (3) What can you be best in the world at?
Stage 3: Disciplined action
Culture of Discipline Accepting one’s responsibility (larger than a job) to consistently work to greatness.
The Flywheel Relentless action toward the goal that builds momentum on small successes
Stage 4: Building Greatness to last
Clock Building not time telling Great organizations prosper through multiple generations of leaders – build mechanisms that stimulate greatness
Preserve the core/stimulate progress Great organizations run on a fundamental duality: (1) a timeless set of core values and reason for being and (2) a creative compulsion for change and progress.

What kind of leadership power do you have?  Are you willing to take responsibility to exercise your power in building a great department or division? If you are unwilling to take responsibility what does this say about you as a person and a leader?

One of the things I find consistently true in leadership is that the very act of leading forces me to engage in an assessment about whom I am as a person and whether I can live with myself as that person. My friend’s question shook me up.  It made me think. Taking responsibility to exercise greatness in my corner of influence is not an option – it is the only rational course by which I can make a lasting contribution to the good.  How about you?

[1] Jim Collins. Good to Great and the Social Sectors (Boulder, CO: Jim Collins, 2005), 1-2.

[2] Collins 2005:34-35.