Discussing Social Issues as a Follower of Christ

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

An Attorney Called


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

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

Five qualities of leaders who produce superior results

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

Beware your ascension to power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to my readers: 2015 in review

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

Here's an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

Do You Live an Integrated Life? Improving Performance by Paying Attention

ABCsI met with a client who is at a transition point in his business.  He is in the midst of defining what the next evolution of his company looks like while the simultaneously he wonders if he has what it takes to lead his company forward.  He told me about his volunteer work and the crisis the congregation he attends faces in a pastoral transition. As he spoke I jotted down several important capabilities that he discovered about himself in working on the board of this congregation.  Then I defined them for him.  My observations surprised and encouraged him – he was developing as a leader in an unexpected way and his development impacts the direction he takes his company. This led me to think about whether I pay attention to the development of my own skills and capabilities. Often I fall into the same trap as my clients – I don’t see my own development in part because it comes from an unexpected source and in part because I don’t always pay attention to the learning opportunities around me.

Below is the summary I wrote to this client about what the experience he described. My hope is that this reminds every leader that life is a development process if we are paying attention and we take a moment to reflect to integrate life experience and learn across our various social settings and not the more common result of compartmentalized life lessons.  Unfortunately those people who fail to integrate are like some of the people I see at the gym each morning who only exercise part of their muscular skeletal system.  These people not only begin to look a little freakish they also end up minimizing their physical performance level not enhancing it. There is more to healthy living than big biceps just as there is more to effective leadership than the latest trend or personal strengths.

Dear Mike,

You described the development of leadership capabilities in the experience of volunteering at your church. You asked me to send a list of these observations after we met. I added some observations from other client meetings to show the application of these capabilities to business. Take a moment and read through the list then spend some time with the questions at the end.

Discipline – the willingness to discipline misbehavior is always a needed ability as a leader.  Most managers/leaders run away from conflict thus allowing small problems to become major challenges to their integrity and authority.  The lessons you described in helping people see the impact of their negative behaviors and engaging them in a way to think and act differently are important to catalog - come up with your own heuristic device that outlines different levels of discipline.  Become a leader who is comfortable in engaging what Susan Scott calls, “Fierce Conversations” i.e., robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, and unbridled.[i]

Communication – you talked about how the congregation felt that the board did not communicate. You were right to put an emphasis on communication and encourage the board to meet with members of the congregation. The second most noted complaint I hear from teams and employees I work with is that their leaders don't communicate.  It is interesting that in those same companies the leaders all feel they communicate effectively and often.  One reason that a disconnection exists between what one speaks and what others hear is that leaders confuse proclamation (the conclusion of hours of executive deliberation) with communication. One message proclaimed does not make for good communication. One mentor of mine says that unless you deliver a message seven times in seven different ways people don't hear what you said.

Presence -  is that sense of self a leader has that exudes confidence (not arrogance) and awareness of and empathy toward others. The insight you made about the power of "talking people back from the ledge" illustrates this ability. Many leaders never develop a sense of presence.  The only reason anyone takes notice of the average manager or executive is out of fear or perfunctory attention. A leader without presence usually always depends on power alone to get others working.  The lesson you outlined on presence is extremely significant because it is a foundation to exercising that most powerful of leadership tools - namely, influence.

Shaping the Environment. You talked about confronting or challenging negative people or a dooms day mentality with hope and a commitment to solution finding. You observed that the entire group began to shift from petty self-protective action to a team oriented problem solving when you made a stand toward hope. This is no fluke - wise leaders understand that they shape the environment they are in both by the way they approach it and more definitely in what they expect of others (both explicitly and implicitly). The reality is that people respond to the implicit expectations of the leader.  That is if a leader believes their team are a bunch of ignorant yahoos - the team will act that way.  On the other hand if the leader believes their team members want to make a difference, and will put forward their best effort, they will.  This is called the Pygmalion effect. Leaders who consciously shape the environment in which their team works consistently show productivity >30% higher than leaders who ignore their work environment or who hold a negative view of his/her team.

Planning. The budgeting process you voluntarily picked up when the volunteer CFO dropped the ball pulled you into a planning process.  People around you commented on this capability in part because the ability to see a problem and form a solution and the willingness to assume responsibility to do so is rare in many organizations. One of my graduate professors described the power of planning by reminding us that well begun is half done. The power of a plan is that it reduces enormous tasks to small measurable actions.  The power of taking responsibility is that it encourages others to do the same so that instead of being a group of onlookers you contributed to developing a team.

Execution. Of course the best plan is worthless if no one ever acts on it. You described getting to work in the fiscal crisis through the budget and then actually acting on what you mapped out. As amazing as it seems I find the failure to execute is a common down fall of many leaders - they simply do not "pull the trigger" and act. Often leaders spend so much time analyzing their situations they fall into an analysis paralysis.  Analysis paralysis trains a team to do nothing knowing that real accountability for action is consistently overshadowed with the call for better analysis.  At some point analysis becomes an excuse to avoid decision-making and taking the risk to act.

Analysis. However, analysis is necessary. You also described a drive to analyze the situation.  Analysis is not bad, you looked at the budget and began to ask critical questions about what outcome each line item intended to carry out and then ask whether it was the right outcome for the time. You asked whether the actions behind the budget item would result in those outcomes or not. Surprisingly, many leaders fail to ask that second question, i.e., will my intended actions produce the outcome desired?  I watch a lot of leaders work long hours and burn out because of their roles. However, when I ask them about what outcome they aim to hit they often answer with a look of puzzlement. They were so committed to a specific action and their specific resource set (or lack of it) that they completely lost sight of their intended outcome.  They work like a boxer wildly punching the air or the collapse in inactivity hiding behind their power.


In what ways are your capabilities being engaged and enlarged?  Are you paying attention?  In what ways do you exercise reflection on your various experiences to pull learning from them?  In what ways can you change your daily routine so that you take time to learn from your own experience?  Let me know your thoughts, I would love to learn from your experience.

[i] Susan Scott. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (New York: Berkley Publishing, 2004).

Values and the making of a leader

ethicsMuch is written about  the skills, competencies and vision leaders should exhibit to be effective. However, several thinkers point to the importance of defining and taking responsibility for the values a man or woman possessing influence exhibit to exercise that influence. Why reflect on the values exhibited by a leader?  Heifetz notes that it is the values at the core of a leader that determine whether the leader will be good or bad.  This is not a commentary on whether a leader is successful in meeting their organizational goals. Many leaders have been successful in how they approach the organizational metavalues of maintenance, growth and effectiveness/efficiency and yet were exceptionally bad in terms of their moral and social impact e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin etc.

Greenleaf in his work on servant leadership presents a synergistic model that merges leadership competencies with leadership character (virtue) in a quest to define legitimized power.[1] The idea that legitimized power depends on defining the values by which a leader influences is succinctly pointed out in the dialectic painted by Hodgkinson:

…if a leader is defined by the attributes of being a gentleman and a man of honor, and if our leaders in fact are liars, rogues and Philistines, then we should cease to call them leaders and instead call them what they are, say, manipulators. Or we should require them to cease being manipulators.  Or we should embrace the linguistic shift so that henceforth leader means manipulator.[2]

The work of defining one's values is rigorous - the work of reflecting on the values exhibited by the organization is more rigorous and often avoided because of the apparent complexity involved.  In the press of meeting the metavalues of the organization many leaders prefer to ignore this rigorous work in favor of meeting short-term gains in metavalues.
The question that begs discussion (regardless of whether a leader holds a formal or informal role of influence) is what kind of person will you ultimately be?  A leader? A manipulator?  Does it matter?  Jesus amplified the significance of the question in another question he once asked.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:25-27
As a person with responsibility to guide organizational maintenance, growth, efficiency/effectiveness can you afford to act in a way that diminishes who you and your employees really are?  Ought an organizational leader be honorable or ruthless?  Are personal values and organizational values ultimately irreconcilable?
Like it or not the essence of this question is bound in every day decisions. Incrementally people find that they are becoming the kind of person they either want to be or actually despise. Who are you?  What are you becoming?  Is the success you aim at the end you really want?  How are the two reconciled if they are not the same?  I don't suggest that the organizational and personal values are irreconcilable. I do suggest that without a deliberate effort any leader finds him or her self in the undesirable position of experience a slow corruption of their once noble intentions. 
Will you take responsibility to create an organization that not only meets its metavalues of maintenance, growth, and efficiency/effectiveness but also mobilizes your team to tackle the difficult job of addressing the gaps that exist between values and action?[3] When all is said and done will you like the person you have become? Will success be enough if you don't?

[1]  Greenleaf 2002: 21-53

[2] Christopher Hodgkinson. Educational Leadership (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,1991), 111.

[3] Ronald A. Heifetz. Leadership without Easy Answers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 22.

Men and Women are Different – Learning to Mentor across Genders

Crossing the Gulf She was a bright, intelligent, spiritually attune and confident young woman.  I recognized in grading her homework that she had few intellectual peers in the class.  However, she rarely contributed to the discussion – this class in the United States was a homogeneous group of undergraduate men and women.  I relaxed assuming that my cultural assumptions were mirrored in my students - the last thing I anticipated was an education in how my gender assumptions affected the class.

I called on her one day in a class discussion and asked if she had something to contribute…I knew she did.  She had a better grasp on the subject than anyone in the class and was bright enough to extrapolate and synthesize the subject to other areas of her experience and knowledge.

As I turned her direction to call on her I noticed (in hindsight – it did not register at the time) that her eyes pleaded with me to pass her by.  I zeroed in on her and asked her to respond to the question.  It was only then I realized the non-verbal queues I had ignored as I worked toward the question.  When I called on her she expressed a look of betrayal and hurt.  Before I could respond to either of these observations she leapt from her seat and ran from the classroom crying!  I was stupefied.

I caught up with her as she sat in the commons and asked if I could join her.  She politely agreed and seemed to expect my question.  She explained to me that in all her school years she had minimized her intellectual capabilities because she had learned through being rejected and ostracized by both her male and female peers that standing out as an intellectual woman equated to social suicide.  In calling on her I had revealed her intellectual capacity.  Her sense of vulnerability and exposure eclipsed the affirmation of her ability I had intended to communicate.  I apologized to her and reminded myself to be mindful of the power I wielded in the narrow environment of the classroom.

That day it became clear to me that to be unaware of one’s own cultural and gender assumptions runs the risk of damaging mentees and not empowering them.  It was possible to inadvertently leave my mentees marginalized and irrelevant to their context.  Without attending to the complexities of mentoring these unexpected results derail the best intention of the mentor.

Mentoring is a relational process and it requires first that mentors be at ease in social interaction.  In mentoring someone who knows something (the mentor), transfers that something (empowerment and resources such as wisdom, advice, information, emotional support, protection, linking to resources, career guidance, status) to someone else (the mentee) at a sensitive time so that it impacts development.[1]  Mentoring results in other tertiary benefits such as reduced employee turnover, a more attractive organization from the perspective of employee recruitment and increased organizational learning (the precursor of sustainability in processes and success).[2]

However, mentoring is also a kind of sacred archetype, a capacity to illuminate a role of often-hidden yet rare power in the drama of human development.[3]  It is the archetypical nature of mentoring that makes it so potentially damaging or helpful especially in cross gender interactions. The act of mentoring may be assigned significance far beyond the mere exchange of ideas or skills.

The encounter I had with this talented student represents one of the many challenges in mentoring.  Is it possible to effective mentor across gender lines?  Is it proper?  It is a necessity in many organizations – yet it is often a challenging arrangement for both the mentor and the mentee.

The necessity is clear.  Consider the observations of Elizabeth McManus writing about women in law firms.  Her observations apply to many of the organizations I have worked in or with over the years.

The reality is that “[w]omen who are not mentored are in fact less likely to advance…. [f]emale lawyers remain out of the loop of career development.”  They aren’t adequately educated in the organization’s unstated practices and politics.  They aren’t given enough challenging, high visibility assignments.  They aren’t included in social events that yield professional opportunities.  And they aren’t helped to acquire the legal and marketing skills that are central to advancement. This exclusion results in a negative cycle, where women who do not advance are more likely to leave law firms and “[t]heir disproportionate attrition then reduces the pool of mentors for lawyers of similar background, and perpetuates the assumptions that perpetuate the problem.”    The fewer women who are mentored, the fewer of them there are to rise to the top to act as mentors to new women associates.[4]

The same thing can be said of female staff members in churches, non-profit organizations and businesses.  Cross gender mentoring is often the only way women find the opportunity to engage the larger organizational and strategic challenges they need to develop as leaders.  Too often the lack of capable female leaders with in organizations is not the result of insufficient talent and ability but insufficient opportunity and sponsorship.

The profound benefit of mentoring means that its application toward every potential leader is a desirable aim to increase organizational depth and effectiveness.  In light of this benefit in the business context the loss of mentoring relationships because leaders do not know how to mentor across gender is unacceptable.  In a faith-based context such as a church or Christian organization (my own reference point is limited to the Christian tradition by experience and training) the lack of cross gender mentoring relationships is even more appalling.  It is clear in Genesis that the imago Dei invested in humankind requires the inclusion of both male and female if it is to be complete and undistorted.  Conversely a bias to either male or female perspectives diminishes and distorts our insight into the nature and character of God.  Historically and contemporarily the Church has often failed to support the development of women preferring to stay predominately male in imagery, language and governance.  The loss of the Church’s ability to speak to today’s complex world is due in part to this distorting bias in my opinion.

Successful cross-gender mentoring requires two categories of understanding.  First, understand how to create a safe mentoring environment as a mentor or as a mentee.  A good structure ensures that both the mentor and mentee understand the expectations of the mentoring relationships and understand the boundaries that make the relationship safe.  Second, understand how women differ from men in how they develop as leaders.

Establish a Safe Mentoring Relationship

Admittedly views of how men and women should relate in the workplace differ from one generation to the next and from one culture to the next. Any guidelines I offer will not fit in every situation.  However, it is precisely this diversity that necessitates making the ground rules of mentoring explicit and not implicit.  It is the job of the mentor to create a safe environment.

Start by identifying the assumptions that limit the effectiveness of cross gender mentoring relationships.  Emerging generations perceive cross-gender relationships to be more common.  However, the down side is that their sexual relationships are more open and pervasive.  This openness however does not end the potential for great personal pain and the attending awkwardness of trying to work with an “EX” or of trying to reset a friendship violated by miscues about sexuality – as popular television dramas such as Suits, Harry’s Law and others illustrate routinely.   The potential of ruined reputation and eclipsed advancement opportunity due to poorly framed sexual relationships is as alive as ever. How do mentors establish proper boundaries and so avoid violating the trust of their organizations, their mentees, their families or their colleagues?  How do they communicate the necessity of these boundaries to emerging leaders so they do not undermine their own advancement by poor interpersonal choices?

Assumed stereotypical roles. Behavior defined by assumptions and expectations about cross-gender relationships may cut anxiety but may not give opportunity to practice the kinds of behaviors needed to enhance leadership ability and capacity.  Why?  Most stereo typical roles are family based or marriage based. Neither of these models fit the global context of leadership well. Hence if stereotypical roles are used to define the relationship, the role modeling of effective leadership will not be effective.  There is little chance of discovering what it means to be female in a male dominated culture or what it means to work with women as powerful and effective leaders if limited stereotypical roles dominate the nature of the relationship.

When discussing gender differences it is more profitable to speak about how men and women develop and not how they should behave.  For example men tend to speak and hear in the language of status and independence while women speak and hear in the language of connection and intimacy (intimacy does not have sexual connotations – a queue that is sometimes misinterpreted by men).  Knowing these differences allows a mentor to frame questions, provide assignments and sometimes protect their mentees so that the unique way in which the mentee maximizes learning.

Emotional entanglements.  While there is tremendous potential in growth in friendships and emotional ties because of the differences in viewpoints of the genders there is also the potential for co-dependency where one or the other of persons depends on the other in an unhealthy way for affirmation and approval. Avoid co-dependency by maintaining broad exposure to learning opportunities and challenging assignments so that the mentee’s sense of affirmation results from the outcomes of their new learning in practice.

The natural intimacy of the mentoring relationship may also lead to the experience of sexual tensions.  Sexual tension is normal and where it is held in perspective it can generate higher levels of creativity.  The problem with sexual tension is not its existence but the potential stress it places on interpreting the non-verbal queues in a mentoring relationship.  Make the guidance of your interaction explicit and be quick to express concern if a boundary is crossed by either person in the mentoring relationship.  The relational aspect of mentoring is under much more stress in a cross-gender relationship. Feelings and the affect are often much more in focus than the cognitive aspect of learning – so exercise awareness.  The last thing a good mentoring relationship needs is to collapse in the accusations of or fear of sexual harassment.

Sexual entanglements.  A safe mentoring environment requires clear boundaries in the relationship so that sexual tension does not give way to sexual involvement. If sexual involvement develops in a mentoring relationship it does so to the detriment of mentoring and role modeling. Care must be taken about physical contact and expression of or recognition of sexuality. Avoid fantasizing.  Because mentors are typically in a place of power organizationally sexual entanglements create a double jeopardy of poor personal judgment and legal liability.  The greater loss generated by inappropriate dalliances occur when illicit sexual activity affirms unproductive gender stereotypes or loss of trust in authority figures.  The loss of trust has far-reaching implications for the organization’s ability to act as a legitimate and credible institution.

Public scrutiny.  Because people see and check cross-gender mentoring relationships such relationships must be seen as above-board and exemplary. What others think, though perhaps inaccurate, carries weight in shaping reputations and in the end leadership effectiveness and career advancement.  Leaders have an important social stewardship here. I will never forget the day my wife returned from one of her first public speaking engagements in our early marriage.  She accepted an invitation to speak to youth at a church-sponsored camp.  The first reports she filed via phone calls indicated that she was extremely effective, competent and engaging.  I was proud and admittedly a bit jealous.  However, when she returned home devastated.  After being rated as one of the best speakers (she was also published as an author at that point – years before I published anything I might add) she was told that she would never be invited back.  She was too beautiful!  It was that terrifyingly blunt. The director of the camp was distraction by her from his own sense of sexual propriety.

Clearly the organizational leaders should have overruled the director and encouraged him to deal with his own issues.  He was later removed for having sex with one of the campers. However, my wife’s reputation was never revisited.  She remained a pariah for no other reason than that she was a successful young woman who was a clearly gifted communicator and leader.   The leader’s stewardship is to protect emerging leaders from the pettiness of jealous or insecure onlookers.[5]

Familial scrutiny. Cross-gender relationship may also be a threat to one’s spouse. If a leader’s time commitments show an out of balance preference for work over home then jealousy and mistrust typically arise because work and career demands might be seen as having more priority than the family and spouse relationship. Married mentors must stay conscious of the impact of cross-gender mentoring on his/her family. This is true too of married mentees. Mentors and mentees who are single often face social pressure to marry in some parts of a western culture.  I have seen this pressure taint mentoring relationships to the point the value of the relationship was lost.  The needs of career and family are unique and the leader must respond to both with proper presence and engagement.

Peer resentment. Be aware of the fact that others in the organization also want to advance.  Solo women are often hesitant to enter consistent mentoring relationships for fear that she will have to choose between advancement and her peer relationships with other women. The mentor may be completely unaware of the stress created by the peer resentment directed at the mentee.[6]

Leaders sometimes reduce these issues because they have little bearing on the work environment in their minds. I suggest that leaders reduce these issues at their own peril. Ignoring social dynamics does not work out well in any workplace – this is especially true in a cross-cultural context in which social signals and assumptions may not be as easily accessed as in one’s own cultural context.

Understand Women Learn Differently

I assumed that my primarily male approach to learning i.e., competitive, disconnected from the subjective, complex and contextual was universal.  Instead I began to see that the young coed in my story viewed learning based on connectedness and community.  To her learning was intimately connected to the subjective – she wanted to know what others felt and experienced as part of the context of knowing. She worked in a collaborative environment to meet everyone’s needs and discover new ideas.  The way men and women approach learning and the way they develop is different.[7]

Men and women learn best when they are involved in diagnosing, planning, implementing and evaluating their learning – involve your mentees in self-evaluation (this is a central aspect of spiritual growth).  However men and women use different ways of knowing.[8]  The phases of growth men and women move through as they develop share commonalities in many ways and are much different in others. Men tend to develop a sense of morality around rights evoking the imagery of “blind justice” that relies on abstract laws and universal principles to mediate conflict or disputes.[9]

Women develop a morality of care and responsibility. Instead of pressing for blind impartiality women argue for understanding the context noting that the needs of the person cannot always be deduced from general rules.[10] Role of the mentor is to create and keep up a supportive environment that promotes conditions necessary for learning – this underscores the significance of defining the relationship clearly and of those mentor types (e.g., sponsorship) that work to protect the learning of the mentee. (See more at http://raywheeler.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/mentors-developing-highly-effective-leaders/ and http://maturitascafe.com/2012/03/26/the-gift-of-mentors-and-sponsors/). If the mentor refuses to engage this way of knowing when working with women the reciprocal benefit of the mentoring relationship is lost.

So what are the phases of development suggested by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule? What is their significance in mentoring women?

Silence: extreme denial of self-dependent on external authority for direction.

Catalyst: socialization characterized by social, economic, and educational deprivation. These women grow up in repressive contexts where they have no voice whatsoever.  These women develop language skills but do not cultivate capacity for representational thought.

These women lack confidence in their own ability to learn - even from their own experience - the capacity they do express is limited to immediate events versus past or future; to actual versus metaphorical or imaginary; concrete versus deduced or induced; specific versus generalize or contextual iced; to behaviors actually enacted versus values or motives. They feel passive, reactive and dependent thus assume blind obedience as a way to survive. They also hold extreme sex roles. Thinking for themselves violates their concept of what is proper - they experience a sense of extreme isolation.

Clearly a women in this phase of development is not a candidate for a leadership role however, mentors in business often engage these women in entry-level jobs and find training them is sometimes challenging. The simple act of learning to successfully execute a job can be a tremendous catalyst to growth.  Mentoring functions such as friendship, coaching, role modeling can be especially helpful in developing these women’s potential in the work place or service roles in church organizations.[11]

Received knowledge: listening to the voices of others.

Catalyst: parenthood is often a catalyst to this shift if a woman was not already in this phase of development.

Women in this phase highly value words and learn by listening - they hear in concrete and dualistic ways i.e., right and wrong without room for ambiguity – the idea of paradox is inconceivable the assumption being that contradictory ideas are a clear contradiction of fact. Hence greater weight is given the quantitative over against the qualitative.  Women in this phase rely on authority and the belief that there is only one truth. This perspective leaves women in this phase maladaptive for the complex and rapidly changing, pluralistic society we face today. When mentoring these women work toward providing clear guidelines on what is acceptable and unacceptable as well as how to handle ambiguous situations. Don’t expect them to make decisions where there is no clearly defined right answer. Be aware of the fact that women hold an either or perspective on truth they often worry that to develop their own powers is at the cost of others hence they hesitate to consider development seriously. Mentoring functions such as counseling, coaching, teaching, acceptance-confirmation and divine contact make a significant impact.

Subjective knowledge: the inner voice emerges often to the exclusion of other voices; it is the quest for self.

Catalyst: redefinition and application of new ways of knowing and learning.  Note: the shift toward this phase is often rooted in some crisis of trust in male authority must often based on sexual abuse or harassment (20-35% of women interviewed by Belenky et al experienced some form of sexual abuse or harassment).

This shift is a major developmental transition with repercussions on relationships, self-concept, self-esteem, self-assertion, and self-definition - it is a move toward greater autonomy and independence. Women approach this phase cautiously often feeling exhilaration and fear because taking this stand means taking a stand for herself that may leave her isolated from her social support leaving her feeling extremely lonely.

Subjectivist women distrust logic, analysis, abstraction, and language.  Following the discovery of personal authority is a reassessment of life circumstances and attributes (and whether these fit with a new sense of personal authority). Characteristically women redefined relationships around the quest to amass personal experience apart from the obligations (restrictions) of their past - courage and in some cases recklessness characterize this quest.

The dominant learning mode is one of inward listening and watching.  The end of this phase is characterized both in the discovery of one’s own voice and of the necessity of understanding others whose lives impinge on personal experience.  Mentoring relationships, especially cross-gender relationships may be tested in this phase for reliability and safety.  Maintaining a safe environment is critical.  Friendship and role modeling are critical in this phase.  A spiritual guide is particularly important in this phase as the person defines their sense of self and community in new ways.

Procedural knowledge - the voice of reason: procedural knowledge is characterized by an emphasis on rules, skills, and techniques inherent in analytical thinking.

Catalyst: it is inconclusive what leads to this development in some women while others do not enter this phase. It may be exposure to authority that is benign in a dictatorial sense while also knowledgeable.

The reasoning of this phase is more complex than what occurs in received or subjective knowledge. At this point in development a woman only exercises the capacity for independent thought i.e., outside the strictures of procedure, only at the request of authorities.  Mentoring in this phase of learning should include challenging assignments, acceptance-confirmation, coaching and training.

Procedural knowledge - separate and connected knowing: this phase is more than separation from and mastery over objects it infers (like the Greek word gnosis) intimacy and equality between self and object - implying personal acquaintance with an object.

Catalyst: this phase emerges from the need to understand the opinions of other people - particularly opinions that are personally obscure or alien.

Women in this phase develop a deep emotional intelligence. Whereas the separate self of the previous phase seeks reciprocity in relationships (considers others as it wishes to be considered) the connected self seeks to respond to others in their terms.  This phase builds on the subjectivist conviction that the most trustworthy knowledge is personal experience versus pronouncements of authorities - the emphasis in this phase is the development of rules (effective personal processes) to gain access to the knowledge of others. The procedures effect is to get out from behind one’s own eyes to adopt a different lens and see the world through the eyes of another.

The emphasis in the phase remains the procedure although those rules remain somewhat intuitive i.e., not fully codified by the person who is still experimenting and refining their approach.  Mentoring can focus on sponsorship, exposure and visibility as well as coaching, friendship, counseling and spiritual guide.

The conclusion to procedural knowing is that women who stay in these phases cannot be truly radical because their thinking is encapsulated within systems - they critique only within the standards of the system itself. Therefore mentoring that helps them see outside the system is helpful including such functions as protection, coaching, historical models and spiritual guide.

Constructed knowledge - integrating the voices: constructed knowledge is characterized in a sense of self-awareness i.e., of judgments, thought, moods, and desires.  Constructed knowledge begins as a quest to reclaim a sense of self by integrating intuitive knowledge with knowledge learned from others.

Catalyst: an attempt in this phase of development to integrate the fragmentation of self into the process of knowing. With this comes a larger ability to hold apparently contradictory insights in tension.

This phase of development takes the context of knowing seriously and recognizes that all knowledge is constructed and truth is a matter of the context in which it is embedded.  In other words the ability to know reality is partial limited and in need of humility and not arrogant and absolute assertion - compare the functions of propositional versus dialogical truth. c.f., 1 Corinthians 13.  Belenky et al offer an important insight for mentors;

In didactic talk, each participant may report experience, but there is no attempt among participants to join to arrive at some new understanding. “Really talking” requires careful listening; it implies a mutually shared agreement that together you are creating the best setting so that half-backed or emergent ideas can grow. “Real talk” reaches deep into the experience of each participant; it also draws on the analytical abilities of each.[12]

The moral decision-making of constructivist thinking seeks to understand conflict in the context of each person’s; needs, perspectives, and goals and not invoking a hierarchy of abstract principles. This does not imply that abstract principles are not considered but that an attempt is made to apply or contextualize these so that conflict ends in a win/win where ever possible.  Mentors should pay special attention to providing challenging assignments, sponsorship, protection and coaching as well as exposure and visibility.

In using this information as a mentoring guide it is important to note that the research did not set up but rather implied a development path through these phases.   Passage through theses phases of development is not linear rather people can retreat or temporize these phases.  It is significant that these phases are not age driven but circumstantially driven.   This is a significant insight for mentors working to create developmental environments in their organizations

Reinforce the Relationship with Clear Definition

It is important to define the nature of the relationship that you expect to have with your mentor or mentee.

Table 1: Define the Expectations[13]

Time Our meetings begin and end on timeWe will manage our time well and use agendas to keep us on trackWe will put interruptions asideWe will meet for a specific period then reassess how we are doing
Feedback We make regular feedback an expectation
Role Expectations Each of us actively participates in the relationshipWe will each keep a mentoring journal to reflect on our experiencesWe will honor each other’s expertise and experience
Communication Our communication is open, candid and directWe will respect our differences and learn from them
Stumbling blocks If we come up against a stumbling block, we will address it immediately and not wait until the next meeting
Confidentiality What does confidentiality mean in this relationship?What talk stays between the mentor and mentee?  What can be shared with others?What permissions must be gained before talking with anyone outside the mentoring relationship?
Closure When we have completed this mentoring cycle or in the event that our relationship doesn’t work out, we will have a closure conversation and use it as a learning opportunity.

Communicate Violations of your Boundaries

Putting a structure to mentoring relationships is only part of creating a safe and healthy relationship. The other part is feedback in the relationship in what I call formal and informal feedback.  Formal feedback consists of the direct purpose of the mentoring relationship e.g., skill acquisition, challenging assignments etc.  Informal feedback consists of the honesty and integrity of the interpersonal communication. Structure and formal feedback is important to make sure that the relationship possesses clear learning outcomes. However, structure and formal feedback does not end the potential for misunderstanding in relationship.  Therefore it is important to show how to discuss violations of the relationship.  What happens if the mentee or mentor violates the agreed upon boundaries?[14]  Informal feedback (as a mentor or mentee) when a boundary is violated needs to include the following:

  1. Let your mentoring partner know that he/she has crossed a boundary.
  2. Refer to the ground rules outlined in the mentoring agreement
  3. Describe the behaviors that clearly show how the boundary was crossed.
  4. Request that the behaviors stop
  5. If you mentoring partner acknowledges she/he crossed a boundary, let her/him know you appreciate the understanding
  6. If boundaries go unacknowledged and continue to be crossed, ask your mentoring partner to stop crossing the line.  If the behavior continues, insist that it be stopped.  And, if that fails, walk away from the relationship.


Mentoring across the gender divide possesses certain risks and yields significant insight not just in a theological or philosophical sense but in plain marketing and business sense as well. Companies who consistently develop women as well as men increase profitability and return on equity and return on invested capital.[15]

Thanks to my student that day in the classroom I am more attune to the skills and insights I need to develop the leaders emerging around me. How about you?

[1] J. Robert Clinton and Richard W. Clinton. The Mentor Handbook: Detailed Guidelines and Helps for Christian Mentors and Mentoree. (Pasadena, CA: Barnabas Press, 1991), 2-5.

[2] Tammy D. Allen, Lisa M. Finkelstein and Mark L. Poteet. Designing Workplace Mentoring Programs: An Evidence-Based Approach(Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Kindle Edition, 2009).

[3] Laurent A. Daloz. Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999), xxiv.

[4] Elizabeth K. McManus. “Intimidation and the Culture of Avoidance: Gender Issues and Mentoring in Law Firm Practice” in Fordham Urban Law Journal (Volume 33, Issue 1, Article 7, 2005), 100-14.

[5] To my point about the inability of the church to engage current issues with vitality – my wife changed careers and has had a marvelously successful career as a financial planner to her clients great gain and the church’s great loss.  Her story is repeated in many of my female theology students who find that opportunities to serve are grossly restricted to stereotypical roles ill-suited to either their gifts or the needs of local communities.

[6] I find it very helpful to read blogs that give me an ongoing insight into the issues the emerging generation faces.  One particularly well written blog can be found at http://lostgenygirl.com/.

[7] Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule. Women's Ways of Knowing: the Development of Self, Voice, and Mind (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1997).

[8] Zachary, 513 of 6664.

[9] Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, 8.

[10] Ibid, 8.

[12] Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, 144.

[13] Zachary, 3579 of 6664

[14] Zachary, 3710 of 6664

[15] A number of studies look at the corporate context and emerging women leaders and their impact on business results. See http://www.20-first.com/9-0-better-bottom-line.html for more information.

Cross-cultural Lessons – Learning to See Through Other Frames

Elephants and Power The lecture was on ethics in decision-making and the discussion moved, as it always does when I teach outside the USA toward American foreign policy.  In the midst of the discussion these Kenyan graduate students gave me a proverb that fits political realities all leaders have to work with in corporate as well as in public service contexts.

"When elephants fight the grass gets crushed, when elephants make love the grass gets crushed."

Effective leadership (leadership that does not destroy or damage people) recognizes how organizations allot and display power. It is not uncommon for good leaders to get crushed not-with-standing their skill, insight and alliances when they are at the wrong place and time e.g., a regime change or economic downturn. Such experiences push leaders through crucible experiences and boundaries to growth. I did not catch a sense of fatalism from these students as much as a clear view of reality and a warning to know where the elephants were at all times. I found this helpful in corporate life. One of my graduate professors was a specialist on organizational change.  “Ray” he said on several occasions, “remember power wins.”  It was his way of reminding me to be aware of the elephants.

Eels and Change

A friend of mine had invited me to China to help train managers in a start-up hospitality consulting firm. The hospitality market in China was on fire, hotels and motels were springing up everywhere.  The challenge for my friend (we had met in graduate school) resulted from a rate of growth that threatened to outstrip the firm’s ability to develop the necessary leadership skills not to mention any kind of bench.  At the end of the session on recognizing the predictable barriers to personal development in career and personal growth my interpreter turned to me with the mixture of epiphany and interrogation.

“You are an eel.”

“Help me understand what you mean by that,” I said.

“Do you see the fish in the market when you come to the office?”  He aked. “They sit in the tanks all day and over time they become listless.  When this occurs no one will buy them because they don’t look fresh.  So, the fisherman places an eel in the tank.  This makes the fish come back to life,” he explained.

The insight about change has a bearing on trust.  The effect of the eel depends on the perspective of the viewer.  To the fish the eel is a threat.  The fish snap to in the presence of the eel yet the effect is short-lived. The observation of my interpreter made me stop and think about the pace at which I was moving and whether I was helping these managers think through the concepts I explained in the lens of their own worldview.  From the owner’s perspective I challenged lethargy and encouraged action. The larger challenge my interpreter helped me see was how to synthesize the needs of the owners for rapid change with the needs of the managers for deeper understanding and engagement i.e., a function of trust.

Can an eel be simultaneously a source of change and hope?  Not if you are a fish.  Leaders must exercise awareness of how followers perceive your actions. The ends you expect may not be the results others generate. Learn to use a variety of leadership roles and styles.

Storks, Frogs and Epiphanies

I was still chewing on the what to do with the eel story a couple of days later when my interpreter served also as my mentor with another bit of wisdom.

“You are a stork.”

“Is a stork better than an eel?” I queried.

“No, a stork is different.” He responded in what I understood as a correction of my western proclivity for either/or resolutions to ambiguity or dissonance. He reminded me to exercise an “opposable mind” as Martin calls it. Highly creative leaders avoid reducing decisions between alternative options but seek instead to hold the tension of apparently opposing decisions to create an entirely different kind of approach.  This ability to rest comfortably in the ambiguity of tension results in an integrative thinking that seeks out “…less obvious but potentially relevant factors…” then considers “…multidirectional and nonlinear relationships among variables….”[1]   With this done the effective leader pursues the problem as a whole and not the parts and “Creatively resolve tensions among opposing ideas; generate innovative outcomes.”[2]

“What does the stork do?” I asked with a greater awareness of my need to learn.

“The stork shows the frog that there is a greater reality than that which the frog sees from the bottom of the well.  You see, the stork appears to be supernatural (read exceptional or unreachable) to the frog.  It appears and disappears at will at the top of the well and the frog cannot understand how the stork accomplishes such a miraculous feat.  One day the frog asked the stork to help him understand the wonders of the stork’s miraculous existence.  The stork laughed and lifted the frog from the bottom of the well to see the world from on top of the well.  You are helping us see a different world.” (Remember Plato’s cave of allegory?)

I was moved and encouraged – apparently I inspired both fear and hope in my time with these leaders.  More importantly I was learning to hold apparently opposite or mutually exclusive views of reality in a dynamic tension.


Parables or stories connect with the experience of the hearer and offer a lens for dynamic reflection.  So, my conclusion is simply a launching point for many more insights in fact if you have other cultural unique parables please share them with me in the comments.

  1. Highly effective leaders exercise awareness of how organizations assign and use power.  Leaders who lack this awareness end up trampled to death. The leader who is unaware of their power will trample to death those he/she leads.  All good leaders have a tool kit of influence, authority and power.  Power is the last of the tools a leader should use.  Those leaders who abuse the use of power are like a rogue elephant. The destruction caused by rogue elephants and toxic leaders motivates people to end the threat of damage by changing jobs or eliminating the threat.
  2. Highly effective leaders exercise self-awareness and situational awareness.  There are times all leaders must act like eels.  Recognize however that change management requires an awareness of the fear change engenders. In experienced leaders scare their employees to death resulting in disengagement and turn over. Neither alternative generates long-term success in meeting business goals. Great leaders understand that change is only as effective as a shift in how people see their situation.
  3. Highly effective leaders work to redefine reality.  They work with an opposable mind that discovers new alternatives and inspires people with the possibilities inherent in seeing a problem or challenge differently.

My students and the employees I work with often become my mentors and teachers. Part of the delight I have in leading rests in the influence I exert but the greater joy rests in the exposure I have to new insights and learning from the lives of those I have the privilege to serve.  Are you learning?

[1] Roger Martin, “How Successful Leaders Think,” Harvard Business Review, June 2007, 60-67.

[2] Ibid. 65.

When Followers Attack: Facing the Inevitable Interpersonal Conflict of Leadership

Every leader endures the challenge of being under the microscope of critical dissatisfaction.  In my experience effective change agents and leaders face a myriad of disheartening personal attacks often from people they know and always with gut wrenching repercussions.  Slander, inference and complete misrepresentation are part and parcel of the leadership experience.  I was reminded of this again from a friend of mine grieving the betrayal they felt by members of their own leadership team. Members of my friend’s team masterfully undermined my friend’s leadership without ever specifically talking with them about the dissatisfaction they felt. The conundrum faced by many leaders I work with is rooted in a misconception about conflict i.e., that interpersonal conflict is to be endured not addressed in hopes that at some future point the integrity of their motives and their service would be recognized by all and their leadership decisions vindicated. Often this misconception is rooted in faith convictions around the actions of Jesus Christ during his trial.  A quotation anticipating the betrayal and kangaroo court Jesus faced from the prophet Isaiah is regularly repeated to me as I ask them about their response, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7, NIV)  This strategy of silence is great if one anticipates dying I suppose.  However, while it reflects the outward confidence and inner character Jesus exhibited in the face of false accusation during his trial it is not literal – Jesus did speak during his arrest and trial and questioned the inconsistencies of his accusers and answered their direct inquiries.

When Making a Defense is Important

Silent leaders in times of conflict abdicate the narrative of the situation to their critics. The result is that followers feel rudderless in the organization and ultimately feel betrayed by the leader’s unwillingness to step up to the demands of the pressure. (See my Article, “Servant Leadership and the Exercise of Discipline” at http://raywheeler.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/servant-leadership-and-the-exercise-of-discipline/)

It occurred to me once in reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians that I was reading a blatant defense of his role (authority and influence) as a leader. Clearly the legitimacy of Paul’s leadership was at stake in the minds of the Corinthians who had already received a rather pointed missive correcting their misapplication of the Christian message.  The resulting dissonance in the relationship between the Corinthian church and Paul forced him to defend his integrity, position and role toward the Corinthians.  Apparently his first letter generated controversy and even rejection.  As is often the case in conflict, his authority was challenged (7:8-16).

Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians anticipating seeing them after his exposure to their slanderous incrimination of his character and motives (13:1).  Paul states he prefers a warm and collegial reception, but is prepared to be a disciplinarian if need be for the sake of the health of the Corinthian church (12:20-13:1).

The entire letter of 2 Corinthians models transparent and authentic leadership conversation.  Read Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. Pay specific attention to the fact that Paul defends himself and does not allow misconceptions or accusations about his motives and intention to assert themselves without a challenge.

Recriminations Are Unoriginal – Don’t Give Them Too Much Power

The recriminations aimed at Paul were personal and direct.  They came from people for whom he cared deeply and for whom he had suffered greatly.  I found it to be extremely encouraging to simply list the recriminations Paul faced.  Why?  Because they once they are down on paper two things emerge. First, they are unoriginal.  Recriminations are common place and rooted in a variety of motives. Second, when I observed how common the recriminations leveled at Paul were (the same recriminations have been leveled at me as a leader) innuendo and incrimination lost the power to command my attention to the point of immobilizing my ability to make decisions and lead.  If you are a leader you will face incrimination unjustly delivered.  You will also make your share of mistakes.

Put Recriminations into Proper Perspective  

Review the list of recriminations made against the Apostle Paul.  As you read these think about the recriminations you face or have faced as a leader.  I am certain your experience will parallel Paul’s – you are not a distinctively bad leader if you face these recriminations.

  • 1:17; that he was two-faced, saying one thing and doing another (6:8).
  • 2:4; that he was insensitive and uncaring (6:12).
  • 2:10; that he was unforgiving.
  • 2:17; that he was into the gospel for the money or personal advancement (7:2).
  • 3:5; that he was ineffective (specifically inadequate to the task).
  • 4:2; that he was self-seeking and manipulative (7:2).
  • 4:5; that he was self promoting.
  • 5:9; that he was ambitious.
  • 5:12; that he was arrogant (boastful, 10:8).
  • 7:2; that he took advantage of others (11:9; 12:14; 12:11-17)
  • 8:13; that he was inconsistent in his policies.
  • 8:20; that he absconded with church funds.
  • 10:1; that he was a coward, afraid to personally face the issues.
  • 10:10; that he was not much of a teacher.
  • 10:14; that he claimed credit for things he had not done.
  • 11:5; that he was inferior in his gifts and abilities (it was this summary accusation that he pointedly addresses in ch.s 11-13).
  • 12:13; that he had treated the Corinthians as inferior.
  • 13:6; that he had failed the test.
  • 13:10; that he was overly severe in his treatment of failure.

Admit Mistakes Quickly and Learn from Them

Paul’s tone in response to these recriminations is authentic (personal) and direct.  He addresses both the overt and the implied attacks on his character and motives by holding out his life as an illustration and explaining details surrounding his decisions that the Corinthians could not have known.  Similarly Paul exhibits and openness to learning and feedback from the Corinthians.  The letter does not smack of arrogance of excuses.

Paul’s response indicates clear boundaries – he served, he willingly accepted suffering but also expected reciprocity.  He was neither a patsy nor a pushover.


If you lead well expect conflict from those closest to you. Engage the conflict humbly and honestly.  Keep the mission of your organization clearly in front of you.  Hold people accountable to that mission – hold yourself accountable to the mission. Do not shirk from defending decisions made with information not commonly available. On the other hand do not hesitate to admit bad decisions based on poor or incomplete information – they happen. Those who follow want to know two important things.

First, followers want the assurance that leaders stay engaged in the realities the organization faces and are willing to both listen and make difficult decisions.

Second, followers want leaders to help them define reality.  What external pressures challenge the organization?  What internal resources are needed to meet the challenge?  What strategy is in place to secure more resources if the internal resources are insufficient? What support exists for followers who are called upon to sacrifice for some future benefit?

If your communication as a leader is anything but authentic and personal the confidence of your followers (employees, stake holders, peers) will wane accordingly. Take a lesson from Paul and embrace conflict, address innuendo and communicate transparently.