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?

Conceptualizing Leadership Development

Look at Leadership Three Dimensionally Thinking about leadership development.

“This looks like it is built for business, it seems like it only loosely applies to me,” the statement stemmed from wonder – having just completed a 360 degree assessment of leadership competencies Terry was looking for a way to integrate the concise definitions of competencies into his experience. “How do I integrate these insights into my role in leading a mission organization?” he asked.

The question is not uncommon. The contrast in purpose and metrics between a church or mission agency and a business seem stark. However, the way business and non-profit leadership is defined reveals far more about the degree to which a person has integrated their faith and work than it does any inherent difference in purpose between these two entities. Why? Because business fundamentally seeks to define needs and answer them.  Faith based ministries fundamentally do the same thing. Each works in a different sphere of human experience that often crosses into the domain of the other.

True, some businesses seem driven solely by profit and are sometimes willing to sacrifice friendships, people, family, and care for the environment to make a greater profit. But before I go too far in raising straw man arguments of false comparison; it is equally true that some non-profits are pure and simple charades designed solely for the enrichment of the founder or pastor or evangelist. Abuses happen in all sectors – the banality and reality of evil is ever-present. So, making false comparisons that vilify either business or faith reveals only mental laziness.

Understanding leadership is not an easy chore.  Often the challenge is that leadership is defined one dimensionally i.e., as a matter of applied skills or competencies (as happens in business) or as a matter of applied values and purpose (as happens in ministry). However, it does not take long to discover that leadership is as much about one’s self-awareness and personality as it is skill. What’s more, endurance, resilience, and consistency over time as a leader have more to do with a sense of meaning or purpose that we associate with spirituality.  Loehr & Schwartz (2003) writing on managing energy as a leader point out that the physical, emotional, and mental capacities of a leader are dependent upon a leader’s spiritual development.[i]

It helps to have a comprehensive model of leadership development that illustrates a three-dimensional approach to defining leadership. I use the term three-dimensional to point toward the necessity of seeing leadership as actions that stem from and are dependent upon the spiritual, personal, and skill development in a leader’s life. These three dimensions of a leader’s life represent the leader’s sense of empowerment, motivation, and learning posture. These three dimensions are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Components of Leadership Development[ii]

Critical Developmental Categories

Possessing a model like Figure 1 allows a leader, or those charged with developing leaders, to imagine a holistic process of development. Terry’s integrative work needs a model such as this to help categorize his thinking and conceptualizing.  Competencies are categorized as skill development in this model. Skills build competence. The importance of develop skills recognizes the truism that good intentions not only pave the road to hell, they undermine a leader’s credibility when not accompanied with the competencies needed to do the work of leadership.

Terry’s consternation in attempting to synthesize what he knows about leadership was compounded by the fact he has participated in a variety of assessments. The Birkman Method® Assessment, Strength Finders, Meyer’s Brigg’s, the Birkman 360, DiSC, and others do not measure the same thing to the same degree. It is important to categorize assessments by development domain. Terry for example, threw Strength Finders and the Birkman 360 into the same bucket (Personal Development in Figure 1). These two instruments are better categorized and Personal Development and Skill Development respectively (Figure 1). An integrative model such as Figure 1 accelerates understanding the relationship between personality and skill development.

Models also help diagnose difficulties faced by leaders. I sat with Ted, a CEO of a privately held firm with annual revenue of $50M. Ted expressed frustration with his team, the direction his company was going, and the mediocre performance of his company. It could be argued that Ted lacked certain competencies (e.g., vision casting or dealing with conflict) but this did not fully explain his own sense of aimlessness. The longer we talked the more clear it became that Ted’s real lack emanated from the fact he had lost his sense of purpose and ultimate contribution. Ted was in a spiritual crisis that undermined his ability to cast vision for the future. His company was disintegrating into a series of silos competing with one another for a dwindling pool of resources. In the absence of a clear purpose the company was collapsing into turf wars between strong personalities jockeying for power.

I saw in the real struggles Ted expressed the same patterns I found reading through the Prophet Amos (common to both Christian and Jewish Scriptures). I was struck with the fact I could synthesize my model of leadership development with Amos’ commentary on the disintegration of his social context to define derailed development see Figure 2.

Figure 2: Symptoms of Derailed Development in Leaders

Derailed personal develop Amos

Amos outlined three destructive cycles of derailed development. Each of these cycles corresponds to categories of development: indifference stems from derailed spiritual development, anger stems from derailed personal development, and destructive behavior is the result of derailed skill development. I have seen all three of Amos’ destructive cycles in the workplace. Notice in Figure 2 that Amos provides symptoms to each of his destructive cycles. Figure 2 serves as a diagnostic model from which to name the root problem that derails leadership development.  Ted for example had started his company with the desire to model servant leadership and social responsibility. Yet his lack of skill in knowing how to build strong teams and deal with conflict eroded his sense of purpose to the point he withdrew from leading. He looked at his team with suspicion and contempt. The fact is he looked in the mirror with the same emotions and projected them onto others. He became angry when I asked him to define his sense of purpose. He deflected the question by telling me to work on enhancing the skills of his leadership team. He became even more agitated when I suggested that the root problem was a lack of purpose not skill and that even with improved skills on the part of his leadership team he would be not happier than he was now. In fact improving the skills of his leadership team would only guaranteed more conflict as his team attempted to cast vision without him.


Leadership Development models offer a way to guide development, integrate new material, measure behavior, and diagnose derailed development. Is there a bottom line for leaders? Yes, leaders who do not think critically about their own and other’s development are leaders who eventually find themselves caught in cycles of indifference, anger, and destructive behavior. If you want to be a leader who finishes well then do the work of reflecting on and encouraging your own and other’s development from a three-dimensional perspective.

[i] Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (New York, NY: The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 2003).

[ii] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: Learning to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015). (Not yet released - coming this fall.)

Entrepreneurs – Listen Up, It May Be Time to Hire Differently

HiringA friend of mine recently called and needed to blow off some steam. His organization grew out of a passion discovered by accident. He jumped on his passion, started a nonprofit, and the organization took off.  “We are at $2 million in budget and I have figured out that I don’t have the right people. A consultant waltzed in and told me to hire an administrator at a six figure salary immediately – lives depend on what we do.  I am not sure I can jeopardize our programs by putting out that kind of salary.  I don’t want to be in the place of hiring someone and then letting them go in six months because our revenue projections were not quite right.” Sound familiar? This founder’s story is not unlike any other founder who has experienced the exhilaration of watching their blood, sweat, and tears turn into a vibrant, howbeit, gangly organization.  At the same time the founder experiences a sense of legitimization and affirmation in the risk they engaged they also face burnout in trying to keep things moving in the right direction. Their original employees don’t have the skills and competencies needed to keep up with the new demands for structure and systems. If left unaddressed the founder ends up feeling like all they are doing is chasing their tail.

Business entrepreneurs, non-profit founders, and church planters all go through this very predictable stage of organizational development. It is important to recognize that founders are simultaneously their organization’s greatest asset and greatest liability!  Founder’s who use an excessively autocratic style become toxic to their own organizations creating the pathologies that ultimately deal a death-blow to the organization. In a fast growing organization like that of my friend the crucial question is, “Will you mentor future leaders in your organization?”

The challenge is making the time. The hardest transition for a founder has two aspects. First, a founder must learn to delegate activity so that there is enough of a margin to spend time developing others.   Second, the founder must recognize when it is time to hire a different kind of person.

Delegating effectively is not simply handing off tasks.  Why? Fast growing organizations typically run with time coefficients that are driven by ego not planning.  “I want this done yesterday” is the predictable demand. The result of this ego driven time coefficient is that delegation occurs on a bungee cord and delivery and service suffers.  Every task that is not accomplished at light speed is pulled back by the increasingly irritated founder. Add to this that no one can do the task correctly. How do founders escape this trap? There are three critical skills every leader must develop: define your working values, be consistent in delegation, and recognize when you need a new kind of employee.

First, name the values from which you actually work. Take the time to name what is important in how tasks get done. For example: I value cost effectiveness, excellence, and ambiance. I want those around me to be attentive to all three when they make purchasing decisions not just one or two. I value teamwork, assertiveness, and responsibility. When people go to work around me I expect them to give me their best insights and their best work. I can’t see everything in the market place and I don’t possess omniscience. However, early in my career these values were implicit and not explicitly a part of my thinking. As a result I became frustrated with the performance of my employees whose work had to be redone because they failed to meet my expectations i.e., my values. Write out your values and talk with your team about them and show them how core values inform daily decisions about how tasks are done.  For more information see

Second, be consistent in your delegation. This requires that you understand the levels of delegation and use these levels specifically to (a) carry out more work and (b) develop the capabilities and capacities of your current team.  Avoid the three cardinal sins of poor delegation: (1) Over management – delegation on a bungee cord.  This results in stunted skill development and poor decision-making down line. (2) Under management i.e., sloppy delegation without boundaries – also possesses a fuzzy scope. This results in frustration. (3) Scapegoat or Surprise accountability – you did not know the assignment was yours until just before it is due. This results in anger. Remember to match individual follow-through ability with the tasks being delegated. Remember the less competent an employee is the more directive you need to be.  Conversely the more competent the employee becomes the more supportive you need to be. Expect your team’s competency to increase.

So, what are the critical components of good delegation? (1) Delegate to clear outcomes and expectations. Use specific verbs for outcomes: plan, implement, or report. (2) Delegate to clearly defined time frames. Timeframes must be realistic to the task. (3) Delegate using the appropriate level of delegation i.e., proper to the skills of the volunteer or staff member to whom you plan to assign the task for example:

  • Level 1: Measure and report back or Research and report findings
  • Level 2: Research and present options based on findings
  • Level 3: Research, recommend a response and report back before doing
  • Level 4: Act and report on the results
  • Level 5: Act with no further communication

Third, recognize when to take the leap and hire that administrative professional. Fast growing organizations share a common behavior.  They are opportunity driven and not driving opportunities. This means becoming less intuitive in how the organization is run and more systematic. What indicates that it is time to hire that professional manager?  Is your organization rapidly growing and is it characterized by: Self confidence – Founder indispensable; Eagerness – High energy; Sales v Marketing orientation; Seeking what else to do; Sales beyond the ability to deliver; Insufficient cost controls; Insufficiently disciplined staff meetings; No consistent salary administration; Leader surrounded by claqueurs; Increasingly remote leadership; Leader’s inflated expectations; Unclear communication; Hope for miracles; Unclear responsibilities; Internal disintegration; and a Workable people-centric organizational structure? Then you are at the turning point.

My friend above was a little surprised to hear me agree with the consultant he rejected. “You do need to hire a capable administrative person,” I said. “Everything you have described to me fits the profile of an organization that is moving toward its own adolescence. If you don’t begin to make the shift now, your organization will become toxic and you will burn out.”

My friend is about to begin a powerful and difficult journey. There is more to this transition than simply finding the right person for the job. That is important. But, for the founder the transition means three big changes.

First, a different kind of leader is needed, one who can bring systems, policies, and administration to the organization. This requires a different set of skills and way of seeing the organization. The organization does not need someone like the founder it needs someone who can complement the founder’s style knowing that the two perspectives will conflict at times. The manager cannot be stronger than the founder but must be able to disagree and engage in the kind of fierce conversations needed to bring about a new level of operational discipline.

Second, recognize that the organization will experience goal displacement i.e., a shift from more is better to better is more occurs. Accounting functions begin to look at profitability and long-term funding rather than only the sales or donations generated.  In for profit organizations pricing and product lines become more predictable and profit is as important as cash flow. Founders generally think that cash flow equals success when in fact the company may be going broke. This is equally as true for nonprofits who have yet to integrate operational controls to decide whether their administrative and program dollars exist in a healthy ratio.

Third, recognize that conflict during this period of change is predictable and normal. During this period a temporary loss of vision may occur – that is normal. A shift occurs that makes the organization sovereign rather than the founder sovereign.  Policies are made then challenged.  The point is that the organization becomes a reproducible system it has the ability of moving to a new level of effectiveness in its mission.

What can go wrong?  In this critical transition failure looks like a loss of mutual respect and trust among those who have formal and informal control of the decision-making process.[1] The temptation is to return to a time when the company was smaller and flexible. The founder can fire the new manager. Yet if this occurs the organization does not revert to the past level of fun. Instead, it enters a time of uncertainty and self-doubt.  The other risk is that the organization my lose its sense of mission and purpose and engender an environment of rule following in which the entrepreneurial drive disappears entirely.

If you understand your core values, if you exercise good delegation, if you recognize the need to diversify the leadership of your organization and develop leaders in every function of the organization, then you are in a good place to take the next step and move to a different level of success in what your organization intends to carry out. And so, my friend has begun his journey to a different way of working.  How about you?

[1] Ichak Adizes. Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 48-55.  Adizes’ book is a must read for Founders in all types of organizations.  The more his concept is understood the easier it is to predict organizational transitions and apply the right organizational strategies at the right time.

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.

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), .

Coaching - A Craze or a Value Add?

What is Coaching?  

DSC01787A friend of mine just endured an awful hour of interaction with a coach.  The coach apparently listened for a moment and proceeded to offer a solution to my friend's situation. Have you every noticed that when people give advice (1) it is rarely listened to and (2) it almost always fails.  My friend's coach must be new or worse, someone untrained in coaching and unemployed who decided to surf the trend and hang out a shingle as a coach.  

There are some great coaches out there, my friend did not find one of them.  What is coaching?  Coaching is an intentional and facilitated conversation. It encourages rigor in the way leaders organize thinking, envisioning, planning and expectations. Coaching challenges the limits of competence and learning horizons. 

Good coaches know how to pull out the best from their clients.  Good coaches know how to get their clients to see their situation from another perspective so that they have "aha" moments that generate new approaches.

Understanding coaching is often understanding how it is different from other business or professional interactions.  For example: coaching is not therapy i.e., healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an person or in relationships. Coaching is not training which relies on a linear learning path that coincides with established curriculum. Coaching is not mentoring which typically relies on the wisdom and guidance of expert experience. Coaching is not consulting - a consultant diagnoses problems and prescribes and, sometimes, carry out solutions.

Why Do Leaders Look for Coaching?

Leaders sometimes need to energize confidence. Coaching helps a person concentrate on what's truly important in their business, their relationships and/or their life. Coaching asks the kinds of questions that help define core values and work from them with integrity. Because coaching helps a person interrogate their reality and many see that coaching reduces the chances of  making damaging blunders.

Leaders in new situations or change situations often need to empower relationships to succeed. One result of spending time with a coach is that people learn to engage new listening and communication skills that enhance confidence in and consideration of your relationships and build co-operation with the competencies, skills and insights of others on their team.

Leaders sometimes need to simply check in and reassess accomplishment. Coaching helps clarify, prioritize and manage immediately the most pressing issues.  The questions asked by a coach expose a person's best thinking thereby unleashing creativity and reducing the number of issues subconsciously vying for their attention – less time taken for anxiety means more energy every day.

Why does Coaching Work?

Coaching works because it meets you in the here and now, it enters your situation with insight and consideration. It's collaboration between you, your knowledge, your experience and your coach. Coaching accelerates the process of definition and clarifies what steps will take you to your goal. Coaching is work.

The coaching process often helps people name their own self-imposed obstacles to success. Internal obstacles to leadership action are often more daunting than the external ones. What keeps a person from meeting their goals?  Managing the risk of pain or failure in past experiences often results in risk avoidance that limits possibilities. Coaching helps a person define themselves by their dreams for the future and not their past. Coaching helps people embrace weaknesses as learning points.

Coaching creates a safe and supportive environment to expose hindrances to growth and development. A safe environment provides the impetus needed to push beyond self-doubt and grow and make concrete progress toward that to which  a person aspires.

How Do I Find a Good Coach?

Who do you know that uses a coach? Have you asked for referrals? How have you searched for a coach? What kind of coach do you think would help you? What are their personality traits? What would led you to respect a coach? What would led you to loose respect? Have you spent 15  to 30 minutes talking with a potential coach about what you hope to accomplish?  How did you leave that conversation? Did you wonder how the potential coach got you to think more deeply about your question?  Did you realize something you had not seen or admitted before? May I suggest that if you leave the conversation with advice...that you keep looking?  Of course you may get lucky and happened on an expert who just dropped the key insight you needed for your operation.

What kinds of experiences have you had with coaching?  I am interested in hearing from you so leave a reply.  Thank you.

Are You Lost as a Leader? Did you see the road signs? Pt 2

Great Leaders Recognize The Road Signs of Development 14383930-dirty-under-construction-signWhen leaders face boundaries in their development they may not realize at first that they face a boundary at all.  The realization unfolds as actions and decisions that once were effective no longer work.  Success in working through boundaries requires that the leader to recognize the presence of a boundary and make a commitment to shift from the old to the new. Without this mental shift the odds of ending up in a major pitfall are significant.

Leaders develop through boundary events that occur in course of life. Boundary events are either powerfully formative or devastatingly destructive.  It is not the experience itself that determines the outcome in leaders lives.  Individual choices determine the outcomes of these boundary experiences.  Outcomes are not inherent in the experience itself.

Boundary Events are Predictable

Boundary events are experiences (1) such as trials or tests that corner the person and force them to answer questions about who they are and what is really important to them and (2) a point at which a leader faces the necessity of moving to depth in: skills, perspective or self-awareness to continue in and grow in effectiveness.

As illustrated below leaders face significant boundaries at various periods of time in their career and personal life. Boundary experiences are like warning signs indicating a change ahead. Leaders ignore these signs at their own peril. The degree to which a person fails to embrace boundary experiences they increase their internal dissonance, slow their growth and plateau in their development (as illustrated in Figure 1 in the four negative deltas indicating stalled growth).

Figure 1 illustrates development over a lifetime and the significant boundaries associated with early career (1); mid-career adjustments (2) e.g., when career expectations are typically reevaluated; late-career (3); and post-retirement (4) when people typically ponder how their legacy will impact future generations and how they come to terms with their own mortality.

Notice in Figure 1 that the development of new skill is only part of the aspect of development in a leader.  It is easy in our western society with its emphasis on qualitative definitions of reality to forget that development as a person and especially development as a leader is not mono-faceted but multi-faceted.

Figure 1 illustrates the “drag” that occurs on development (z-axis). When leaders fail to acknowledge or address internal issues related to identity and spirituality dissonance grows louder. When internal dissonance is high, such as in the middle of a boundary experience, then one’s confidence and sense of purpose diminish (a negative force) and contribution/confidence sags.

Notice that in some boundary experiences it takes time to adjust to new situations or positions or relationships before a sense of contribution grows again (see delta 3 in Figure 1). In situations where learning and adjustment take longer than is comfortable it is even more important to recognize and accept the boundary event as a catalyzing event and look for ways to define its meaning. Embracing the event or circumstance is the prerequisite to deep change.

Figure 1: Boundary Factors in Development

Boundary Experiences

Three Common Boundaries

There are three common road signs to which leaders must pay attention. These boundary experiences are critical shaping events.

New Experience – defined as being thrust into new terrain such as an overseas assignment, unexpected turn of events in business or family life, new social or organizational role.  Overcoming disorientation the disorientation common in new experiences to weave it into one’s own experiential tapestry is the challenge. Be aware of the frame through which you view new experiences.  Your first impressions will most likely be wrong. Ask questions.  Learn to rely on others, gain common ground by telling stories and encouraging others to share their views. Remember that such events conspire to make you a leader more than any inherent talent or unique ability you have.

Setback - loss or failure that is profoundly disruptive and bewildering. In a setback, internal dissonance amplifies when what was permanent is transient what was believed is questioned. The challenge in setbacks is to see one’s situation in a fundamentally new and more comprehensive way.  Seeing this bigger picture is as liberating as seeing only the experience itself is debilitating.  A comprehensive perspective introduces new opportunities and options previously hidden by the individual’s comfort myopia (the shortsightedness that assigns success or sense of well-being a permanent status in life) .  In today’s difficult economic environment setbacks are common.  What is not as common is watching people use setbacks to define a new sense of meaning and purpose and skill.

Deferral - an unanticipated hiatus during which routines are set aside, sometimes forcibly, and replaced with a regimented structure or no structure at all.   Deferrals challenge leaders to clarify or create their personal mission and purpose; to cement their foundational beliefs and values.  These beliefs and values are critical to shaping organizational culture, creating powerful delegation and unleashing innovation.

The Significance of Seeing and Embracing Boundaries

The significance of identifying boundaries is twofold.  First, the experience of a boundary event or episode is normal and is not a sign of fate aligned against the person.  I occasionally meet people so narcissistic they believe that everything and everyone is against them – effective leaders do not have time for such self-absorption.

Second, boundaries tend to cluster around specific periods of development. New territory boundaries cluster in early career, reversals tend to cluster in mid-carrier and suspension seem to cluster around later career.  Even though this clustering pattern is clear it is not absolute – all three boundary experiences can present at any time.  But recognizing the clustering pattern does help leaders (1) recognize boundaries and mitigate panic/anxiety and (2) expect their arrival to capitalize on the learning experience faster.

The question then is how do you handle your transitions and boundary times? Do new experiences, setbacks or deferred hopes collapse your personal sense of purpose and emotional resilience?  Or do you use these boundary times to engage learning and development to see new things about yourself and your situation?  It takes courage to face change regardless of whether the change is “good” or “bad”.

Growth occurs in the exercise of new skills and perspectives.  What makes a person successful in one role is not what is required in a new role – whether the role is a new job, a new relationship or a new life stage.  The simple fact is that leaders fail not because of what they can or cannot do (ability) but because of what they do or do not let go of.  Six specific actions help:

  1. Establish a clear break point: discipline yourself to make a mental transition in terms of the old – take up the new.  For example in a new job make a mental transition from old to new - take time to celebrate your move.
  2. Relearn how to learn: exposure to new demands typically results in feelings of incompetence and vulnerability. While these emotions are normal to learning they become problematic when they unconsciously cause you to gravitate toward areas you feel competent (usually a step backwards from where you should be functioning).  Learning strategies that go wrong result in behaviors that are; defensive, screen out criticism and blame-shift.  If you see these characteristics in your relationships read the road signs! Be committed to a learning process.
  3. Hit the ground running: the transition to something new begins the moment you understand you are in a period of transition. Work to define the significance of your transition and where you are going then you will gain some traction in the new role or new way of thinking. Then plan what you want to carry out by specific milestones. The simple act of planning helps people keep a clear head.
  4. Assess your vulnerabilities: transitions associated with a promotion occur because those that hire you thought you had the skills to succeed. You probably do. Avoid the temptation to work at the level below what you were hired to be. Do this by assessing your preferences and comparing these to the demands of your new role. Ask your mentor(s) to help you avoid the temptation to go back to more familiar behavior.
  5. Watch out for your strengths: strengths have attendant pitfalls. Watch out for these as much as you watch out for your weaknesses. Your strengths could lead you down the fatal path of micromanagement or other behaviors that demoralize your relationships. (Use assessments. Birkman Method assessment is an excellent tool to understand your perceptual strengths and show blind spots or the impact of stress on the way others experience your behavior.)
  6. Find a coach: as illustrated in my story, leader's do not have a magic insight into reality that functions independent of others. Janice's insistence we ask for directions helped transition our situation from being lost to getting back on track.  Listen to great leaders long enough and you will hear them talk about the impact their coaches or mentors have had on them in the course of their career.  Why is coaching so formative? Coaching is an intentional and facilitated conversation. It encourages rigor in the way leaders organize thinking, visioning, planning and expectations. Coaching challenges the limits of competence and learning horizons.


Great leaders are masters at asking for direction, watching the signs along the way and making decisions about where they want to end up. They recognize when internal dissonance indicates they face a boundary in their development. They recognize that facing boundaries is predictable and they prepare for to face boundary times by keeping close mentoring and coaching relationships.

What clearly differentiates the great from the mediocre is a commitment to leverage every boundary experience (either positive or negative) as a learning opportunity.  Do you recognize the boundaries you face? Are you learning or are you resisting? Your answer determines your destination.

Are You Lost as a Leader? Did you see the road signs? Pt 1

Great Leaders Know when to Ask for Directions AA026695She let out a long sigh. “We are lost. Why don’t we stop and ask for directions?” she said.

“No, no,” I responded, “this looks familiar I know the college is just around here somewhere.  I got it.”

The conversation occurred in 1975 when my wife and I were on our way to Eugene to start our second year of undergraduate work.  We had courted the first year out of high school and then married while we both kicked out our first two semesters of our freshman year before transferring to Eugene. I exhibited the seeds of leadership failure we typically call hubris – it is the kind of fierce independence that usually smacks of an equally fierce insecurity.  It kills leaders, and it would have killed me except I had married this delightfully independent woman who was not about to be dragged all over Eugene by a man clearly acting like an evolutionary throw back.

“Turn in here,” she shouted as we drove within range of a gasoline station.  I complied more out of stunned shock than an admission that I was lost. She jumped out of the car before it stopped and ran inside the station to ask directions.  Her recognition of our situation (we were lost) and her ability to connect with a perfect stranger and ask for help expedited our arrival at the campus.  The event sticks with me to this day as an illustration of a critical leadership question – am I aware of the transitions I face and do I have the relationships I need to ask for help in facing them?

… transitions are critical times when small differences in your actions can have disproportionate impacts on results. Leaders, regardless of their level, are most vulnerable in their first few months in a new position because they lack detailed knowledge of challenges they will face and what it will take to succeed in meeting them: they also have not developed a network of relationships too sustain them.[1]

Knowing how to ask for directions and recognizing the nature of critical transitions are critical for leadership development.  To continue the metaphor for a moment (perhaps to the breaking point) many people drive aimlessly about in life complaining about the lack of road signs or inadequate maps when clarity in their life depends in part on asking for directions.

The ability to rise to the challenge of either voluntary or involuntary transitions instead of collapsing under pressure is a decision. When leaders collapse they disengage. When they disengage they show deteriorating output, aggravation, absenteeism, negativity, toxic aggressiveness, depression and loss of direction.

Great Leaders Watch the Signs of the Road

The fact of the matter is that like road signs indicating a choice of direction, people face transitions that point to the necessity of new choices and decisions that either set a pathway for continued development or derail development.

Transitions are experiences (1) such as trials or tests that corner the person and force them to answer questions about who they are and what is really important to them and (2) a point at which a leader faces the necessity of moving to depth in: skills, perspective or self-awareness to continue in and grow in effectiveness.  Facing these barriers means that leaders have the opportunity to:[1]

  • Bring to closure recent experiences – closure identifies significant lessons and allows the person to move forward.
  • Deepen spiritual growth (relationship to God). This is not religious weirdness.  Spiritual growth results in a clearer picture of purpose, moral fabric and awareness of others’ current and potential contribution.  One of my friends identifies himself as a Christian the other does not. But both describe a deeply spiritual experience in the challenges they faced.
  • Expand perspective to see new things – without the challenge of barriers or challenges people often tend to plateau in their growth.  Remember the proverbial definition of insanity attributed to Peter Drucker i.e., doing the same activity over and over expecting different results.
  • Make decisions that launch a new phase of development – this development extends to everyone within reach of the leader’s influence.  The entire organization benefits when leaders successfully navigate the barriers to their personal growth.


Great leaders are masters at asking for direction, watching the signs along the way and making decisions about where they want to end up. The New Year is often a time of transition.  Not only do we make resolutions about who we want to be or what we want to do – the month of January is also the time of year when a significant number of people land new jobs. Do you recognize the road signs of your own development? Are you taking responsibility for your own career/life development and growth?  Do you ask for directions? What does 2013 hold in store for you?

[1] Michael Watkins. The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2003), xi.

Develop Next Generation Leaders - Bridging Different Perspectives

"The most important leadership activity," Bobby said, "is identifying and developing leaders." In my business and non-profit experience equipping a new generation is a high priority quest today.  Leadership development is not just concerned with specified succession and talent planning but understanding how to reach emerging markets or effectively reach a growing demographic diversity. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) recently released a study that had two important insights about the next generation leaders now in need of development.

First - what is it that excites today's leaders about the emerging generation?  Several things stood out in the CCL report:

Their comfort/skill with technology and social networks for information/connectivity. (See:

  • Their creativity, openness to new ideas and the fresh perspective they bring.
  • Their multi-cultural/global awareness and tolerance of difference.
  • Their adaptability, learning-orientation and acceptance of rapid change.
  • Their confidence and willingness to take a stand or challenge the status quo.
  • Their enthusiasm, dedication and work ethic.
  • Their collaborative and team-orientation - their willingness to work across boundaries
  • Their strong sense of ethics, service-oriented leadership and desire to make a difference.

The potential inherent in new technologies for doing great and good things is inspiring - even with the dark side of technology.  Every new generation has to wrestle with the dark side of change.  The fact is that they way we do business today, the way customers find us, the way customers buy are all radically different than even ten years ago. The changes are both breath taking and astonishing.

Yet I remember one of my mentors telling me, "Ray, I am not impressed with talent.  I see a lot of talent.  I am impressed with character that shapes talent into consistent outcomes, commitment and endurance." The same idea is said about today' s emerging leaders and it is a message that should be heard. In my experience the weakest of these traits (when I find weakness) rests on the confidence and assertiveness of emerging leaders.  Some emerging leaders need help identifying their own uniqueness and how to relate - a need discussed in one of my earlier blogs see

The survey results also identified what many leaders are concerned about in the development of emerging leaders namely:

  • Their unjustified/unrealistic sense of entitlement, need for instant gratification and affirmation
  • Their lack of ability to communicate effectively face-to-face and their over-dependence on technology
  • Their lack of a strong work ethic, focus/commitment/drive,  that they don't always seem self-motivated
  • Their lack of learning opportunities (mentoring, positive role models, training adequate to future challenges they will face)
  • Their lack of a strong sense of values, ethics, or social responsibility
  • Their lack of reflection/self-awareness/maturity
  • Their overconfidence and resistance to input or feedback

Clearly the perceptions don't apply to every emerging leader.  However, in both my non-profit work and work in business I see these two sets of traits constantly.  So what?  CCL's survey results set the stage for some great conversations.  How is your organization leveraging the development of its emerging leaders?  Mentors need to know how to lead emerging leaders into owning their development and becoming truly differentiated people. Emerging leaders don't have to wait to be mentored...find mentors!  In one of my relationships with an emerging leader the sense of entitlement demonstrated itself in this person's assumption that by simply showing up with a college degree they would be made a manager.  Their disappointment when they were overlooked for a promotion was palpable. However, they were overlooked for their failure to take advantage of mentoring and other informal learning opportunities.

How are you addressing the dynamics described in the lists above in your organization or company?

You are Stalled as a Leader Because you are Lost as a Person

The most dynamic leaders I know are also the most interesting people.  Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. Developing leaders is a multifaceted process that has much more to do with helping leaders develop who they are than it does developing a technical understanding of leadership. Growth as a leader is multifaceted because people do not develop along a linear path of skill sets that build capacity. Instead leaders simultaneously develop technical skills, interpersonal styles and conceptual ability in a complex interaction between their internal sense of purpose, the context in which they lead (i.e., the relational dynamics of the organization) and the varying demands of the market place for product.

Identifying the factors of development along linear paths, as I have done in the diagram above, helps define the components of a leader's development and illustrates that simply learning new skills is not the most significant aspect of leadership.  The failure of many leadership development programs is that they focus solely on attempts to develop the skills and ability of leaders without addressing the far more important aspects of the leader's identity as rooted in his or her personality and their spirituality (consciousness i.e., how they perceive reality).

Real success in leadership is not so much a technical skill as it is the ability to read the emotional environment and reassure people in the face of anxiety.  Leaders who are most effective in reading the emotional environment of their organization and offering reassurance stand out – they exude confidence (not hubris) that reassure others and moves the conversation from anxiety to possibility. They have a secure identity. They have a differentiated sense of self.

If the leader understands his/her differentiation from the group then they are able to act without being affected by the group's (institution's) own emotional processes.  Without a clearly differentiated sense of self the leader fails to develop clear values, a unique vision or a defined moral foundation.  Instead the undifferentiated person looses the nerve to be his or her own self in the face of the emotional reaction of the group to both internal and external events. The leadership challenge inherent in being a differentiated person is succinctly described by Friedman:

A leader must separate his or her own emotional being from that of his or her followers while still remaining connected.  Vision is basically an emotional rather than a cerebral phenomenon, depending more on a leader's capacity to deal with anxiety than his or her professional training or degree.[i]

A differentiated person possesses clarity about their life goals and clarity about their own capacity potential. A differentiated person is unruffled by the reactivity of others.  A differentiated person or leader is able to express his/her self without blaming.  This person takes responsibility for their own destiny and emotional health.

Without a differentiated sense of self leaders become caught up in the organization’s emotional processes. As a result often agitate anxiety instead of steering the group through it.  When a leader agitates his or her organization’s anxiety then behaviors such as reactivity, herding (quest for uniformity versus individuality in which the organization adapts to its least mature member), blaming, a quick-fix mentality and a lack of leadership occur.

I met Steve Moreau some time after he stepped into a CEO role in 2005. The way he presented himself impressed me.  He consistently emphasized three core values: excellence, engagement and execution.  He emanated conviction, energy and commitment.  He did not seem to be merely mouthing a formula or the tag line of the latest business book. Steve capably lead the hospital he lead from loosing money to being one of the top 100 acute care hospitals in the nation and he did it in two years.  How?  Rather than blame his staff for poor engagement, or blame the situation Steve initiated change in how he and the organization related – he did not allow the least emotional mature members of the staff to decide the emotional climate of the hospital.  He brought in coaches to work with his executive team and key managers to help them define their own individuality and he affirmed that individuality by rewarding performance and creativity.

How are you doing as a leader?  Are you unruffled by the emotional reactivity of others?  Do you hold others accountable for their own emotional wake?  Do you insist that the least mature of your staff to grow?  If you are then you most likely face the sabotage and resistance real leadership generates but you also experience progress and breakthroughs in how people on your team assess their situation and possibilities.   Are you a differentiated person? If not, it is time to hire a coach or find a mentor capable of helping you change the way you see yourself and overcome the imaginative barriers that keep you from risking new thinking. If you are stalled as a leader you may be lost as a person. Don’t attend another seminar boasting 12 great breakthrough strategies – do the hard work of knowing yourself.

[i] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix [Kindle Version], 430 of 5400. Retrieved from

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 and 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

[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 for more information.

What is mentoring? Define the power of helping others develop.

Mentoring Defined In this series on mentors it is proper to offer a brief description about what I mean when I use the word "mentor."  What do I mean by the word mentor?

Mentoring is a multidimensional relationship where a mentor and a mentee work together to make specific, mutually defined goals that focus on developing the mentee’s skills, abilities, knowledge and thinking. (Zachary)

Mentoring is a relationship between two people, usually a senior and a junior employee, whereby the senior employee teaches the junior employee about his/her job, introduces the junior to contacts, orients the junior employee to the industry and organization and addresses social or personal issues that arise on the job. (Allen, Finkelstein, Poteet)

Mentoring is to serve as a catalyst in drawing out the potential that God has given to His people and to give people what they need for the work of ministry that God has given them. (Fukuda)

Mentoring is a relational process, in which 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.  (Clinton)

Mentoring is a relationship between two individuals that allows individuals to address concerns about self, career, and family by providing opportunities to gain knowledge, skills, and competence and to address personal and professional dilemmas. (Kram)

Mentoring is a kind of sacred archetype, a capacity to illuminate a role of often-hidden yet rare power in the drama of human development. (Daloz)

Definitions offer a helpful howbeit incomplete definition. What is the activity of mentoring?  In some cases mentoring takes place even when there is no direct relationship between a mentor and a mentee.  This is important to understand particularly as a busy executive or leader experienced in the tension between developing leaders around you and meeting the demands of the organization.  From the definitions above several observations are important to identify. Mentoring is:

  1. Relational/personal/intimate – assumes that one of the two has the degree of emotional intelligence needed to endure immaturity because of the potential seen in another person.
  2. Intentional – because of his or her experience the mentor sees what is needed to succeed in the larger context, the mentee sees what is needed in the immediate context.  This reciprocal agenda is characteristic of adult learning styles.
  3. Empowering – the result of this relationship is that the mentee is empowered in their capacity of accomplishment and being.
  4. Opportune – these points of empowerment are fitting to specific periods of development. Mentoring needs change with time and the developmental stages of the mentee.  This relates back to the dynamic character of the mentoring relationship.

Functional Categories To expand the definition of mentoring toward actionable strategies researchers identify a variety of distinct mentoring functions that also occur in a continuum of involvement indicating more deliberate to less deliberate or more intensive to less intensive personal involvement. All researchers essentially start with the mentoring types identified by either Kathy E. Kram or J. Robert Clinton to define the activity of mentoring and its empowering function toward the mentee.  The Table 1 below identifies their respective lists of mentoring types.

Table 1: Mentoring Functions Identified


Clinton and Clinton[2]

Exposure & visibility




Challenging assignments

Role modeling

Acceptance – confirmation






Contemporary model


Historical model

Divine contact

Spiritual guide


Notice the similarities and the differences in the two lists. Clinton and Clinton write from a faith-based perspective used in many Christian organizations and congregations.  Kram writes from a business perspective familiar with the demands of a global enterprise. Kram further differentiates her list by identifying career and psychosocial functions thus paying attention to a holistic development in leadership i.e., the reality that without solid social skills great technicians make lousy leaders.[3]

  • Career: those aspects of relationship that enhance career advancement.
  • Psychosocial: shoes aspects of the relationship that enhance sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness in a professional role.

Clinton and Clinton further differentiate their list by identifying a continuum of involvement in terms of the kind of empowerment, deliberateness, depth and awareness of effort.  Clinton differentiates these three aspects of the continuum based on the dynamics involved that determine the depth and awareness of the effort involved.[4]

  • Active mentoring: implies that both the mentor and the mentee must be active in their respective responsibilities inherent in the dynamics i.e., attraction, relationship, responsiveness, accountability, empowerment.
  • Occasional mentoring: implies that the degree of involvement needed is less intensive than active mentoring and that the dynamics involved include attraction, responsiveness and empowerment but not necessarily relationship and accountability.
  • Passive mentoring: implies the least intensive involvement of the mentoring types where the dynamics include attraction, responsiveness and empowerment but are devoid of relationship.  Accountability may or may not be a part of these functions.

I synthesize the models of Kram and Clinton in my work in developing leaders cf. Table 2.

Table 2: Wheeler’s Synthesis of Mentoring Functions


Active mentoring

Occasional mentoring

Passive mentoring

Career Functions

Coaching – skills, insight to informal and political processes

Trainer – knowledge and its application

Exposure & visibility – preparation for greater responsibility

Protection – reduction of unnecessary risks or criticism

Sponsorship – opportunity for advancement

Challenging assignments – development of technical or managerial skills

Psychosocial Functions

Discipler – habits, spiritual formation

Counseling – advice on personal concerns

Role model – values identification & clarification

Friendship – a sounding board, perspective

Acceptance & confirmation – self-differentiation in a relationship in which conflict is safe

Divine contact – guidance in decisions

It is important as a mentor to differentiate between the functions and types of mentoring for several reasons:

  1. Identify your own strengths as a mentor and focus on those mentee relationships or encounters that you can leverage best for the mentee's development.  Passive mentoring functions show that direct long-term personal involvement is not a prerequisite to every mentoring action.   This is important particularly for those leaders whose scope of responsibility is large thus cutting down on the amount of time available for hands-on mentoring assignments.
  2. Identify the time constraints required in the functions and types of mentoring activity.  Leadership development is the first order of task for a leader – however highly effective leaders already have full schedules.  Awareness of one’s mentoring style and the amount of time demand inherent in the functions and types of mentoring activity allow the leader to sequence their involvement in the lives of emerging and established leaders.
  3. Conduct a mentoring function analysis of available mentoring functions within your organization.  Determine whether the organization possessed the mentoring bandwidth to effectively develop leaders at all levels of the organization or if it needs outside assistance.
  4. Conduct a mentee need analysis to decide what types of mentoring activity an emergent or an incumbent leader needs to help them through a boundary period in their development.

Conclusion Mentoring often takes place without the official titles of mentor and mentee.  Any time informal training takes place (that is training outside the classroom or outside the training room) a mentoring function transpires. The definitions above outline the advantages of formalizing definitions of mentoring.  It is obvious in the research literature that those organizations that commit to developing a highly functional mentoring culture show a higher degree of success in reproducing leaders.  Where organizations fail to give a high degree of facilitation and oversight mentoring occurs far less often and with much fewer results. Mentoring contributes to employee retention and a higher quality of leadership interaction in organizations that develop mentoring programs.  As will be clear in the next article, effective mentoring – such as that modeled by Jethro and Moses in the earlier article,, is particularly important during times of organizational transition. Dollar for dollar the use of mentoring in any organization shows a much higher return than any other form of employee development because mentoring is (1) just in time input based on the learning needs and style of the employee; (2) mentoring requires far fewer resources than any other form of training and (3) mentoring adapts to market conditions faster than any other form of training.

[1] Kathy E. Kram. Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988), 23.
[2] J. Robert Clinton and Richard W. Clinton. The Mentoring Handbook: Detailed Guidelines and Helps for Christian Mentors and Mentorees (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1991), 2-24.
[3] Kram, 23.
[4] Clinton & Clinton, 2-24.

You Can Make a Difference - Why Don't You?

We Saw it in the Arab Spring – How about a Corporate Spring?

You say you want a revolution Well, you know We all want to change the world[1]

The events of the Arab Spring affirm the observation that revolutions do not start at the top where the past and tradition is especially venerated – revolutions start at the bottom where the most diversity and possibility of broad-based adoption. But the Arab Spring could dwindle into narcissistic self-absorption like many of the “revolutionaries” of the 1970s in the United States who are now near retirement some of them wondering what happened to the idealism of their youth.

I was talking to a more experienced friend of mine about the challenges I faced in one organizational context in which I work.  “You need,” he said after listening for while, “to read Gary Hamel’s book.”

He loaned Leading the Revolution and I have thought about a couple of the insights that live between the covers of this fascinating thesis.

Hamel insists that in business (or any organization) the responsibility for innovation must be broadly distributed.  I know from experience that the caveat is that those at the top typically derail attempts at broadly distributing responsibility for innovation as a means of protecting precedent (the prerogative of a few). In fact when operating models, business models, mental models and political models are in perfect alignment then the chance of innovation breaks down under the pressure to silence dissenters who threaten the status quo and the rewards inherent in being at the top.

Nurturing innovation requires that the organization’s mental model (deeply cherished beliefs) be challenged (pushed out of alignment with the business model) so that assumptions can be rethought.  This however is not possible without first throwing the political model (distribution of power) out of alignment long enough to redistribute power so innovation can take hold. If power remains narrowly distributed at the top then the chance of successfully innovating from the bottom is next to impossible.  This gives me pause to think about (1) how I have acted when I have been at the top and face dissenters who want to review how we do things and (2) how I manage the political power of organizations in which I do not exist at the top.

Figure 1: Creating Space for Business Concept Innovation[2]

So what is it that moves the mental and political models of an organization to make room for innovation as illustrated in Figure 1?

It takes two things to push mental and political models off-balance enough to introduce innovation according to Hamel: imagination and passion.  The risk is the potential for political backlash (e.g., Bashar al-Hassad in Syria during the Syrian uprising of 2012).  However, without becoming an imaginative and passionate activist unleashing innovation has little or no chance of occurring. Hamel makes an important point about becoming an activist in an organizational sense:

Activists are not anarchists.  They are, the “loyal opposition.” Their goal is to create a movement within their company and a revolution outside in.[3]

In discussing activism in a purely organization sense, activists are committed to their company and to a cause that is at odds with pervading values or practices within the organization. Activists can behave responsibly and be a source of alternative ideas according to Hamel. Activists refuse to fit in on the one hand and live out street-smart pragmatism on the other hand.  It is this second point - street smart pragmatism - that is often missing in inexperienced activists.  They fail to see the potential backlash or pitfalls inherent in activism and so become the walking wounded who give up because they miscalculated the severity of the backlash.

So why care enough to engage in the behaviors of an activist?  Hamel offers three compelling reasons:

  1. A person needs to live and work with purpose over and above their paycheck.  Research demonstrates that those people who experience flow are also people who work out of a sense of purpose.[4]
  2. The organization is not "them" – it’s you. Whining about "them" is simply an excuse to justify inaction.
  3. You owe activism to your friends and colleagues – they deserve to make a very cool difference in the world.


Many of the leaders I work with both in the class room and in the board room can profit from this insight by Hamel. They don’t want to be  an empty suit or disillusioned has-been. On the other hand some people simply don’t want to risk the potential backlash nor the work needed to engage in true innovation. How about you?  Are you an imaginative and passionate contributor to purpose and meaning in work?

Here is another question, what if you are at the top?  Are you ready to be an activist?  What does it mean for those who follow you?  What does street smart pragmatism look like for you around your board or other stake holders?  Remember, your employees and colleagues deserve to make a very cool difference in the world.

[1] John Lennon (credited as Lennon-McCartney) Recorded: July 10-12, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)

[2] Gary Hamel. Leading the Revolution  (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 150.

[3] Hamel 153

[4] Csikszentmihalyi, M & Rathunde, K (1993). "The measurement of flow in everyday life: Towards a theory of emergent motivation". In Jacobs, JE. Developmental perspectives on motivation. Nebraska symposium on motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 60.ISBN 0803292104.  Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1975), Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass,ISBN 0875892612. The concept of happiness and “flow” both observe that happy people or people who experience flow possess a sense of purpose in their work.

The Betrayal Part 3: Building Trust Not Toxicity in Leadership

The Challenge of Lost Trust In the first and second installment of this series I looked at what makes trusted friends turn into fatal enemies in business.  When trust dissipates into posturing and the emergence of win/loose competition or attempts to annihilate a foe the result is a toxic impasse. In my example I cited the situation in which an owner became his own worst enemy – his quest for power, prestige and privilege divorced from the responsibility, discipline and trust needed to sustain his quest ended in the demise of his business and the blatant quest of his partner to put him out of business.

There is no single issue at work in the demise of interpersonal relationships. Personal histories show up in the stressors of a startup business with wildly different sets of assumptions.  Yet in the growth of any organization (for profit or non-profit) a tipping point exists that predicts stressors in the relationship among leaders and one of two outcomes: (1) leadership divorce or (2) leadership conflict toward discovery.

Predictable Tension Points

Dynamic organizations grow as a result of the driving vision of an entrepreneurial founder and reach a point at which the founder can no longer keep up with the multiple demands of the organization.  At this crossroad the owner or founder (remember this stage of organizational development occurs in non-profit and for profit organizations) realizes that he/she needs help.

The organization must develop its own identity and processes that move the vision and mission of the Founder forward beyond the skills and abilities of the founder.  One of my favorite organizational theorist calls this the need for organizational versus personal sovereignty.

Organizational sovereignty is an essential building block to the development of great internal structures and processes.  Leaders need to understand the logic behind the development of processes and rules that make sure consistent quality and accountability in the performance of the core competencies of a company or organization as it pursues the vision that birthed it in the first place.

Vision First

In my view organizations won’t die for lack of core competencies per se. I have been a part of growing organizations that suffered for lack of competence but survived because their vision temporarily moved them past the restrictions of incompetence.  This is not to say that the lack of competence in leadership has no eventual adverse or destructive impact.  When an organization possesses a vision for a different reality, and that the vision permeates every aspect of the organization it can weather periods of slowed momentum regardless of incomplete competencies.

However, when an owner/founder recognizes the need for new management talent yet consistently usurps their input once hired the talent will disengage. If this occurs the organization reverts to a earlier stage of development or begins a death cycle.  Owners or founders who find their organizations repeating the same growth and loss patterns should look in the mirror.

Conceptualizing the Tension Points - Organizational Sovereignty

The challenge an owner/founder faces is how to alter his or her perspective on leadership to proactively engage in the development of leadership at every level of their organization – this sounds simple until the owner realizes that developing leadership means redefining control. Two classic mistakes occur.

On the one hand the cost of talent leads an owner to reject the right talent in favor of the almost right talent.  The results of a bad hire are obvious almost immediately multiplying the owner/founder’s worries and work than streamlining both.

Similarly owners who hire the right talent, delegate the right decisions then panic and revert to withdrawing control also face the likelihood that (a) their talent will leave or (b) they will fire their new managers because they don’t know how to redefine the locus of control from themselves to the organization.  The result is disastrous.

If the organization is to thrive then it must successfully carry out a different approach to authority.  Adizes (1988) makes this observation:

The move to Adolescence requires delegation of authority.  In a society this is analogous to making the move from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarch where the king is willing to abide by a constitution.  The Founder must be willing to say, "I am willing to subject myself to the company rather than have the company subject to me.  I will be bound by the same policies that bind everyone else."[1]

The illustration of a constitutional monarchy is an important one. In a privately held company the owner does bear the bulk of the risk in the early days.  Typically it is the owner’s house, savings, or equity that is on the line when it comes to the financial performance of the organization.  It is this risk that causes owners to jerk back on the reigns of delegation to override organizational sovereignty.  History demonstrates that any monarch’s attempt to reassert absolute control after having set up a constitutional existence is sure to end poorly.

In non-profits the same dynamic works.  It is still the founder’s assets, equity and sweat equity that has built the original organization (e.g., church startups). In this situation a pastor feels all the same sense of threat and fear a business owner does at the prospect of relinquishing control by subjecting themselves to an emerging leadership team of staff and governance members. The question remains – will the pastor abide by the same policies that bind everyone else?

The move toward organizational sovereignty is a screening time -- " separates those organizations which will advance and flourish from those which will flounder.  It separates those organizations that have self-discipline and those that don't."[2] To become a great organization requires self-discipline to control urges and short-term temptations.  Organizational self-discipline keeps its focus on the long-term while simultaneously turning its attention to its internal controls and processes with the goal of doing fewer things better as defined by its core vision and core competencies.[3]

The transition even when done well is not instantaneous.  Adizes (1988) observed:

…management can spend a year defining the organization chart, determining its corporate mission (not only deciding what else its going to do but also deciding what it's not going to do), developing training programs, salary administration systems, and incentive systems.  If this is done proactively, the reorganization can avoid the emergence of future problems such as lack of salary administration, lack of clarity in the organizational structure and hiring tomorrow, people who were needed yesterday.[4]

Does it take a year to carry out this kind of structuring?  Yes, my experience has been that organizations that need to define the systems of organizational sovereignty have already begun to experience the dissipation of their energy and resources by trying to be all things to all people – their leaders have already experienced mixed messages and bungee cord delegation that usually signals that the top decision maker or makers are overtaxed and not sure what the next steps should be.

What are the primary components involved in building organizational sovereignty?

1) Appropriately delegating authority (this is where defining organizational structure, determining mission and reviewing personnel occur).

2) Creating policies that consistently apply to all (this is where developing training programs, salary administration systems and hiring the right people occur).

3)  Creating a learning environment and the systems needed to help transform experience into knowledge.

Delegated Authority and Roles of Management

The definition of delegated authority depends on understanding the roles of management or leadership.  Managers or leaders must consistently solve problems and make decisions. Management defined here is the act, manner or practice of directing, supervising and controlling. Be careful to avoid mis-matching the adjectives in the definition to the wrong referent.  Management directs strategies and responses to market pressures and opportunities.  Management supervises the work of others offering mentoring, feedback and support.  Management controls processes and expenditures. Controls make sure the efficient use of resources produce a profit or execute a mission while retaining enough cash reserves.

If the activities and the referents (measurements or results) are confused, such as a manager may attempt to control people and not processes or expenditures then relationships turn dysfunctional and damage the morale and productivity of the company and set up the loss of trust that eventually leads to betrayal.  Management activities either undermine or reinforce the ownership of tasks in a department by the leadership skills employed.  In other words management either reinforces or undermines organizational sovereignty leading to an organization that is smart, responsible and agile or an organization that is stupid, irresponsible and impulsive. Management techniques characterized in Table 1 illustrate the difference in approach and outcome management activities and referents can have.

Table 1: Management Techniques

How can Owners Successfully Navigate the Change to Organizational Sovereignty?

In watching owners wrestle with the issue of organizational sovereignty I have several suggestions to offer:

Look for feedback from the right people.  Many owners suffer from self-inflicted injury by ignorance. Business schools, owner networking groups, consultants and successful entrepreneurs (who have already made the jump from personal to organizational sovereignty) offer a wealth of experience and insight.  There is an old adage that carries a lot of truth – if you hang around with turkeys you will never fly with eagles.    Some owners/founders find solace in those who are at the same level of development but that solace blinds them to the realities they should address.

Practice self-awareness. Stress and fear always distort a person’s most successful behavioral patterns. I have watched owners eviscerate their key talent with one of two common results.  In the best case talent that is consistently undermined leaves the company as a result.  This is best because it offers and immediate wake up call. In the worst case the talent stays but unplugs.  Demoralized talent looses its commitment and engagement with the critical issues.  Instead a survival mode results that resembles a brain-dead body animated with life support technology.  If the tension remains talent will work to sabotage all attempts to change the status quo (i.e., survival). Lipman-Blumen (2005) offers an important insight; “followers knowingly tolerate, seldom unseat, often prefer, and sometimes even create toxic leaders.”[5]  Why does this dynamic occur? Lipman-Blumen (2005) suggests that such behavior is motivated by six human needs:

Need for reassuring authority figures to fill our parent’s shoes

Need for security and certainty – which prompts us to surrender freedom

Need to feel chosen or special

Need for membership in the human community

Fear of ostracism, isolation and social death

Fear of personal powerlessness to challenge a bad leader

It is difficult to hear how others experience one’s behaviors. But if you will listen your business and your personal life will improve.  Find a coach. A good coach can help you identify the stress points in your behavior that tip the scales from creativity to chaos.

Realize that running a business is not being a technician.  Often people strike out on their own because they want to focus on what they love doing…if this is the goal the last place to be is a business owner unless you work out of your garage and make the kind of money that never requires the purchase of equipment, assets or hiring of employees.  If you dream of being a business success then you must learn to (a) run a business and find others who do the technical work or (b) hire someone to run the business while you run the R & D or the shop etc., while you learn how to read financials and balance sheets and check policies to make sure that the core values you set out to live by are invested in the daily operation of the company.  Assume a learning posture. The moment you stop learning is the moment you start your own demise in business.


The loss of trust is a contributor to organizational demise.  In young organizations the founder is often the biggest culprit in undermining trust because he or she does not understand the need for organizational sovereignty.  Organizations experience common developmental life cycles and predictable tensions.  The smart leader anticipates known tension points and learns how to navigate them successfully. The critical decision point young organizations face is the need to formalize structures away from the founder in a move toward organizational sovereignty.  If the founder fails to learn the power of delegation the odds for creating a toxic organization exponentially increase. Toxic organizations tend to be self-perpetuating because the creation of toxic leaders often helps people meet psychological needs. Diagnosing the existence of good delegation is possible by looking that the management techniques typically employed to decide if management behavior contributes to or undermines organizational sovereignty (Table 1). Organizational success or demise is not set in stone. Leaders, founders, owners committed to learning and open to input have the best possible chance of success.

What kind of organizational culture will you build or support?

[1] Ichak Adizes. Corporate Life Cycles (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 46.

[2] Adizes 1988:193

[3] Adizes suggests that a company needs to move from a sales driven organization to a market driven organization.  The same concept is fundamental to the success of high-tech companies that attempt to jump from its sales to early adapters to securing a segment of the mainstream market.  It is Geoffrey Moore’s contention that the failure to capture a market segment from which to anchor this leap to the mainstream market is root of a company’s ultimate demise.  See, Crossing the Chasm, (New York,NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 68.  Translated into the context of the non-profit organization this means that a disciplined action must occur that defines the primary focus of the organization and achieves success at rooting into its niche prior to expanding its base to related areas.  In other words it must integrate its core values and driving vision into all aspects of its structure in a way that helps its leaders and workers know when it is time to say “no” to demanding opportunity to focus on how it answers to its primary purpose in a consistent and effective way.

[4] Adizes 1988:197

[5] Jean Lipman-Blumen. The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians – and How We can Survive Them (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 5.

Did You Promote the Right Person?

Bad Hiring Decisions are Painful

I could hear his voice trailing off on the other end of the phone. He had asked me to assess his company’s job contracts to name the core competencies of each position because his top executive was not performing up to speed. The lack of performance was impacting revenues and morale in negative ways.

“Based on this set of competencies I moved this person up before they were ready…” his insight focused more on his own mistake than the frustration and anger he had earlier expressed at the flagging financial performance and imploding morale.  We talked about the next steps he will take to correct a difficult situation.  After the conversation I thought about how organizations find and develop the leaders they need. It is not an easy job particularly in small to mid range privately held companies like that of my friend’s. The challenges of finding the right talent to support a successful company are manifold.  What needs to be considered?

Don't Make Me Manager

The first challenge is the fact that some people do not want to lead.  Who are the next generation of leaders in your organization? According to the Ranstad World of Work Survey (2009) over half of US workers would say "no thanks" if offered a promotion to a manager's position.[i]    All they see is stress and the discomfort of working with unhappy subordinates.  The challenge of this reality is that (a) it disallows the use of knowledge and experience gained by these employees and (b) it may show a problem in how employees perceive the organizational culture.[ii]

According to the Randstad survey, 68% of workers over age 64, 50% of "boomers" (age 45-63), and 47% of "Gen X" (age 30-44) report they'd refuse a job with supervisory status.  In the survey the primary reasons given for avoiding management opportunities were:

  • increased level of stress
  • handling disgruntled employees
  • increased paperwork
  • having to fire or layoff employees

If half a company’s employees feel this way what about the other half?  How does a leader or business owner develop a leadership mindset that realistically understands both the challenges and the opportunities of leadership?   If the reason leadership is unattractive consists of the realities above the benefits also emerge in the survey.  Those who expressed an interest in becoming a supervisor wanted to:

  • Share their knowledge and experience with others (89%)
  • Be responsible for the success of an organization (85%)
  • Be able to influence decisions (85%)
  • Be responsible for a budget (47%)
  • Work in a high pressure environment (37%)

The survey authors expressed surprise that the respondents did not point to a desire for increased power, recognition, or even more money.  However the issue of power and recognition is inferred in the answers that were given.

Understand Motivation - Not Everyone Makes a Good Leader 

Power and other leadership motivations has been the subject of significant research.  Thomas (2008) notes that three dominate motivations evidence themselves in the work force: achievement, association and power. He contends that power is the motivation that makes leaders effective and those people who are uncomfortable with power should reconsider accepting leadership roles.  Does this negate the findings of the Ranstadt survey?  No, but it may explain the deeper motivational issues behind the reasons why employees want to enter management roles.  It is important to define each of Thomas’ motivational labels.[iii]

Achievement is concerned with excellence and efficiency.  It is a preference for personal work and those motivated by achievement typically exhibit low emotional intelligence (a prerequisite for success as a leader) and moderate risk taking capacity or desire.  For those motivated by achievement the focus is on getting things right. People motivated by achievement have the potential to develop deep understanding.  However, achievement motivated people also face the pitfall of rejecting ambiguity or forcing facts to a premature synthesis.

Affiliation is characterized in a concern with friendship, wanting to be liked or accepted or to take part in social situations.  People motivated by affiliation make great support people however they experience a significant amount of stress in leadership/management situations.  They have a high emotional intelligence which is a great leadership characteristic however they also have a low willingness to undertake risks.  Their discomfort in leadership roles stems in part from the tendency to see feedback as personal.  Those motivated by affiliation have a dynamic ability to involve others and they generate a broad influence.  The pitfall faced by a person motivated by affiliation is a strong tendency toward projection and blame shifting.

Power is demonstrated in a concern with influence and influence relationships.  A person motivated by power usually possesses high emotional intelligence, willingness to take moderate risks in influence situations, either high or low risks in task situations, verbal facileness, a preference for qualitative feedback and ability to persist in a goal for lengthy periods without feedback or with negative feedback.   The focus of those motivated by power is a focus on getting the right things done and recognizing the potential for new action.  The pitfall faced by a person motivated by power is isolationism and resistance to internal probing (i.e., they are less willing to challenge their own assumptions).

Does the emphasis on power set the stage for unleashing Machiavellian tyranny on the workforce?  Power is not the end that effective leaders pursue, hence the lack of mention in the respondents of the Ranstadt survey.  However, it is the means that effective leaders use to achieve the kinds of results the respondents mentioned.  Notice that the ends described by the survey respondents include a willingness to accept responsibility (versus skirting responsibility), engage influence (versus manipulation or power-mongering) and serve others (the point of servant leadership research).

Based on research motivation is important to leadership success.  Based on Thomas’ work on motivation we know that those motivated by power have a somewhat easier time in adjusting to the demands of leadership/management roles. While this is helpful in coaching potential leaders a prior step should be taken.  Before starting a search for leaders identify clear criteria – don’t go on first impressions alone.  Use criteria to apply more rigorous evaluation of potential candidates.

Identify Clear Criteria

In considering who may make a good leader/manager or who may not a clear criteria is advisable especially in light of the fact that managers are not only depended upon to propel the mission and profitability of the organization forward but are also called upon to problem solve, drive productivity and innovation and offer opportunities for employees to develop.  This is especially true in times of recession when efficiency and managing cost is very much a focus. 

"Especially in periods of economic recessions, companies rely on managers to problem solve, drive productivity and innovation, [and] motivate and provide opportunities for workers," said Eileen Habelow, Randstad Senior Vice President. "It's not just doom and gloom that managers are focusing on today. Companies must make sure they consistently recognize managers' valuable contributions, not only to the company, but to the broader workforce."

When thinking about criteria for identifying effective leaders six characteristics identified by Watkins offer a starting point.[iv]

  •  Competence: Does this person have the technical competence and experience to do the job effectively?
  • Judgment: Does this person exercise good judgment, especially under pressure or when faced with making sacrifices for the greater good?
  • Energy: Does this team member bring the right kind of energy to the job, or is he or she burned out or disengaged?
  • Focus: Is this person capable of setting priorities and sticking to them, or prone to “riding off in all directions”?
  • Relationships: Does this person get along with others on the team and support collective decision-making, or is he or she difficult to work with?
  • Trust: Can you trust this person to keep his or her word and follow through on commitments?

The two greatest mistakes I see business owners and other leaders make in promoting new leaders is (a) promoting too quickly for some sense of urgency  – as when a business or organization grows quickly and (b) promoting prematurely because they wish to sidestep the rigor of establishing disciplined and efficient business processes (sometimes called the premature success syndrome and seen primarily in small business owners who equate steady cash flow with success without assessing their organization’s true financial health).

So now that you have an idea of the candidate’s motivation, a good assessment of whether your potential candidates meet you criteria it is now a good idea to create a checklist to guide your implementation.

Create a Check List

Use a check list to think through the process you need in your own organization.  Notice that the suggested checklist uses more than one set of eyes to check the candidate’s capacity and ability to work effectively in a new leadership role.

  • The candidate has performed their current duties in a satisfactory way.
  • The candidate possesses the minimum education and/or industry knowledge and experience needed to succeed at the new role.
  • The candidate's current supervisor recommends the candidate to the new role.
  • We have created a clear transition strategy to help the candidate and their new direct reports and their new supervisor adjust to the new role.
  • The human resources department agrees to the promotion to the new role.


Recruiting and employing the right leaders/managers in your business, organization or department is critical to building a consistently effective operation.  By using rigor in your selection process you avoid the most common mistakes.  This is not a comprehensive paper on identifying leaders but it gives a start.  What other factors should be considered?  What is the situational context of your organization?  Is it a start-up, a turn around, a success that needs to be sustained?  What are your short-term and long-term goals?  Use criteria and a good process to focus your search on the right talent.  Is there one other piece of advice?  Yes, don’t use financial restrictions as your first criteria.  I have had clients tell me they could not afford to hire the right talent.  This is rarely true.  Why?  The right talent is typically motivated by more than money.  The reality is that the right talent will pay for themselves. 

[i] Source:; accessed 8 Sep. 2009.

[ii] Happiness at work is a measurable aspect of employee commitment, contribution, conviction, culture and confidence and a concept that quantifies the impact of an organization’s culture on employee performance.  The significance of happiness cannot be understated.  For more information see: and the article, “Are you Happy at Work – Does it Matter” – available at

[iii] Robert Thomas. Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2008), 101-02.

[iv] Michael Watkins. The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels(Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2003), 163.

Get Spiritual - Releasing Leaders Depends on It

Insight from Research into Spirituality in Leadership A group of researchers working with the United States Army determined that spiritual leadership is critical to developing organizational commitment and performance.  Their research demonstrated that organizational performance is directly related to the ideas of calling/meaning and membership typically associated with spirituality.[1]  The researchers point out that;

… the tenets of hope/faith, altruistic love, and vision within spiritual leadership comprises the values, attitudes, and behaviors required to intrinsically motivate oneself and others to have a sense of calling and membership – spiritual well-being.[2]

Pastors I know who look into the eyes of those sitting in church chairs every Sunday morning have also observed the quest for meaning and a sense of belonging/membership is nearly palpable in the people sitting there.  Pastoral leaders know that the degree to which spirituality impacts how people understand their sense of calling/meaning and membership in the church is a critical factor in the quality of the congregation’s overall health.

But talk about spirituality needs to make a distinction between religion and spirituality.  Religion is concerned with formalized practices and ideas that depend on a theological system of beliefs, ritual prayers, rites and ceremonies. Religion is not necessary for spirituality but spirituality is necessary for religion.  The challenge is that religion as an expression of human spirituality is reducible to empty and dogmatic forms that actually suppress spirituality.

Spirituality is concerned with those qualities associated with the human spirit (or the Imago Dei as a theologian may prefer to call it) that include such characteristics as love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, personal responsibility and a sense of harmony with one’s context or environment. Spirituality shares the characteristics associated with positive psychology and many of the outcomes associated with happiness at work.

Spirituality is the pursuit of a vision of service to others; through humility as having the capacity to regard oneself as an individual equal but not greater in value to others individuals; through charity, or altruistic love; and through veracity, which goes beyond basic truth-telling to engage one’s capacity for seeing things exactly as they are, thus limiting subjective distortions.[3]

Jesus makes a similar distinction that is important because it reshapes what we think about leadership.  For example Jesus challenged the religious leaders of the day to see past the formal practices, rituals, rites and ceremonies of religious expression to get at the core issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness to God. (Matthew 23:23-39)  Without a distinction between spirituality and religion definitions of leadership in religion typically trend toward a narrow and exceptional set of qualifications that the average person does not meet.  If the starting point is spirituality as Jesus suggested then the emergence of leadership from within a group is a natural course of the activism that occurs as true spirituality responds to issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness.

The researchers use the phrase leadership and not leader in their project to differentiate that they are not looking at the specific qualities of an individual but at the complex and multilevel dynamics of how leadership emerges in a group of people.  Their definition is important because it recognizes that the act of leadership is not only complex but that it emerges when needed from a variety of individuals rather than from an exclusive few. The move to understanding leadership as a complex multilevel dynamic is significant for two reasons.

First, research is getting closer to the reality described in the Bible i.e., that leadership is a functional outcome of all the parts of the body being aligned in mission. (I Cor. 12: 14-31) That leadership is a focus does not downplay the role of individuals as they lead but rather raises the importance of the interconnectedness of the parts of the body while minimizing a hero/messiah complex on the part of leaders. I think Greenleaf got it right when he noted why leadership is a more preferable concept than simply looking at individual leaders;

Finally the prevalence of the lone chief placed a burden on the whole society because it gives control priority over leadership. It sets before the young the spectacle of an unwholesome struggle to get to the top. It nourishes the notion among able people that one must be boss to be effective.  And it sanctions, in a conspicuous way, a pernicious and petty status striving that corrupts everyone.[4]

Second, research quantitatively defines the dynamics behind one of the most interesting leadership emergence stories in the Bible e.g., the identification and release of the six deacons. (Acts 6:1-8)  I do not mean that the Bible needs to be quantitatively affirmed.  Instead quantitative research illustrates the reason why the pattern visible in Acts 6 is reproducible and desirable.  In fact it is my thesis that the events around the selection of the seven deacons is the model of how the church should face the challenges of complex/multilevel dynamics it faces as a congregation grows and attempts to address the rapidly changing social/demographic fabric faced by many congregations in today’s global cities.

Leadership development is a hot topic of discussion in church publications and seminary research projects. So this research on spirituality has an important contribution to make.  Does the research explain what occurred in Acts 6?  If so what insights does it provide to help pastors reproduce leaders?  I see three lessons.

Lesson 1: Succeeding in a Complex Multilevel Environment Requires Disruption of Existing Patterns

I would like to simply stipulate that operating in a church today is a more complex proposition than it was fifty years ago.  That said leading a congregation effectively in today’s world looks nothing like it did fifty years ago…even ten years ago.

Changing social context like the one faced by churches today is not unheard of historically.  Consider the situation in Acts 6.  The influx of new cultural groups responding to the gospel after Pentecost resulted in the types of conflicts those of us in Intercultural studies predict – some people were invisible. Look at the text:

1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1, NIV)

The complaint brought to the apostles resulted in two significant actions.  First, the apostles leveraged the disruption of existing behavioral patterns to challenge incongruous cultural norms (i.e., the way we do things around here).  Cultural norms are not in themselves bad but where cultural norms impede the expansion of the church they result in behavior by the church that contradicts the message of the church. This is an important change insight.

Second, the apostles did not ask the pre-existing social network to answer the need they asked the new group to identify their own leaders and answer their own needs.  This avoided three unhelpful dynamics.  It avoided the creation of a dependency on the part of the new group. It avoided over taxing the change resiliency of the pre-existing group.  It avoided marginalization of the new group by offering them equal status i.e., they were able to self govern even as the pre-existing group was. Too often new or minority groups encounter an attitude in the pre-existing or majority group that treats them as children rather than fully functional adults. Decisions made on behalf of others in an intercultural context fail to fully understand cultural implications. The result is that decisions make little or no sense in practice.

Disruption of existing patterns of behavior is unavoidable in the face of new growth especially where that growth reflects the growing globalization seen in many cities and churches around the United States and the world. Is there a common ground from which to work in the face of cultural diversity? Spirituality may offer a common starting point.

Lesson Two: Identifying Leaders in a Complex Multilevel Environment Requires a Focus on Spirituality

That the Apostles used the criteria of spirituality to encourage novelty and embrace ambiguity of an inter-cultural challenge is a powerful lesson in leadership selection.  Facing the ambiguity of unpredictable results often feels unbearable or off-balance. The risk was in how the new cultural group (Hellenized Jews) defined good leadership.  The definitions of leadership change from culture to culture.  Would the new group fit with the existing group if they defined things on their own? If the apostles had defined the characteristics of a good leader in any other terms than the three criteria inherent in spirituality they would have failed to effectively allow the new/minority group to act as equals.  The important leadership observation here is that the apostles did not abandon the process or simply abdicate their responsibility in a misguided attempt at pluralism or relativism. They assigned a task designed to encourage leadership emergence i.e.

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them…. (Acts 6:3, NIV)

The Apostles risked giving the assignment that allowed the characteristics of spirituality (i.e., good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit and filled with wisdom) to be interpreted and applied by the new/minority group. They exercised an implicit confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26) It is important to see that implicit confidence in the Holy Spirit’s role is not an abdication of responsibility in leadership but a necessity in the exercise of leadership.  Because the Apostles identified key values already at work in the majority group they provided a foundation from which the minority group could defend their choices and make choices that align to the scriptures.  Interestingly the Apostles’ criteria paralleled the definition of spirituality the researchers provided and with the same results seen in leadership i.e., both groups shared a sense of calling and membership in a larger group (the body of Christ not just the Judaic or Hellenized group).

Lesson Three: Leadership in a Complex Multilevel Environment is that of Sense Maker not Director

The apostles did not answer the need.  They did not work harder and longer.  They did not chastise. They did not belittle.  They did not take on the role of the over burdened leader.  The Apostles interpreted the events the people brought to them by refocusing attention on the significance of the challenge.  The Apostles’ response “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2, NIV) was not a pejorative on serving but a refocusing on the significance of Pentecost and their assignment.  In other words the focus of the situation could not be the complaint itself but the cause of the complaint i.e., the church was expanding to Jerusalem, Judea,Samaria and the outlying areas.

By keeping the focus implicitly on the expansion of the church and the reproduction of spirit empowered ministry rather than the complaint the Apostles created a sense of expectation within the congregation (Acts 6:5). Not only did the Apostles empower the congregation by moving responsibility for answering the new need to the people rather than the Apostles themselves they also refocused attention on the larger mission of the Church.


Did the Apostolic strategy work?  According to the text one of the seven went on to do great wonders and miracles among the people.  The strategy did work.  In fact it worked well enough that Luke’s record of the early church’s expansion focused exclusively on Stephen (one of the seven) for the next chapter and a half.  This is pretty impressive since only four people are really highlighted in Acts (Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul or if you add supporting characters then include Barnabas and James).  Said another way, a new guy (Stephen) made it into the history of the Acts movement in its first 10 years of existence.  It seems to take at least a generation or more for new guys (those from another culture) to make it into the history of many modern church movements.

Is the Apostolic strategy reproducible?  Let’s go back to the significance of the research…YES.  Where there is a deliberate emphasis on spirituality as a leadership qualification and where existing leaders push problems back to people to resolve, providing guidance based on spirituality and avoiding the urge to override decisions based on more familiar methods or rituals, then similar results are predictable. The risk is that a leader may lose control of a group.  However, loss of control is hardly an issue to anything other than ego. What is really at stake is not so much the loss of control (all cultures frame boundaries so that they can function effectively).  The issue really is where the locus of control will rest. One cannot be a classic micro manager and expect either numerical or qualitative growth. The emphasis on spirituality in leadership is important because it is the closest thing to a universal standard that we possess in leadership development.

What does the research affirm?  Growing leaders is a disruptive event to business as usual and disruption to business as usual is fertile soil for leadership development. A focus on developing spirituality is critical to effective multiplication of leadership – it provides the control point and flexibility needed for leadership emergence.  The most important thing leaders can do when facing changing and confusing times is to help others by making sense of the times. Biblically informed leaders have a leg up in this regard in possessing both a history and a future surrounded by the promise and working of the living God.

How will you apply the insights from this research to your own leadership behaviors?  In what ways does the research affirm your present activities?  In what ways does it challenge your present activities?  Let me know what you think!

[1] Louis W. Fry, Sean T. Hanna, Michael Noel and Fred O. Walumbwa (2011). “Impact of Spiritual Leadership on Unit Performance” in The Leadership Quarterly 22, 259-70.

[2] Ibid 260

[3] Ibid 260

[4] Robert Greenleaf. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1991), 65.

Defining Moments In Leadership Development

I was thinking about all the defining moments I have experienced or others experience that make them great leaders.  A defining moment is a point at which life takes a new turn because of some deep or penetrating insight, experience or expanded awareness.  Defining moments come in many unique ways and when they come they deeply alter perspective and action. I think of four specific ways defining moments enter the life of a leader. Defining Moment of Reflection

I thought about a statement one of my students made the other night in class. “I cannot truly know myself by seeing myself just from the inside, I know myself more fully by hearing what others see on the outside.” This student faced a defining moment that will impact the rest of his life. He understood his connection to others in a way that he never had before. The defining moment came as an involuntary insight resulting from the rigor of academic study.  He was struggling with new ideas that challenged deeply held assumptions about himself, his context and his faith. Thinking theologically about what he realized I turn to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where Paul wrote:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.[1]

My student understood himself in a new way. His new insight sent him on a quest of attentiveness to the voices of those who reflect the impact of his behavior.  My student’s insight demonstrates that possessing a sense of belonging in relationship to others does not diminish a sense of self-identity it amplifies it.

If I reflect on this student’s statement psychologically then I turn to the work of Kegan and see that this young man has emerged from a time of differentiation to a new understanding of his interdependence on others. His new self-awareness has provided a new confidence and sense of contribution in life.  If my student did not pay attention to this defining moment he would have become a fearful leader isolated from the advice and help of others.

Defining Moment of Success

The most effective leaders I know recognize defining moments when they face them and they pay attention to them. The April edition of Harvard Business Review was devoted to how people deal with failure and success.  One article noted that people and organizations don’t learn as much from success as they do failure.  It is not that success doesn’t have something to teach us but that we don’t really investigate success.  The result of not thinking about why we are successful or what we should learn from success allows blind spots to occur.

In light of this observation about success I was delighted to read about a defining moment that came as a result of success in the life of a pastoral leader.  Mindi Caliguire writing in Christianity Today described a defining moment rooted in success:

Not long ago a pastor told me: "Mindy, we have a lot of young leaders. Most of our staff is under 40. We've launched two new campuses, finished a building campaign, and are making inroads into serving the marginalized in our community. The staff has been running hard and fast for a long time. I'm wondering what the trajectory of our ministry will be two years from now if we don't intentionally focus on the well-being of our souls. Which marriages are likely to collapse by then? Which young leaders will be run over and left for dead?"[2]

Consider the power of this pastor’s reflection on his own success.  What would have happened if this pastor ignored the defining moment success brought about?  Defining moments are unsettling at any point but I have found that defining moments around success are deeply challenging in part because I have to consider the frailty of success and the reality that success is not an end it is a door way into a far greater challenge.  If this pastoral leader had not allowed the discomfort of this defining moment to challenge his success he would become a toxic leader – a reality clear in his own question.

Defining Moment of Change

Times of change also provide opportunity for defining moments to sneak up on leaders. Jack Connell wrote about his process of change moving from a familiar house and community to a new place.  Packing up his library lead him to reflect on what he would do differently in the future.  He wrote and article titled, “Ministry Mulligans – if I had it to do all over again.”[3] He gave five:

  • More collaboration, less competition
  • More pastor, less CEO
  • More rest, less rush
  • More friendships, less isolation

When I review the insights provided by Jack Connell I find a leader who has chosen to allow the exposure of his own limited perspectives to become a leader of greater capacity. If this leader had not allowed the exposure of his limited perspective and skill while packing his office he would devolve into a leader dependent on habits and blinded to the opportunities change put in front of him. Leaders blinded to opportunity ultimately become hopeless and cynical.

Defining Moment of Prayer

In the situations above, reflection, success and change, defining moments emerge that altered the course of a leader’s life.  But there is another situation that opens up deep processing and new defining moments – it is prayer.  The defining moments initiated by prayer are often realized over time and in hindsight.  King David wrote:

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.[4]

For David patient and persistent prayer turned into a profound realization – God hears our cry. There is something about a leader who prays that affirms the reality of God and the acute insight that the Almighty’s attention encompasses personal struggles and turmoil – God knows me.  Leaders who are defined by prayer are leaders who know what it means to be present in the here and now.  These leaders see people not just big plans. Leaders who are not defined by prayer often leave their footprints over the backs of those they trod to success. Leaders who are not defined by prayer can fall prey to the illusion that leadership is all about them.  David understood that leadership was all about living the kind of life that ultimately draws people to the perception they can trust God.


There are no doubt other contexts where defining moments occur.  The outcomes however are similar. Leaders who embrace and not run from defining moments are leaders who: grow in confidence about their contribution (and not stagnate in fear and isolation); see success as a door way to greater challenges (and not becoming a toxic leader characterized by a lust for more); see opportunity (and not barriers that leave them hopeless and cynical) and see people (and not raw ambition alone).  What defining moment has entered your life?  Did you embrace it or run from it?  Are you the kind of person or leader you hoped?  Take a moment and re-engage your most recent defining moment – let its lessons sink deep and bring about transformation.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)

[2] Mindy Caliguire. “Thruway or Partway?” (Source:; accessed 5 April 2011).

[3] Jack Connell. “Ministry Mulligans: If I had it to do all over again” (Source:; accessed 5 April 2011).

[4] Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV)

Shaping Employee Engagement and Emotional Intelligence

My surprise at seeing the thread of emails between my supervisor and one of my direct reports bordered on shock. I sat in the airport in Chicago on my way home from meetings with several of our strategic partners with time to check my emails.  I opened my email to see a stern prose from my boss chastising one of my direct reports.  I winced as I read through the original email.  Why my direct report had chosen to email her concerns to the entire group was beyond me.  Wisdom dictated that the candor of her observations required much more discretion than a group-wide broadside. Now instead of helping my employee process a valid observation and manage their emotion I had to manage up with the entire executive team and manage down to all my team who were now convinced that their feedback was unwanted and a potential liability to their career survival.

What would you do?


Leadership: Pulled in Different Directions

I often hear the proverbial statement, “those who can do and those who can’t teach.” I enjoy the phrase when it comes up in my classes because I love to watch the expression on students faces when they discover that I wear multiple hats. I run a coaching and consulting practice that engages leaders around the globe and across industries. I teach graduate leadership courses around the globe and locally in southern California.But by far the most challenging leadership role I have is running department inside a manufacturing company. It is one thing to see the pressures and challenges faced by leaders and create models to help them interpret organizational and personal behavior while they execute on their tactical and strategic plans. It is quite another thing to actually lead a team responsible for the execution of tactical and strategic plans. The work of leadership within organizations often requires that a leader adopt complementary and even contradictory roles to stimulate new efforts while maintaining existing routines.

Organizations are dynamic and complex settings. Leaders have long felt the tension inherent in the diverse roles they are required to assume. Broadly speaking a leader also serves as a manager requiring behavior that moves back and forth between defining a future and the meaning of the present on one hand and enforcing production quotas and policies on the other.  Effectiveness in a managerial/leadership capacity requires integrating these competing roles. Effective leaders overcome the tendency to see leadership behaviors in an either/or fashion. Instead they engage competing or contradictory roles as part of a tool kit of behavior that enables them to address the multiple and competing demands of the organization.

The recognition that leaders must engage in both management and leadership roles has only recently been measured by researchers. In popular writing leadership and management activities are often framed as competing roles with one or the other disparaged as somehow less effective. Research indicates that they are symbiotic roles that engage various behaviors. Research suggests that leaders who are able to diversify their behaviors across competing values show the behavioral complexity needed to better meet the demands faced by their organization. To the extent a leader or manager is able to diversify their behaviors across these competing values they are said to have a behavioral repertoire.

Recognizing that a leader or manager needs a broad repertoire of behaviors has lead me to help leaders/managers build a perspective that complements both disparate roles and divergent perspectives in a way that provides a more accurate picture of what makes success in organizational leadership and management. So how is this behavioral repertoire developed?

First, recognize that it begins with the recognition of an individual's unique perspectives and strengths and how these contribute to the organization's strategic and tactical objectives. The use of behavioral and competency assessments helps leaders set up a baseline understanding of their strong points and find the gaps in behavior or knowledge that diminish potential success.

The process of assessment can be done informally if an organization has clearly defined competencies expected of their positions and if they have mentors who model effective behavioral repertoires. Once a leader identifies their behavioral repertoire he/she has the foundation to assess their capacity to handle complex organizational or situational demands.

A leader or manager's capacity depends on (1) the range of behavior the individual is capable of performing and (2) the ability to apply various behaviors to divergent situations. Using assessments in tandem with performance coaching enhances the leader's behavioral repertoire. As a result the organization's capacity to adjust to market conditions, handle employee relations, meet stakeholder expectations and efficiently produce measurable outcomes increases.

Second, consciously adopt a learning orientation to experience. I remind emerging leaders I work with that feeling pulled in different directions simultaneously is an indication they engaged to the act of leadership. It remains up to them to decide whether they are willing to embrace the tension and develop a learning posture needed to uncover the gaps between their behavior and the behavioral repertoires needed to succeed. Possessing experience is worth very little without active reflection on what the experience teaches.

The highly effective leaders I know deliberately reflect each week on significant interactions and events. I adopted the social research methods introduced in my graduate work i.e., field notes. Each week or after significant interactions I sit down with my notebook and write out a short narrative. Then I look for salient points or themes from the narrative. Then I ask whether a hypothesis (rule of thumb) emerges from the themes that I need to look at further. Finally I ask whether there is a quote or vignette that supports or illustrates the hypothesis. Leaders often work from “rules of thumb” – that is just how the brain works. However, if these rules of thumb are not subjected to critical reflection and testing they may just establish damaging biases and not helpful insights.

Third, find a mentor. Find someone who has the experience and demonstrates a broad behavioral repertoire and ask to spend time with them reviewing your own development. This kind of feedback is invaluable. I recommend that people seek mentors both within and without their organizations. Internal mentors see behavior and its impact first hand and often offer a raw and immediate feedback source.

External mentors see behavior without the political filters sometimes present in an internal mentor and help provide perspective. I have been saved from engaging stupid and self damaging behaviors by talking situations through with a mentor first. Bobby Clinton one of my professors was fond of reminding us of his own truism. “Leadership is complex – complexity is why we need leaders.” Each time we complained of the complexity we faced in our leadership roles he would recite this truism. I decided it was the virtual equivalent of a slap at the back of my head to bring me back from the brink of self pity to the reality of being a leader.

Servant Leadership and the Exercise of Discipline

Leaders who create a culture of discipline and service experience three significant outcomes: great employees  continue excellent performance, good employees step up to better performance and bad employees understand that their lack of performance will no longer be tolerated. This thesis lines up with the concept of servant leadership that asserts that people freely respond to leaders they trust to have other’s best interests in mind. However, I find that people in leadership roles who struggle with effectiveness either misconstrue servant leadership as never having to enforce a standard (these people show a lack of skill in coaching and correcting poor behaviors) or misinterpret discipline as menacing or threatening employees.  These individuals work to survive or to avoid risk and detection. The result in organizations is not only the loss of employee engagement it is mediocrity.  Mediocrity is any state or outcome that is substantially less in quality than what is reasonably possible given the available people and material assets.

As a student of leadership I spend time looking at the latest research and reviewing historical practices of great leaders. My thoughts on discipline are deeply impacted by the Apostle Paul whose leadership in the first century served as a catalyst of the Church’s expansion throughout the Mediterranean world.  Paul’s leadership consistently expressed the concept of servant leadership in three ways: he loved the people he led; he developed structures around his strategic objectives and he identified and empowered leaders.

Titus was one of the leaders Paul worked with extensively. Paul saw the need to advise this young leader on how to handle the chronically insubordinate, complaining and intentionally misleading. Paul’s advice is as pertinent today as he gave it. Leaders who are working to create a better future and more effective workplace are wise to pay attention to Paul’s practical wisdom. Paul demonstrates three leadership behaviors needed to create a culture of discipline and thus avoid the trap of mediocrity. Paul’s advice to Titus encouraged Titus to: (1) Name problem behaviors; (2) Exposes and opposes problem behaviors when they appear and (3) Rebuke (be openly intolerant) of destructive behavior.  Paul wrote:

There are plenty of people, especially those who announce that this is the way we have always done it, who respond to authority with noncompliance, propagate groundless rumors and intentionally misconstrue the facts. (Titus 1:10 my own paraphrase)

Name Problem Behaviors

The first leadership lesson Paul gave Titus is; name problem behaviors.  I was about to have my first team meeting. The company recruited me to develop the capabilities and the perspectives of the team. I opened the first team meeting looking into the faces of my new team. I saw curiosity, trepidation, doubt, and mistrust.  I expect to see these emotions in a significant transition and especially a transition with a team troubled by poor performance, languishing morale and a forced change in leadership.  The previous manager transferred because perennial problems plagued the team’s performance.

In the meeting I introduced myself and the leadership philosophy I intended to follow. I had developed the essence of this philosophy as part of a curriculum development project for a client.  In the research phase of the client project the main themes emerged. I determined to test my observations by interviewing highly effective production managers.  The interviews with financial service managers, call center managers and manufacturing managers confirmed the validity of what I had read and gave me the stories I needed to put shape to my own approach to leadership and management.  I designed the presentation that morning with my new team to name the problems I consider intolerable and outline a constructive strategy for success. One of the things I learned was that effective leaders don’t pull punches in naming problems that torpedo the results their teams need to accomplish.

In talking about behaviors I do not tolerate I talked about building ownership for ideas by asking questions.  What does each producer want to accomplish?  What works well?  What does not work well?  What is needed to redefine success and move outcomes to all new levels of performance?  Building ownership requires a strong emotional intelligence i.e., the ability to perceive and constructively act on both one's own emotions and the feelings of others.

Managers and leaders who are effective in naming unacceptable behaviors start by owning their emotions. Their emotions do not own them!  Similarly successful teams own their own emotions.  Part of owning one’s emotion recognizes that some issues have to be discussed in an environment that allows individuals to process their feelings in order to work through to understanding. Individuals in managerial or leadership roles cannot coerce, manipulate or force people into compliance.  I explained that my office is a transparent environment. I wanted the team’s feedback even if it was raw and unvarnished.  But, two things had to be understood in order to facilitate the kind of unvarnished conversations I described.  First, intense and potentially turbulent conversations cannot occur without a mutual respect.  I do not tolerate disrespect of the other person in any conversation.  Second, fierce conversations had to be held away from others who are not part of the subject matter.  When these conversations occur they happen in my office behind closed doors and they do not spill out into the office in the form of gossip or insubordination.

Ineffective individuals in leadership roles recoil at the idea of labeling behaviors – the problem is that such individuals cannot define successful behavior anymore than they can name problem behavior. Leaders must possess the courage and the clarity needed to define clear expectations.  These are the kinds of leaders that can define a vision for the future that makes sense.  They support that vision with concrete expectations about what kinds of behavior that are needed to achieve the vision.

I am talking about labeling behaviors not people.  Never label people as problems. When I hear individuals in leadership positions label people as problems I know that upon scrutiny these individuals behavior will exhibit insecurity, incompetence and fearfulness (the fear of failure ties them to inactivity and blame shifting).

Expose and Oppose Problem Behavior When it Appears

The second lesson I learn from the Apostle Paul is to expose and oppose problem behavior when it does appear.  The team appeared relieved as I expressed a coherent approach the management and a desire for a predictable work environment – the previous manager’s behavior routinely exploded into tirades that included yelling, kicking furniture and bouts of pouting in isolation from the team. His episodic behavior had created a culture of complaint, mistrust and suspicion.  I concluded the meeting with a question and answer period in which we discussed my expectations of performance and ran scenarios about how my management philosophy played out in life situations.  I felt like we had a good start to developing a transparent and empowering culture that would increase productivity, morale and fun.

Two days later Sally knocked on my office door. She was obviously agitated.  “I need to have one of those fierce conversations you talked about” she said as she entered the office and closed the door.  She launched into an animated diatribe on why the performance expectations I had set were unfair.  I asked questions, listened for underlying issues, clarified the questions and confirmed that I understood her objection.  Then I pulled out the performance numbers from the last quarter.  I showed her our gross profit number, it had dropped.  I showed her a twelve month review of performance metrics across the team – all of them were down.  I showed her the market trends which were all going up, our market was growing, our performance was falling and the direction of the gross profit meant that I would have to let one or more of the team go to replace them with people who could keep up.  Then I asked her what her recommendations for changing our team’s performance were. The look on her face was priceless – it was the shock that accompanies an epiphany.

She said, “I don’t have a better suggestion than the strategy you outlined.” The conversation graduated to a different tone and cadence.

“Look”, I said, “Tom did not tell you guys what was really happening in the company nor did he apparently show you your own performance metrics.”

“We never had metrics just quotas” Sally responded.

“Right, remember what I said about results” I responded, “We control activities not results.  That is why defining the right activity is important.”

The conversation went well. Sally left my office to return to her work station.  I was about the savor the victory when I saw her pull Pam aside and walk off to the side of the room. Their expressions and gestures indicated that Sally’s epiphany had worn off fifteen feet from my office door.  I walked out and asked Sally to meet with me in her office.

“Sally, did you just leave my office to pick up the same complaint with Pam over the team metrics you just spent forty-five minutes discussing in my office?”  The intensity of my expression seemed to surprise her; I apparently have a look that drills through people when I am upset.

“Yes.” Her response was more tentative now.

“Ok Sally, we talked about the how I work in our first meeting.  What did I say about taking complaints back onto the floor that needed to be discussed and resolved in my office?”

“You said you would not tolerate it” she answered.

“Why did I say that?” Now I wanted to test my own communication.  Had I been clear?  Did I clearly communicate the importance of open even fierce discussions and how to have them without descending into gossip and subterfuge?  Sally’s response let me know that she understood exactly what I had said and that she appreciated the idea. She was testing me.  I concluded our impromptu meeting by giving her a verbal warning and documenting this in her personnel file.

Rebuke – be Openly Intolerant of – Destructive Behavior

The third lesson I learn from Paul is that a leader must be openly intolerant of destructive behavior. After that encounter Sally became one of my greatest supporters and star producer. I realized that discipline in leadership is critical.  Without discipline there is no real assurance for employees that their efforts will be recognized and rewarded.  Why?  Without discipline failing performance is ignored or worse, it is continuously threatened with severe results that never materialize.  Why bother working hard when leaders fail to recognize good performance and fail to discipline poor performance?  Spineless leadership is what leads to mediocre performance and behaviors that undermine the trust and integrity necessary for success. Sally was about to test the strength of my own spine.

Things were going well.  I could see and measure improved performance and an improved morale in the office. The team had gathered into the conference room for our weekly debriefing.  I started to describe what the numbers indicated in our performance when Sally blurted out, “See that Charles, your numbers stink.  You should have been fired a long time ago. I don’t know why you are still here.”

Sally’s outburst commenced as I had turned to point out something on the screen and as I turned back around I shot back, “Sally, stop.” It felt like the tension filling the room was also displacing the oxygen.  “Enough” I said this time with emphatic emphasis.

I turned my gaze to the team who all sat with mouths agape and eyes wide as saucers.  “Team, what is the fourth value I talked about in my leadership philosophy?” Pages shuffled around the table as those who could regain composure leafed through their training books.

Bill tentatively raised his hand, “I think I have it. You said that you manage activities not results and that you evaluate production diagnostically.”

Successful production managers know that they cannot manage (or control) results; they can manage activities that contribute to results.  Leaders have to know what their teams need to do to hit the results and leaders and managers monitor performance consistency and quality in all activities.

I turned back to Sally, “What part of your speech was diagnostic?”

“None of it” she slowly answered.

“That’s right Sally, you violated one of my leadership values.”

I turned to Charles, “Charles are you open to receiving constructive feedback on your performance?”

Charles was still in shock from the volley that Sally had fired his way.  “Yea, I guess.”

“No, I need a definite answer” I said.

“Yes, I want it” he said.

I lead the team through an exercise evaluating the metrics of Charles’s performance.  The conversation ended constructively. The team expanded their understanding of how to use metrics to coach new behaviors.  I dismissed the meeting and asked Charles and Sally to stay behind.  In the discussion with Charles and Sally I reiterated the ground rules of respect.  Sally apologized and Charles accepted her apology.  Then I asked Charles to leave and Sally to stay.

“Sally” I started, “you appear to be frustrated.”

“I am frustrated, Charles produces nothing.  He doesn’t know the products. He can barely close a door much less a sale.  I don’t know why you keep him.”

“Have I demonstrated consistency or inconsistency with my management philosophy in the time I have been here?” I asked.

Sally thought for a minute then said, “Consistency.”

“Based on what you observe in my behavior do you think I will continue to act consistent to what I say?”


“Then you let me do my job and I will insist others do their job.”

Sally sighed in relief.  She had often felt like she had to cover for the previous manager, a role she neither wanted nor felt competent to fulfill. As a result she developed a pattern of publicly bullying people in meetings to vent her frustration.  No one had ever called her on that before.   My insistence that her former behavior would not be tolerated combined with an awareness of the situation that contributed to it helped her change.

Evaluate behavior diagnostically.  Stop the destructive behaviors as soon as they occur, then probe for the issue behind the behavior.  Like my experience with Sally employees are often trained to behavior in less constructive ways by the behavior of poor leaders.  New habits cannot be developed without clearly identifying the bad habits by (1) calling people to be responsible for their own emotions and (2) identifying those poor managerial behaviors or employee misbeliefs that contributed to their development.


Creating a culture of discipline is catalytic – it initiates changes throughout the entire system of the organization. By the same token bringing a culture of discipline to an organization that has run impulsively may result in reactions to the change throughout the entire system.  Paul’s advice to Titus assumed that Titus possessed a level of authority, power and influence required to push past system wide resistance should it occur. Remember the assumptions Paul operated on with regard to leadership – he was a leader who served those he led and he possessed a transparent agenda for the common good.

In serving others Paul demonstrated two important dimensions of leadership behavior.  First he was engaging.  He was confident in his own voice and encouraged the emerging voices of leaders around him. He took risks and helped others take the kinds of risks that resulted in great accomplishment.  He demonstrated an adaptability in altering his approach based on the situation and in refusing to be a know it all. He routinely pushed problems back to their source as an act of discovery and creativity in outlining solutions.

Second he understood how to connect with others. He networked (as he was doing here with Titus and the church in Crete).  He sponsored emerging leaders.  He worked on a principle of reciprocity and encouraged reciprocity between leaders and churches so that their combined resources did not dissipate in siloed activities but accelerated success through the synergy created.

Leaders who work in organizational cultures that lack discipline need to determine two things up front.  First, how likely is it that the introduction of a culture of discipline will succeed?  Determine this by the scope of power, authority and influence you have in the organization.  If you are a sole proprietor your job is easier than if you have just been promoted to department head within a global enterprise.  Find sponsors and mentors if they exist. Build a network of support as you introduce discipline.  Review your mandate to determine whether it supports a culture of discipline.  Then act. Exercise courage and develop the right team for the performance mandate you have been given.

What if the organization you are in does not support a culture discipline?  Put your resume out.  Why would you stay? Find an organization that understands the value of leadership and put your competencies to work in a situation in which you can make a difference.  Why languish away a career fighting an organizational culture that will not allow excellence?  A word of caution is important. Before you make a transition talk with an experienced leader about your situation. By seeking out the input of others with more experience or with insight into organizational and human dynamics you may discover the problem simply requires a change of behavior on your part to initiate a significantly new shift in the way work gets done.  Talking to experienced leaders will open up new options or new opportunities you may not have seen previously.