Refocus your energy!

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

Define Your Ambition!

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

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

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

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

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

Did God Say? When Your Sense of Destiny Surpasses Your Resouces

Moses burning bushHave you ever faced the tension of growth in your organization - that uncomfortable realization that (1) you are out growing your current resources; (2) that God has stirred your imagination and summoned you to a larger capacity faith and sense of destiny; and (3) that there is no clear way to step from where you are to where you see your organization will be? I have a friend that is in just this situation.  His organization has outgrown their current facilities, outstripped their fundraising, and expanded beyond their current administrative structure. It's what every leader hopes for and then freaks when they see it happen.
It is normal to freak out over an expanding sense of destiny - that summons from God to take part in a work that requires God's participation to carry out.  Moses freaked out in Exodus 4:1 after hearing God give him a new sense of destiny, "What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?  For they may say, 'The Lord has not appeared to you.'"  Joshua doesn't freak out after the death of Moses although in giving Joshua his destiny vision God repeatedly tells him to be strong and courageous. (Joshua 1:1-9)  However, after his defeat at Ai he freaks out, "Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening...And Joshua said, 'Alas O Lord God, why didst Thou ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?'"  Saul freaked out when Samuel told him God had selected him to lead Israel as their first king, "Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?" (1 Samuel 9:21)  You get the point.
Somewhere between believing that sense of destiny God instills in the leader and the full evidence of that destiny lie a series of choices that test the leader's (1) attentiveness to God's voice; (2) dependency on God's provision; (3) and recognition of God's purpose i.e., it's not about the leader.  The question driving this period of development in the leader is, what step of faith do I take?  It is easy to run ahead - a problem that ultimately disqualified Saul from being king when he panicked at God's apparent tardiness. (1 Samuel 15) This is exactly the situation my friend is in. He needs a bigger facility, he doesn't have the budget, and God has given him a glimpse of a future he feels compelled to act on. He is at a boundary point of development and so wrote me to ask what he should do if the building that seems right (a series of events has led him to this moment) comes open before his board can fully take up the matter.  So, I wrote him the following and I share it here in hopes that it will encourage other leaders facing the same developmental boundary.
The situation of the building and its potential is great. I suggest a simple process of discernment when the building comes open - God's guidance is met with God's provision.
If the two converge take it. You have guidance - a clear sense that God is expanding the influence of your organization and that influence is both direct and indirect (i.e., meeting your organization's mission and influencing other organizations to rethink their approach to equipping and release of gifts/talents/strengths). You have made the need known to your prayer network and the board - so let's watch the provision come in.
If the two don't converge at the point the investment group drops out - don't force it.  Stay connected with what God is doing. You know that direction often unfolds with events over time and that first loss many times reinforces God's ownership of God's agenda (v our agenda) and brings God's people into alignment with his purposes (think Moses' initial "failure" to secure deliverance for Israel even with God's clear guidance).
I'm confident that God's plan so exceeds our capacity to see and envision that if we saw the thing clearly at the front end we'd run away terrified by our own inadequacies.  So, keep paying attention to what God is doing. Realize that the capacity represented in the building is the easy part of the process - to increase the physical capacity requires a corresponding increase in leadership capacity that impacts you, the board, and to a greater degree the national/regional coordinators. God is working on the entire system.
Run forward with joyful confidence that God is - see what God can do.

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.)

Restoring a Wounded or Broken Leader

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

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

What does it look like to integrate faith and learning - faith and business?

brain-photoChristian Universities and Colleges face the challenge of educating future business entrepreneurs, pastors, healthcare practitioners, managers, church staff, technicians, and executives in a way that integrates faith and learning.   The depth of the challenge is described by Robert Dubin:

We live in a highly secular world. The morality of the Judeo-Christian tradition is no longer the consensual boundary within which practical decisions are taken in the operation and management of work organizations. Secular man, even though he is an executive and decision maker, is very much in need of moral guidelines within which to make his decisions…. Today’s rational organizational decision-makers avidly see moral justification for their actions and are only too ready to see the new morals in the scientific theories of the applied behavioral scientists.[1]

Dubin wrote to lament the adoption of simple philosophical ideals of organization that failed to validate themselves with the rigor of true scientific theory. His lament however, equally applies to the position Christian Colleges and Universities find themselves today. The loss of what David Dockery calls a Christian worldview from learning and teaching has developed a bifurcated and disconnected approach to education that experiences a loss of faith in specialized disciplines and a reduction to personal pietism at best and fundamentalism at worst in those disciplines. The problem did not arise ex nihilio. The history of theological education in the United States is deeply impacted by its social context and controversies. For example, the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies of the early twentieth century contributed to the divorce of faith from teaching and scholarship. The inadequacy of alternative perspectives such as the separatist pietism of American fundamentalism, the pragmatic pietism of William James, the common faith civil religion of John Dewey, or the ahistorical experiential religion of Harry Emerson Fosdick is evident in the irrelevance many place on faith.[2]

The bifurcation of faith and learning is clear in the pastoral students I see in the classroom over the last decade who, for example, often deny the need for critical thinking in learning and look askance at the suggestion that their participation in missio Dei is not confined to the walls of their congregational sanctuary.  The bifurcation of faith and learning is not limited to pastoral studies students. CEOs I coach in private practice are often at as great a loss to understand how to integrate faith and business as pastoral studies students are in integrating faith and learning. In the complexities and personally traumatic decisions CEOs make I am often queried on how they can apply or integrate their faith to their decisions.

Perhaps more troubling is that scholars such as Phil Zuckerman can so handily undo the claims of evangelical fundamentalism with a simple sociological study of secular society.

…I argue that society without God is not only possible, but can be quite civil and pleasant. This admittedly polemical aspect of my book is aimed primarily at countering the claims of certain outspoken, conservative Christians who regularly argue that a society without God would be hell on earth: rampant with immorality, full of evil, and teeming with depravity. Well, it isn’t. Denmark and Sweden are remarkably strong, safe, healthy, moral, and prosperous societies.[3]

Zuckerman addresses and rather convincingly defeats the argument he cites. The problem is that the argument he addresses is poorly framed and theologically deficient – a product of the very lack of integration between faith and learning that this paper seeks to discuss. Zuckerman’s functional definitions of immorality, evil, and depravity are soteriologically (and narcissistically) not cosmologically grounded. Zuckerman seems argue against spiritualized Gnosticism masquerading as Christian thought. This is not to fault Zuckerman’s argument but to lament that the only objection he has faced from his students to secularism is a self-absorbed soteriological view.

I am drawn to Dockery’s argument (citing Abraham Kuyper) that the dominating principle of Christian truth is cosmological not soteriological. Moving from a soteriological to a cosmological ground is the inherent challenge of moving today’s Christian education toward a true integration of faith and learning.  A cosmological ground respects the sovereignty of the triune God over all spheres visible and invisible and thus avoids the error of spiritualized Gnosticism or the equally deficient perspective of pure materialism.  Framing the argument for the integration of faith and learning on a cosmological foundation does not reduce the universality of the claim that salvation is only found in Christ, it amplifies it raising it above the popular formulations of pluralism (that consistently minimize divergent cosmological and epistemological perspectives to find common ground) to engage an exploration of truth that, “… recognizes that all scholarship, all invention, all discovery, all exploration – which is truth – is God’s truth.”[4]

Learning is an Integrative Process

Christian education that builds learning or builds discipleship delivers facts to students while simultaneously providing them with a way to structure knowledge so that it becomes transferable rather generating information that remains siloed in curriculum specializations and personal pietism. At its essence learning is a developmental exercise that results in changes in behavior and perception. Science defines learning as a development through ascending levels of abstraction including description, explanation, and theory. A learning centered environment in the Christian University must present meaningful structures in knowledge that allow the student to: recognize problems using underlying principles and relevant concepts; efficiently use information to decide a goal oriented outcome; stay flexible in their self monitoring through the process; and present a principled and coherent explanation.[5]

The ability to present a coherent explanation as a result of learning includes an ability to integrate faith and reason in Christian education. That is students should be capable of identifying their assumptions, values, and frame and to critique the conclusions of others from the perspective of a Christian cosmology. It has been argued that the differentiation between Christian education and education generally speaking is the cosmological foundation from which Christian education works.  Peter said it this way, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”[6] There is no discipline that does not wrestle with the reality of God’s sovereignty. Either directly through deliberate theological reflection or indirectly through an active rejection of the reality of God – the cosmological foundation of Christian education has, and should exert, a voice in the discussion.

What I hope to make clear is that faith integration is helped by possessing a definition of learning that moves beyond the memorization of facts. This definition is elaborated by Bransford, Brown and Cocking:

The new science of learning does not deny that facts are important for thinking and problem solving…. However, the research also shows clearly that “usable knowledge” is not the same as a mere list of disconnected facts. Experts’ knowledge is connected and organized around important concepts (e.g., Newton’s second law of motion); it is “conditionalized” to specify the contexts in which it is applicable; it supports understanding and transfer (to other contexts) rather than only the ability to remember.[7]

What is especially important to leaning that occurs in Christian education is the fact that connected knowledge includes truth that is revealed as well as discovered and that this insight also organizes around important theological concepts such as Luther’s priesthood of all believers as well as Newton’s second law of motion. Connecting knowledge is a function of faith integration that starts with open dialogue between curriculums and ongoing dialogue between professors and programs that advance understanding of the applicability, complementarities, and contradictions between organizing theories and principles in the knowledge base of each specialization or program.  The pursuit of knowledge and truth is never complete – this includes the pursuit of theological or revealed truth. The epistemological position of the Scriptures is not naïve – it affirms the incompleteness of knowing. Incompleteness of knowing does not equate to unknowable. Scripture acknowledges that reality outside the human capacity to define and symbolically represent that reality exists and is knowable and discoverable however partial knowing may be. Consider Paul’s summation:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away….For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.[8]

Possessing a cosmological commitment does not negate critical inquiry or learning. Instead it engages a critical epistemology that is aware of the concrete claim that truth is cosmological that avoids the extremes of spiritualized Gnosticism and materialistic metaphysic.[9] This premise forms the foundation for our claim that all truth is God’s truth regardless of truths revealed or discovered source.

Faith integration addresses the challenge every classroom faces, regardless of the subject i.e., how to strike the proper balance between automaticity of skills and promoting understanding. Automaticity in skills renders technicians who master formulas in the closed environment of the classroom (e.g., church growth principles, business analytics, theological concepts, accounting methods, marketing principles, etc.) but who fail to transfer their knowledge to life settings.[10] As a result for example, pastors hide behind pronouncements and are seemingly incapable of the critical thinking needed to do theology in context. Or in another example, business students face competitive pressures and ethical decisions like deer standing in the headlights of a truck – apparently incapable of ethical thinking that renders decisions that advance missio Dei.

Finding a Common Ground in Curriculum – Ethics

In addition to holding and exploring a commitment to a cosmological foundation in Christian Education, there are curricular intersections that offer a direct opportunity for students to explore what it means to live out this cosmological conviction. Every leader faces ethical challenges and while it seems that the study of ethics has fallen from favor in some Christian Universities it certainly has not lost its significance.  It is evident in church management, business management, the social sector, entertainment and others that an ethical crisis faces society and by extrapolation also faces Christian education.  Johnson describes the crisis in equally universal terms:

The modern landscape is littered with fallen leaders. Wherever we turn – business, military, politics, medicine, education, and religion – we find leaders toppled by ethical scandals.  Nearly all have sacrificed their positions of leadership and their reputations. Many face civil lawsuits, criminal charges, and jail time. The costs can be even greater for followers.[11]

Framing ethical thinking as a point of faith integration represents a movement from cultural imperialism to cultural intelligence in international business and a movement from Greek dualism to a kingdom theology in the church that is capable of avoiding the trap of secular/sacred distinctions so ingrained in the culture of the West.

Ethical thinking requires that leaders make explicit the assumptions on which they operate to define the way their moral norms interact with the particular judgments, rules, principles, and convictions that make up their ethical decisions. These layers of ethical reasoning depend on a way of defining the world in which decisions are made. Business works on assumptions about capitalism and mission (assuming a Christian is engaged in commerce) that both need to be clarified to offer definition of faith integration.

The business models used in western enterprises depend on capitalism as an economic framework. Capitalism may be defined in various ways. One definition that aligns with the objective of faith integration describes capitalism as that mechanism by which new solutions to human problems occurs. Capitalism provides, “…incentives for millions of problem-solving experiments to occur every day, provides competition to select the best solutions, and provides incentives and mechanisms for scaling up and making the best solutions available. Meanwhile, it scales down or eliminates less successful ones.”[12] This view of capitalism defines business as the process of “…transforming ideas into products and services that solve problems.”[13]

In contrast business may also be defined in a limited sense as the maximization of shareholder value. In this view business makes the maximization of shareholder value their primary aim and assumes that the maximization of economic efficiency will itself offer a basis for social welfare.  The challenge to this view however is that emerging economic theories do not support the view that consumers maximize utility in their decisions in a move to efficiency in the allocation of resources. Instead behavioral and experimental economists observe that people do not behave rationally and financial markets do not always act efficiently. The assumption behind maximizing shareholder value i.e., that capital is the scarcest resource in an economy, contributes to a myopic focus and decline in long-term investments of the type that generate creative new solutions. This reality was clearly evident in the recession of 2008 – a view toward increasing shareholder value gave way to self-serving profiteering confirming the worst of all fears about the inability of business to think beyond its own self-preservation and enrichment at the great expense of society.

In order to illustrate the possibilities of faith integration in Christian Education with regard to business it will help to define what I mean by mission. Possessing a definition of mission is necessary for determining the flash points in which faith integration might occur most obviously. Starting with a definition of mission also supplies a foundation for understanding the ethical decision-making that makes up so much of the business landscape operationally and relationally to achieve a profitable position in highly competitive markets. My definition of mission starts with a theological frame that accepts the historical/particular quality of the biblical narrative and the prophetic strands of Scripture which proclaim that God acts in and on behalf of human experience. Add to this the influence of a Pentecostal perspective that further acknowledges the role of the supernatural and the current need and legitimacy of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Mission is that activity of God into which we have been commissioned by faith in Jesus Christ who introduced the now and future reign of God that is: reconciling (John 3:16; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:19); refreshing (Luke 4:18-19); concrete (Luke 4:21, Galatians 5:19-26, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5); and eschatological (Mark 1:14-15, 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Using the definition of business supplied above, Table 1 compares the aims of both mission and business in particular those points of overlap and those points of tension. In dialogue over curriculum and student development the interactions between mission and business offer a basis for faith integration and illustrate the challenges in ethical reasoning and decision-making. The integration of business and faith (like the integration of faith and learning) has a strong foundation in the Scriptures:

Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commands and His ordinance s and His statues…lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have build good houses and lived in them, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt…He led you through the great and terrible wilderness….that he might humbly you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.[14]

Addressing the arrogance of success ensures that just distribution remains the fundamental mandate of economic ethics. The theme of just distribution repeats itself through hundreds of Old Testament passages which seek to prevent and finally decry distributive economic injustice.[15]

  • Distributive justice: the justice that is concerned with the apportionment of privileges, duties, and goods in consonance with the merits of the individual and in the best interest of society.[16]
  • Distributive justice: the nature of a socially justallocation of goods in a society. A society in which incidental inequalities in outcome do not arise would be considered a society guided by the principles of distributive justice. The concept includes the available quantities of goods, the process by which goods are to be distributed, and the resulting allocation of the goods to the members of the society.[17]

Table 1: Mission and Business Contrasted – A Starting Point for Faith Integration

Integration diagram

At first blush it may appear easy to outline the ethics of business or corporate management for the simple reason that the law outlines such a vast swath of behavior in business.  However, as pointed out by Tarintino and Hynes (2012), “…law and ethics will overlap: what is perceived to unethical will also be illegal. However, in other situations, law and ethics do not overlap – and, in fact, they may even be far apart. In some cases what is deemed to be unethical will be legal and in others, what is illegal may be perceived as ethical.”[18]

So what is the challenge? Meeting the requirements of the law is not only insufficient to the current business environment it can function in way far removed from the cosmological foundation of Christianity.  Preparing students to work in the seams created by business law is the direct charge of Christian education whose ends include the development of leaders capable of working with a personal awareness of the kingdom of God.  As pointed out by Sheller,

Legal and ethical considerations create risks for businesses, and these risks must be avoided, minimized or managed. A practical understanding of law and ethics has thus become a critical element in business decision-making and strategy. Businesses cannot rely exclusively on outside counsel or in-house legal staff to manage all risks. Managers need an understanding of the legal and ethical environments in which they operate.[19]

The development of leaders in Christian education presents yet another opportunity to find common ground in curriculum design for faith integration.

Finding a Common Ground in Curriculum – Leadership

Servant leadership is an orientation to leadership that owns a transparent moral imperative, exercises personal awareness of the impact of leadership behaviors, recognizes the contribution potential of employees, and builds a culture characterized by modeling, mentoring, development, discipline, and fun. Servant leadership engages the essential business activities of vision, structure, profitability, and benevolence in an accessible way to employees, board members, stakeholders, and stockholders.  Interestingly enough the development of servant leadership in the business world did not emerge from Christian Colleges or Universities – it emerged from thoughtful leaders who inherently exercised a Christian cosmological foundation.

Like the practice of ethics, the practice of leadership is exercised in business and the church (non-profit) with equal significance. This makes the subject a significant faith integration point in curriculum and in practice within the academy. Because the concept of servant leadership started with an assumed Christian cosmological foundation its development as a leadership concept and the research conducted in and around its practice provides a rich venue for continued exploration and definition.

Recent scholarly studies on Servant leadership offer a variety of definitions from which to apply servant leadership in practice and to continue research into its viability as a leadership approach.  Consider:

Greenleaf (1977) states that the focus of servant leadership is on others rather than self and on understanding the role of the leader as servant. The servant leader, according to Russell and Stone (2002), takes the position of servant to his or her fellow workers and aims to fulfill the needs of others. Page and Wong (2000) define servant leadership as serving others by working toward their development and well being in order to meet goals for the common good. Another definition that is evident in the servant leadership literature describes servant leadership as “distancing oneself from using power, influence and position to serve self, and instead gravitating to a position where these instruments are used to empower, enable and encourage those who are within one’s circle of influence” (Rude, 2003 in Nwogu, 2004, p.2). Servant leaders trust followers to act in the best interests of the organization and focus on those followers rather than the organizational objectives (Stone, Russell & Patterson, 2004).[20]

Anecdotal evidence confirms the positive impact of servant leadership on organizational success. Alan Mulally, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Company took the helm of the Ford Motor Company in 2006. At that time Ford was losing billions of dollars and was on the brink of bankruptcy. After Mulally stepped in, Ford posted a profit every year since 2009.  When asked about his leadership style, Mulally responded,

At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve—at whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit…. Starting from that foundation, it is important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward—is so important, because that is what you are here for—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone’s contribution is respected, so everyone should participate….A big part of leadership is being authentic to who you are, thinking about what you really believe in and behaving accordingly. At Ford, we have a card with our business plan on one side and the behaviors we expect listed on the other. It is the result of 43 years of doing this.[21]

When Ken Melrose (former CEO of Toro) stepped into his role at Toro the company was losing money with sales plummeting from $400 million annually to $200 million annually. The perspective Melrose took to the assignment was one of servant leadership.  Melrose believed in people. He states, “You have to grow good people to be even better people. It’s like growing fine turf. You need to feed (train) them, pull them up in time of need (nurture and motivate them), and basically give them room to grow (empower them). Toro has great people, which makes for a good work environment.”[22]

The changes Melrose initiated at Toro started with a significant reduction of force and a reduction in perks (servant leadership does not mean avoiding difficult realities – conversely it means facing them squarely). Everyone shared the burden of the circumstance including the executive suite. Melrose intentionally exercised servant leadership and created a company culture in which employees know they work for the customers and everyone is empowered to serve the customers.  Did servant leadership work?  Near the end of his service sales at Toro hit $1.4 billion!

In addition to demonstrating servant leadership’s contribution to business success, the theological foundation to servant leadership is easily established. The encounter Jesus had with the ambition of John and James in Matthew 20 sets the stage for understanding servant leadership as the model Jesus encouraged.

Jesus’ response refocused their ambition. James and John were not rebuked for their ambition. Instead they were given a challenge that transformed their ambition from self-serving to serving a purpose in line with the intention of God. In Jesus’ view, leadership was not a means of acquisition, but of stewardship. Jesus was also clear about the cost of leadership, (i.e., “drink the cup”). It is a rare ambition that pictures sacrifice as part of accomplishment. More often our ambition foregoes sacrifice in favor of pursuit of prominence, power, and pleasure. However the formation process of servant leadership includes sacrifice.[23]

My thesis is that without a deliberate focus on the development of a servant leadership model the University inadvertently contributes to the pursuit of prominence, power, and pleasure on the part of graduates who find themselves better prepared in skill and knowledge than their peers to step into leadership roles in business or the church but who may lack a model for effective moral leadership. The ethical question faced by the academy is, what kind of graduates and leaders are we developing? The knowledge trust inherent in the academy summons this kind of stewardship perspective. Additionally, the fact that we are a Christian University beckons an even greater sense of responsibility do everything in our power to help students emerge as men and women who live faith integration in every aspect of their lives.

Developing a curriculum and a cultural practice of servant leadership within the academy goes a long way toward supporting the development of students who are capable of (1) transferring learning to action and (2) acting in a way that indicates faith integration to their values and assumptions.

Next Steps

Others more familiar with the inner working of the academy may have better suggestions for next steps than what I provide below. Regardless I offer these as beginning points to a process of change.

  1. Design/provide a platform for thought development among the faculty. Breakthrough concepts in how students learn as well as faith integration concepts will lead to changes in how course work is managed and engaged. With the multiplication of new learning platforms faculty need input in keeping their educational skills as well as their professional knowledge current.
  2. Adopt a learning centric and faith integration perspective from which department learning outcomes, course syllabi, and student assessments may be critiqued and developed. Given the fact that all knowledge is partial, it should not come as a surprise that constant review of the University’s products should occur. Like number one above this means engaging professors in the University in a way that encourages and provides for much greater collaboration in curriculum/course design and execution.
  3. Review curriculum offerings with the goal of identifying those points of intersection (like ethics or leadership) between programs where greater emphasis may be made in creating common learning and faith integration outcomes.
  4. Review student practicum courses for the degree to which they encourage the development of a learning and faith integration mindset among students. Design new ways to assess student development in faith and learning.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

[1] Robert Dubin. “Theory Building in Applied Areas,” Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Marvin D. Dunnette ed. (Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1976, pp. 17-39), 22.

[2] David Dockery. “Integrating Faith and Learning in Higher Education.” (The Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, September 20, 2000). Source: development/resource_library/2004/integrating_faith__learning_in_higher_education; Accessed 3 February 2015.  Dockery tracks the impact of a pietistic view and its impact on education i.e., the ultimate bifurcation of faith and reason which he insists are not in contradiction to one another but in proper tension with one another.

[3] Phil Zuckerman. Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment. (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 4.

[4] Dockery 2000.

[5] John B. Miner. Theories of Organizational Behavior (Hinsdale, IL: The Dryden Press, 1980), 3. See Miner’s discussion of the nature of scientific theory.

[6] 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NASB)

[7]  John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, eds. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000), 9.

[8] 1 Corinthians 12:10 (NASB)

[9] Naive realism: naive realism holds that the view of the world that we derive from our senses is to be taken at face value: there are objects out there in the world, and those objects have the properties that they appear to us to have. As plausible as naive realism may sound, it has serious problems, among which is the problem of the variability of perception.  Differences do arise that are clearly related to the experience and the cultural view of the perceiver. Critical realism: Critical realism theory states that the theory of knowledge, or epistemology, is different form a theory of being, or ontology. There is a reality which exists independent of its human conception. Critical realists believe that there are unobservable events which cause the observable ones; as such, the social world can be understood only if people understand the structures that generate such unobservable events. This is important in the experimental context, because it allows the scientist to distinguish between the event and what causes it.  Of the views this one most matches 1 Corinthians 13:9 of knowing in part. Agnostic realism: any position involving either the denial of an objective reality or the denial that verification-transcendent statements are either true or false. The problem with this view is it cannot itself be validated or verified. It is pure subjectivism in which the construct of the perceiver is the final word on existence since reality is non-verifiable in this view.

[10] Bransford, Brown and Cocking 2000:139.   See the discussion on knowledge centered learning environments and the necessity of providing organized cognitive activity and a structure for knowledge in the learning environment.

[11] Craig E. Johnson. Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casing Light or Shadow 3rd. ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2009), xv.

[12] Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer. “Redefining Capitalism” in McKinsey Quarterly (September 2014), 6.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Deuteronomy 8:11-16 (NASB)

[15] Glenn H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). See the discussion by Stassen and Gushee, 420.

[16] Source:; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[17] Source:; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[18] John A Tarantino and Katy A. Hynes. “Truth in Ethics: Law v Ethics,” AP&S Ethics Seminar Presentation, May 10, 2012. Source:; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[19] Source:; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[20] David E. Melchar and Susan M. Bosco. “Achieving High Organization Performance through Servant Leadership,” The Journal of Business Inquiry 2010, 9, 1, (, 74-88.

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

[22] Source:; Accessed 4 February 2015.

[23] Raymond L. Wheeler. An Inconvenient Power: the Practice of Servant Leadership (Claremont, CA: Unpublished Manuscript, 2013), 11. Also see John Howard Yoder. The Politics of Jesus 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 38. A similar affirmation of the centrality of service in leadership occurs in Matthew 22:25ff. Here Yoder comments, “In none of the accounts where this word is reported does Jesus reprimand his disciples for expecting him to establish some new social order, as he would have had to do if the thesis of the only-spiritual kingdom were to prevail.  He rather reprimands them for having misunderstood the character of the new social order which he does intend to set up.” My observations regarding the events surrounding John and James’ request is similarly understood. It is not drive (ambition) that Jesus seeks to correct as much as it is the character of that ambition. That men or women in leadership roles possess a drive to make a difference is universal what is not universal is their understanding of how Jesus wants to reshape their drive around the values of the Kingdom of God so that both their approach to leadership and their ethical decision-making are transformed.

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

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

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

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

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

I have authored some great failures and successes.

I love working with leaders.

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

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

Spiritual Leadership or Its Absence Affects Your Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual leadership is a game changer

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

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

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

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


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

Afterward: The relationship of spiritual leadership and servant leadership

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


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

[ii] Fry et al 263

[iii] Ibid. 263

[iv] Ibid. 261

Leadership Takes Agility, Responsiveness & Commitment to Learning

OchoaMexico's goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa illustrates the idea of skill and behavioral repertoire in leadership. Leaders can't just use the same "play" over and over expecting to generate great results. In the first half of play against Brazil in the World Cup competition the camera caught the breadth of his ability.

Like Ochoa, leaders must to keep their head and heart in the game - they have to learn new skills and exercise a growing self-discipline.  If they learn and exercise self-discipline their ability to respond to a changing situational dynamic, changing team-mate responses, and the competition grows.  If your leadership looks something like this photo you will experience more wins than losses. On the other hand if you thought leadership was the attainment of a position, power, or prestige you might find yourself flat-footed when you need to be nimble. How is your leadership development growing?

Putting out Fires – Leadership Lessons from My Son the Submariner

040917-N-0000X-001I was talking with a client who recently moved to an international assignment. He is an experienced executive with earlier international experience but the tone in his voice alerted me to the fact he faced an unexpected level of adversity in his new move.  He started our conversation by saying, “This has been three weeks of hell. All I have done the last three weeks is put out fires, and it is exhausting.” What kind of “fires” do leaders face? Common “fires” include:

  1. Rumors that undermine staff morale and productivity.
  2. Deliberate reputation hack jobs by competitors designed to undermine customer and stakeholder confidence.
  3. Revenue crises i.e., sudden drops in sales or donor gifts.
  4. Political crises that threaten market stability and employee safety (especially threatening and uncertain in countries facing military coups).
  5. Unexpected loss of key people.
  6. Surprise audits.
  7. Innovation breakthroughs by competitors.

In my experience there are three kinds of “fire-fighting” leaders. The first two are damaging to an organization. The third is the ideal because they reduce damage while maintaining productivity.

The first is the frantic leader. This is usually a new and inexperienced leader who expected everything to work without a glitch. This young/inexperienced leader is the most dangerous to an organization because their own panic in the face of crisis leads them to freeze or withdraw at a time that their presence and clear-headed perspective is most needed by employees and stakeholders looking for reassurance that the crisis is not fatal.  The frantic leader needs to understand that fires happen – they will occur and because of this reality contingency plans for dealing with fires must be in place.

The second is the distracted leader. This leader puts all their energy into extinguishing the fire and finding its source. The distracted leader is also dangerous to the organization. The distracted leader is aware of the potential for “fire” however, they have not put response mechanism in place. Because they focus their attention on the fire they temporarily suspend leadership activity needed to keep the organization on the right course in the midst of the fire. The organization becomes distracted and may fail to produce or pay attention to its stakeholders.

The third leader is the captain.  The captain knows fires happen and that they threaten the mission critical activities of their employees and organization.  Because of this the captain puts in place the response mechanisms needed to address the fire while continuing to manage the operational necessities that keep the organization productive and strategic.  The captain knows his vessel, he has response mechanisms and people in place and he directs their response. He is confident in their ability because he has trained and drilled his team to refine their skills.

Here is where my son’s stories of being a submariner kick in. As we talked about life aboard a submarine during his Navy days I walked away with two important insights. First, everyone is a fire fighter on board any kind of marine vessel.  Even on my visit to his submarine on parent’s day we were given instruction on what to do in case of fire.  We were instructed on where to go, what equipment to use, how to use it, and then we practiced using it. Everyone on board is trained to respond to fire. Second, a fighting vessel cannot afford to drop its operational functions to respond to a crisis.  It has to be able to maintain a dual focus of mission completion and crisis intervention. If a fire occur those at their duty stations remain attentive to their jobs, those off duty become fire fighters.

The application to leadership is important. On a submarine this dual focus is the subject of repeated drills. I observed the captain run several drills while aboard my son’s submarine. Practice, practice, practice so that when emergency situations arise people respond with discipline and not panic. The captain was attentive to multiple layers of activity.

My friend while an experienced executive is developing new capacity as a leader.  He has moved beyond the frantic leader model to the distracted leader model and to his credit he realizes that he cannot afford to be distracted.  As we talked his vision of being a captain emerged and I am confident that his current crisis will teach him what his organization needs to manage fire while completing their mission.

What kind of leader are you?  The question is really one of capacity i.e., the power to grasp and analyze ideas and cope with problems.  Does your organization have the mechanisms in place to respond to different kinds of “fires”?  Do your people know how to respond (or defer response) in the face of crises? Do you lead from the front in the face of “fire” or are you frantic or distracted.  Think through the “fires” your organization has faced in the past. What needs to be in place to find the nature of the “fire” and what needs to be in place to address it?

For example: in one company I worked with we set up social media monitoring to catch customer disappointment or complaints as soon as they appear. We drew up an action map to guide an immediate response to any complaint or disappointment. We drew up an action map for follow-up and designated specific follow-up by department. In another company I worked with I helped them create a legal response team to work with clients, state and federal compliance, and internal management. This team went into action when any of our employees inadvertently or deliberately violated state or federal law (sounds odd but in that industry the quick pace, high demand and tight regulatory boundaries made such infractions a distinct possibility). In this situation too we define action maps; we drilled people on their roles, responsibilities, and follow-up procedures. We moved from a frantic reaction to a disciplined response that not only reduced the damage but created an organizational culture that was more contentious about compliance and productivity.

How do you deal with “fires” as a leader?

Mentors make a difference - a tribute to Roger W. Birkman

r birkman Mentors make the difference between seeing things in a limited and typically self-indulgent way and seeing things in a larger perspective that inspires great work. Roger W. Birkman (February 1, 1919 - March 26, 2014) was a mentor who made that difference for me.   I am one of hundreds of Birkman certified consultants trained in the Birkman Method personal assessments. I met Dr. Birkman briefly but even in that brief engagement I saw what others told me about him.  He exuded curiosity, love for people, and appreciation for the work of others. So, just how does someone I only met in passing earn the title of mentor in my life?  Another mentor of mine, J. Robert Clinton of Fuller Theological Seminary, describes this dynamic:

You can gain the advantages and empowerment of mentoring from indirect relationships with unavailable mentors. There are two kinds of passive mentors - the Contemporary Model, a living person who can mentor you even without a deliberate effort on his or her part, and the Historical Model, who has passed on yet can mentor you via input from biographical or autobiographical sources.   These "model mentors" are always available, but mentorees must make an effort to find them.[i]

Dr. Birkman was a contemporary model in every way. The questions he asked about how people relate at work simply yet poignantly saw “the elephant in the room” that many tend to ignore.  He wondered whether there was a way to understand behavioral patterns to give people a way to work more cohesively and with greater appreciation for each other’s unique perspectives. His work was...well it was healing. In every hospital, business, church, non-profit, and corporation I have used the Birkman Method leaders learn to see things differently. They understand the impact of their own behaviors on their teams in ways they did not before.  Healing takes place as new appreciation unfurled and teams develop around new insight. I identify with this healing…Dr. Birkman’s work has indelibly altered the way I understand my own behavior and the behavior of others. I am (and those around me seem to agree) a better leader and a better friend as a result.

Thank you, Dr. Birkman for rising above group think, for exercising critical reflection, for putting your ideas out in front of people to be tested, shaped, confirmed, and improved upon.  You made a difference in me and you became a model.  Your passing doesn’t limit your influence in this mentee – it only moves you from a contemporary to a historical mentor whose influence, insight, and challenges continue to shape my thinking and improve the way I serve as a leader.


[i]  Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton. Connecting: the Mentoring Relationship you Need to Succeed in Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992), 132-33.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Development

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

Leadership and the Competitive Environment – A Changing Terrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Design Components of Effective Leadership Development Programs

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

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

Organizational culture can be defined as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two: Identify Current and Potential Leaders within Your Organization

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Development_Page_2

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

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

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

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

Leadership Development_Page_3

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

Three: Identify Leadership Gaps

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

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

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

Leadership Development_Page_4

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

Four: Develop Succession Plans for Critical Roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five: Develop Career Planning Goals for Potential Leaders

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

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

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

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

Six: Develop a Skills Roadmap for Future Leaders

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

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

Seven: Develop Retention Programs for Current and Future Leaders

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.

Toxic Leaders Spurn History - Bad Leaders Hide Behind It

PharaohIs toxic leadership the inevitable norm? Do people just need to suck it up and endure the chaos until they can retire? Are alternative ideas about healthy leadership possible to carry out or are they illusions that distract people from being productive? The story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt has important insights about leadership. Two leaders (Moses and Pharaoh) engage in competing agendas that launch far-reaching consequences. The narrative presents a dichotomy between good and bad leaders that defines how to approach the complex tasks of leadership in a different way. Pharaoh got it wrong from the start of the narrative. In his case the story is a progression that starts from a biased opportunism that accelerates to self-destructive hubris that left him at a strategic disadvantage.  Moses on the other hand wins yet enters the uncharted experience of birthing a nation. Moses has to grow as a leader or face a future no different from what characterized Pharaoh. Over the next several articles I will investigate the behaviors of Pharaoh.  What characterizes a toxic leader and what insights can be gleaned about the motivations? The answer to this question will help decide the possibility of change for any leader.  So here is the first lesson - toxic leaders spurn history - bad leaders hide behind it.

Pharaoh is introduced in the Exodus story as a leader who did not know Joseph.  The history behind Joseph explained the contemporary presence of the Hebrews and their privileged location within the nation. Joseph had saved Egypt during a time of severe famine with his prophetic insight and his administrative skill. Pharaoah's predecessor honored Joseph's contribution to the survival of the kingdom by providing a place for his family (the Hebrews) to live and thrive.

However the new Pharaoh’s fear obscured his historical perspective – he viewed the Hebrews as a threat to his power.  It is one thing to hide behind history as a reason to avoid making mistakes.  Such a posture is a fast rode to mediocrity. However, Pharaoh takes a more radically ignorant path. The threat presented by the Hebrews was rooted in nothing more than the fact that Hebrews were not Egyptians. In the void of Pharaoh’s lack of historical grasp (that explained why these foreigners were in the country and their contributions to the nation’s thriving existence) ethnocentrism rushed in and created a narrative of fear and mistrust.  Pharaoh rewrote the history of the nation in his actions and the outcomes were not good.

Who is writing the history of your organization and on what foundation are they writing it? The narrative determines the culture of the organization and the culture determines the values and behaviors.  It is odd that something went missing in Pharaoh’s education and in his development. What happened? Bad leaders don’t work in a vacuum they work with the permission (either implied or overt) of their followers. Jean Lipman-Blumen’s work outlines this uncomfortable reality.  She writes:

…What are the forces that propel followers again and again, to accept, often favor, and sometimes create toxic leaders?  Isn’t it high time we come to grips with why we usually let toxic leaders mistreat us and depart when it suits their purposes? ...Still, the majority of followers stay the course, many because the barriers to escape seem much too strong, be they financial, political, social, psychological, or existential – or, worse yet, some overwhelming combination of these formidable obstacles.[i]

Don’t ignore or dismiss Lipman-Blumen’s point. As followers we have a responsibility toward leaders. If we implicitly or overtly allow bad leaders to continue in their power infused invectives of bad behavior then we must ask ourselves what is it we think we get from these leaders and what would really happen if we said, “no” to them?  Perhaps Pharaoh had eliminated the bold followers who disagreed with his unique views. We don’t have that part of the story. What we do have is the insight that for tyrants to succeed they have to divest themselves from the encumbrance of history to rewrite history for their own support and sell it as a destiny.  Pharaoh succeeded at this and turned the tables on the Hebrews first oppressing them then enslaving them. When you see a leader who is ignorant of history consider it a challenge to help them see from a larger perspective. If he or she is not open to understanding the history of the organization specifically and has little appreciation of history generally then in the words of Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Pharaoh rewrote history to reposition the Hebrews in society. He framed their existence as a threat to the well-being of the nation. He initiated structures to limit the threat. Finally he oppressed them to maximize a benefit to the nation at minimal cost.  How is labor relations characterized in your organization?  A connection exists between the value a leader places on history and the way they ultimately treat people. What kind of leader are you?  Are you a student of history or are you writing your own history?  The answer indicates the trajectory of your leadership.

[i] 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), 24.

How to Get Noticed at Work in Your 20s

Kayla has written another gem. If you are just entering the workforce she has some great advice...if you have been around the workforce for a while it is still great advice. Check it out.  How to Get Noticed at Work in Your 20s.

Fresh Resolve - Nothing New in 2014

Ray and JaniceMy friends have asked what my New Year's resolutions are. Chuck caught me on one of my bad days at the end of December and received a terse email from me that simply said, "Ask me in a week or so." I don't know why the idea of making resolutions is so irksome this year.  Typically I enter the year with a plethora of goals and usually execute on all of them. I have goals this year as well but none of them are new.  It seems I set the bar pretty high last year and I am still working on last year's resolutions.

This doesn't mean I have not made progress but that I have not yet finished all I set out to do. So, perhaps my New Year's resolution is best stated as I intend to finish well in 2014. So what is still open from last year?

I determined to play more often. I work hard and have worked throughout my career with great focus and a ferocious desire to learn new things and to prove myself. I don't feel the need to prove myself any longer - the proof is in the results that travel along in my wake and it is these results that have taught me that often the most important things that happen, occur serendipitous to my drive. So, for me playing is leaning into that wondrous serendipity that pulls from a lifetime of insight, knowledge, and a growing presence with others.

I determined to write and publish a book on leadership.  The manuscript is complete. One proposal has already been rejected (a common experience I hear) and another is ready to go out. I have other books to write so I really want to get the first one complete out-of-the-way - editing and rewriting are not my favorite activities.

I committed myself to develop leaders as a vocation. So, Leadership Praxis is up and running and I am in the throes of building a client base. I love coaching leaders. I get a kick out of seeing performance improve. I enjoy working with teams to help them discover how to work with greater effect and fun.

With Janice my wife we decided to travel more (hence the picture on this post of Janice and I in Ferndale, California goofing off). Too many good friends entered their golden retirement years only to have their plans cut short by cancer, heart attacks and other tragedies. So, Janice and I decided (while we save for retirement) to travel now and enjoy one another while we are healthy.

Finally, I felt the need to immerse myself in the Christian Scriptures. I had fallen out of the habit of reading through the Bible every year and so I took it back up. My approach is simple.  I ask a question and then look for ways the Bible addresses it. This year the questions have to do with gender. In what way does the concept of imago Dei (the Image of God) express itself in male and female biology, perceptions, behaviors, and experience?

The sexual dimorphism (existing in two sexes - male and female) of humankind has always been intriguing to me. But the subject looms large in writing on leadership. Do men and women have biological limitations/strengths that either endorse or contradict their ability to lead?  Does brain structure determine gender behaviors and leadership potential? Is gender solely a social/cultural/theological construct? I will explore these questions in 2014.

So, I continue in the resolutions I made in 2013.  Oh wait, there is one thing I can think of that I resolve to do in 2014 that I have not done before.  I will go to a pizza parlor with some friends and convince them all that we need to dance to the music playing over the sound system while we wait for our pizza to arrive at the table so that we can laugh until it hurts - if you have ever seen me dance you know what will start the laughter.  If you get a call to go with me to pizza, be ready and bring your phone to video the event.

Here's to finishing well - let's go get some pizza!

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.

You're New, You Made It - and you're scared to death.

successI looked out my office window toward the open office floor where my team was working. I had just secured a senior management role that seemed ideal.  I knew that the other candidates were awesome but I had made the cut...and I was scared to death. Yea, I know no one admits this readily. But, I made a transition from an industry I had learned to master to a new one.  I was in the middle of a steep learning curve because the company wanted my leadership skills. I knew that leaders who transition into organizations from the outside often suffer a higher rate of failure because they are not familiar with the organizational structure and informal networks. I did not really know this corporate culture and understood that I had to work to be assimilated. I knew I had to earn credibility inside the organization. So, how does a new leader succeed?  Michael Watkins book, The First 90 Days, offers some great insight I recommend to all new leaders.

  1. Establish a clear break point: discipline yourself to make a mental transition in terms of job responsibilities especially in those occasions you must work both your old and your new job in transition.  Take time to celebrate your move.
  2. Hit the ground running: the transition to a new job begins the moment you understand you are being considered for the role. Within the first 90 days your boss, peers and direct reports expect that you will get some traction in the new role. Hence, plan what you want to accomplish by specific milestones. The simple act of planning will help you keep a clear head.
  3. Assess your vulnerabilities: promotions 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 where you are hired to be. Do this by assessing your preferences and comparing these to the demands of your new role.  In your early career technical advice is all important however the focus on technical expertise diminishes in comparison to the need for conceptual and human skills as one promotes up through the ranks to executive roles. If leaders succeed through others then it makes sense that the most effective leaders who those who know how to identify and marshal the skills/capabilities needed to succeed in strategic plans.
  4. Watch out for your strengths: every strength has attendant pitfalls, you need to 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 forms of demoralizing your direct reports. (The use of an assessment like the Birkman Method assessment is an excellent tool for understanding your perceptual strengths and interests as well as your potential blind spots and the impact of stress on the way you are perceived by others.  For information on this see
  5. 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 the next level down from where you should be functioning).  Learning strategies that go wrong result in behaviors that are defensive, screen out criticism and blame-shifting.  Be committed to a learning process.
  6. Rework your network: as you advance in your career your need for advice/coaching changes. Part of promoting yourself is reworking your advice-and-counsel network. The higher up the chain of command you go the more important it is to get good political and personal advice. I really can't over emphasize this. Add to your mentoring constellation new mentors who can help you stretch into your new role. Consider a coach as well. Many of my friends who entered new C-suite roles have confided in me that their coach was a life-saving catalyst to their adjustment.
  7. Watch out for people who want to hold you back: consciously or unconsciously people exist who do not want you to advance. Negotiate clear expectations about what you will do to close out your old job.  Be specific about what projects or issues will be dealt with and to what extent things will or will not be done. Recognize that mixed emotions are involved including those who do not want relationships to change (they will change), jealousy, suspicion of favoritism etc. Your authority will be tested. Meet such tests by being fair and firm. “If you don’t establish limits early, you will live to regret it. Getting others to accept your promotion is an essential part of promoting yourself.”[1]
So, what was the most important thing you did to succeed in your last transition?

[1] Michael Watkins. The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2003), 30.

7 Syndromes that Undermine Servant Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] MacGregor, 45-47.

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

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

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