Three questions successful people routinely ask themselves

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

What is your ambition?

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

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

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

How do you see others?

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

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

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

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

What do you do with anger?

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

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

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


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

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

How do you answer these questions?

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.

The Practice of Servant Leadership is an Ethical Exercise

It All Started With a New Friend questionAn attractive young woman, Samantha, started attending Sunday services in my first congregation. I noticed her one Sunday in our second service – she appeared deeply engaged in every aspect of Sunday morning. She asked questions of those around her – exhibiting deep curiosity and deep pain.  She was searching.  She attended for several weeks and then she indicated that she wanted to meet Christ.  Those who had journeyed with her made this introduction and her response to Christ deeply moved the entire group.

Several weeks later I noticed Samantha on my appointment schedule but did not recognize who she was.  “Becky,” I called out from my office into the lobby, “who is Samantha on the appointment scheduled for ten o’clock?”

Becky walked into my office and said, “You know that attractive young woman who started attending several weeks ago and then met Christ?”

“Do you mean the woman with the long brown hair who was so earnest in her search of faith?” I asked.

“Yes,” Becky said, “that is Samantha. She has some questions about what it means now to be a Christian.”

The time came for the appointment and after introductions I asked how I could help. Samantha talked about her search for meaning, how she happened to meet some people in the congregation and arrived on a Sunday to investigate.  She described meeting Christ personally in faith and she seemed to light up with joy in talking about her new sense of purpose, release from the pain of her past, and hope for the future. I was thrilled until she came to her question – then I was dumbfounded.

“So,” she transitioned, “now that I know Christ, do I have surgery again and return to being a man or do I remain a woman?”

I was not ready for Samantha’s question. I found myself floundering in my own biases, ignorance, and convictions without a way to structure and organize a response much less find the root of my struggle.  Was I even asking the right questions in my mind?  I relate this experience in every class on servant leadership when I talk about how leaders grapple with ethical reasoning.  I ask the students what they would say to Samantha.  What would you say?  What kind of ethical reasoning would you use? Is the model you use the most effective for the issues involved?  Does the model you use result in direction for the question Samantha raised?  Does the model you use effectively bring you and Samantha closer to Christ and the image of God?  Or are you unable to even frame a model? Remember that leadership capacity directly correlates to a leader’s awareness of his or her mental/theological models, biases, experiences, and cultural points of view.

Samantha’s question illustrates the impact of the preserving and purifying effect of God’s grace – she entertain new questions about her future as a result of engaging Jesus as savior and Lord. Samantha’s question also pushed me to step up in my ethical reasoning. Leaders cannot ignore moral issues. As Northouse writes:

...leadership is not an amoral phenomenon. Leadership is a process of influencing others; it has a moral dimension that distinguishes it from other types of influence, such as coercion or despotic control.[1]

Ethical reasoning and decision-making address moral issues. Ethical reasoning and decision-making depends on the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior and define right and wrong.  Generally speaking, there are three approaches to ethical reasoning.  These approaches divide into two domains namely guidelines to conduct and guidelines to character.  Ethical models offer a way of talking about the character and conduct of leadership in something other than esoteric terms.

Guidelines to conduct include:

  1. Teleological Theories e., working from consequences or ends
    • Ethical Egoism: an individual should act to create the greatest good in himself or herself i.e., do what’s best for yourself.
    • Utilitarianism: an individual should act to create the greatest number of good for the greatest number of people.
  2. Deontological Theories, working from a sense of duty or moral law. Deontological theories subsume egoism and utilitarianism under the necessity of fulfilling moral law.

Guidelines to character includes:

  1. Virtue-based Theories focus on who the leader is as a person. The leaders strive to live out core virtues such as:
  • Courage
  • Temperance
  • Generosity
  • Self-control
  • Honesty
  • Sociability
  • Modesty
  • Fairness
  • Justice
  • Substitute Galatians 5:22-23 for this list of virtues.

I Just Do What the Bible Says - Really?

Ethical models are attempts to explain in simpler terms the complex dynamic of human behavior and thus aid in decision-making. Often students in my leadership courses reject these ethical models as though they were somehow anti-biblical. Their response to Samantha’s question is, “I simply do what the Bible says.” What becomes clear as I ask questions of what the students mean by, “doing what the Bible says,” is that they are treating complex situations through an ethical lens, but are unable to explain or define the lens they used. The problem with this is twofold.

First, an inability to show and define the basis for an opinion or decision typically results in blind spots stemming from aspects of a decision or situation rooted in the leader’s unconscious frame of reference. Blind spots contribute to poor decisions and it is poor decisions that set up inconsistent and toxic behavior by leaders.  In the Samantha story my students typically want to debate the merits of gender identification and gender surgery.  Typical, they missed Samanatha’s question because they did not hear it. Their inability to show the basis for their convictions results in tirades against moral collapse in the nation.  Such responses are not helpful nor do they give leadership.

Second, the inability to show and define the basis for an opinion or decision makes it non-reproducible. How do new leaders assess the situation to arrive at an outcome consistent to the work of God and the greatest good?  If a leader cannot train others in how to think then they will not develop leaders; they will develop super followers who do what they are told and nothing more. Leaders must have an ability to manage complexity in decision-making and in analysis. The need for ethical reasoning in a story like that of Samantha is clearly evident. But what model?

A deontological model would be like closing the gate after the cows got out. A deontological model asks her to repent for actions already committed – which by the way she had.  But now what? Is it ok to shift one’s physical attributes to match one’s gender identification? Is the way we define gender in the first place ethically and theologically sound? I often have students create a list of male and female attributes. I then have them share their lists.  I teach in a university that is broadly diverse culturally speaking. The discussions become intense at multiple levels as differing cultural views play out. But, what shakes my students up most is that I have them take that same dimorphic list and mark the characteristics that describe Christ. Consistently to their great surprise Jesus demonstrates characteristics they assign as both male and female. What is right in the discussion? Where does your answer start? Perhaps Samantha’s challenge would be completely different had she met Christ before her surgery. But even then, what kind of ethical reasoning would have helped her think about her gender identification?

A virtue model could shed light on how to live going forward. What kind of character should she show as a believer?  But this also does not answer her question about surgery. Is it possible that she could live a spirit-filled life as a woman who has come to know Christ? What is at issue in a virtue model is how she decides to move forward and the degree to which her behaviors reflect the character of Christ.

A teleological model might explain why the future held promise for Samantha. She was not rejected by Christ but grafted into the body of Christ with the gifts and talents that are hers by creation and redemption. Regardless of how she decided to act or not act on surgery she gained a purpose in life and meaning in life in her encounter with Christ. Does her existence as a woman (formerly a man) rob her of the imago Dei that makes us human? No.

Grappling with what being a disciple looked like for Samantha used all three models of ethical reasoning.

Ethical Models in Biblical Case Studies

What if we apply these models of ethical reasoning to biblical case studies? What do we learn?

Character or virtue ethics works off the notion that good people make good decisions.  The strength of this approach is its ability to consider various situational factors in determining what makes for a good decision.  The ambiguity leaders often experience requires an approach to ethical decision-making that takes account of the situation.  For example: while the Jewish Scriptures are very clear about not worshiping other gods, the prophet Elisha faced an interesting cross-cultural ethical question from Naaman after being healed of leprosy and made a confession of faith in the God of Israel. While Naaman committed himself to only worship the God of Israel, he was often required to go with the king in idolatrous state rituals. Elisha apparently recognized the shift in Naaman’s perspective and acknowledged that Naaman’s position could fulfill this role without compromise to his faith.[2]

Elisha used character ethics in sending Naaman off to live a different kind of life and leadership expression than he had prior to his meet with the living God.  Naaman’s healing from leprosy would not be unnoticed. It placed him squarely in a discussion about the reality and efficacy of God’s works. From the stand point of the law of Israel (a deontological view), there was no room for Elisha’s response.  But notice, Naaman had already committed to worship only the God of Israel. Naaman had to deal with the complexities of living in a culture that had no frame of reference to the law of Israel other than Naaman’s own character.

Elisha does not express a use teleological ethics specifically.  However, we can analyze the text from this perspective as well. The ethical end in this situation was the placement of a living witness to the power of the God of Israel in a culture in which God was not yet known as God was in Israel. From a teleological perspective Elisha’s blessing infers a teleological utilitarianism in that a concern for the impact of Naaman’s life changing encounter on the populace around the king’s court was in view.  If Naaman’s question was motivated by mere teleological egoism, Elisha certainly could have counseled against participation in idolatrous rites.

Virtue ethics allow for situational flexibility. Situational flexibility or consideration is helpful in many cases even though it can lead to relativism and subjectivity. How is this weakness avoided?  Virtue ethics requires a guide to decide vice from virtue. Aristotle first evaluated actions or virtue as the mean between excess and deficiency.  Admittedly, this does not escape the problem of subjectivity or moral relativity. Aristotle used the mores of society to anchor his definition of virtue.  Obviously, social standards slide sometimes toward excess and sometimes toward deficiency on earlier positions (just think about how we define vulgarity today versus how it was defined in the 1950s).   However, using Aristotle’s model is still helpful if we allow a relationship to God to be our starting point.  For Aristotle, a virtue expressed excessively or a virtue expressed deficiently, ceases to be a virtue and becomes a vice.  For example, what if a parent refused to discipline a child out of a claim of love?  Would we say that love ceased to be a virtue in this instance and became a vice because it became excessive?  Or we could say that discipline ceased to be a virtue and became a vice because it was deficient?

Second, Aristotle observed a variety of situational impacts by describing voluntary and involuntary acts.  Voluntary actions are those a person chooses to do.  Involuntary actions are something a person is forced to do by some outside coercion. For example; murder is a vice.  But what if an individual was forced to commit some vice to save their friends and family be killed in front of them?  Would the vice then become a virtue because it resulted in a greater good in sight as an involuntary action?

Look again at the case of Naaman – the king coerced his participation in ritual idol sacrifice yet Naaman did not compromise his faith. Contrast the situation of Naaman with that of Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego who faced a furnace for refusing to take part in ritual idol worship.[3]  What are the differences between the situation Naaman faced and that of Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego?  How did their situation impact the decisions they made?  The context of Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego is different. Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego lived within the covenant community of Israel in exile. This exile was the result of a failure to stay in relationship with God. In this situation, the test of covenant integrity summoned a deontological declaration that the core values of covenant with God cannot and would not be violated.

Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego used a deontological foundation for their decisions. The strength of deontological ethical decisions is that they work to simplify right and wrong – deontological perspectives help to clarify complex situations and give a starting point that avoids the slide into subjectivity. The Decalogue (e.g., the Ten Commandments) provides an illustration of a deontological foundation.  Laws and regulations for example offer a deontological starting point for decisions in business.

The law provides some guidance but cannot anticipate every situation so that even in the clarity of the law people must still make moral decisions supplemented by something more than a deontological commitment.

Aristotle noted that involuntary actions must be qualified as meeting some greater good, such as avoiding a worse evil to be considered a virtue not a vice, or if not a virtue a pardonable act and not an unpardonable one.  Before we dismiss Aristotle as being simply an ancient Greek out of touch with good biblical reasoning, we need to consider another well-known event in the Scripture.  Mordecai’s destiny words to Esther are often quoted without regard to the fact that in Esther’s case she was involuntarily placed in the Harem of Ahasuerus. Her presence in the harem and the favor bestowed on her after her courageous confrontation of Haman and his plan for ethnic cleansing is considered a virtuous act of faith and is celebrated in the feast of Purim.[4]

The case of Mordecai and Esther also illustrates a proper use of a teleological ethical egoism (an individual should act to great the greatest good in himself or herself, i.e., do what’s best for yourself). Consider that upon her entry into the harem of Ahasuerus, Mordecai counseled Esther to keep her ethnic identity secret.[5]  Had Esther not done this, it is unlikely that she would have lived to be in the place she was to expose Haman’s plot of ethnic cleansing.  Mordecai understood the banal character of evil.  Discussions of ethical decision-making are often derailed by the inability to acknowledge the reality of evil. Mordecai could have held a firm line and told Esther to reveal everything about herself out of a misguided definition of integrity. Esther never denied her identity – however it turns out that the timing of her admission meant the difference between death and salvation.   When the time came to declare her ethnic identity and act for forestall Haman’s genocidal plot Mordecai used a teleological ethic to encourage Esther’s intervention. Look at how Mordecai framed the situation,

…Do not imaging that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?[6]

Mordecai not only appeals to a teleological ethic but emphasizes the need for Esther to take responsibility as a leader to serve her people. Reviewing stories like that of Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego or Mordecai and Esther illustrates how the use of theological reflection.

Sound Ethical Reasoning Consists of Three Interactive Components

The point is that a model like Aristotle’s is helpful yet limited in that it does not reflect the impact of God’s revelation which serves as an anchor to limit moral decision-making from devolving into an exercise in subjectivity. The exercise of ethical reasoning by servant leaders attentive to God’s self revelation requires a leader’s self awareness in three interactive components: theological reflection, worldview, and personal experience.

Theological reflection is the anchor that continually refocuses and sharpens the moral reasoning of a servant leader so that she or he avoids the trap of subjectivity and the haze of situational overload. Theological reflection assumes that the use of the Scripture requires decisions about the mode of ethical discourse contained in Scripture. In other words, when we read the Scripture it is important to differentiate whether the text has:

  • Rules: direct commands or prohibitions (deontological approach).
  • Principles: general frameworks of moral consideration e.g., Mark 12:28-31(teleological and virtue approach).
  • Paradigms: stories or summary accounts modeling exemplary or reprehensible conduct (blend of approaches).
  • Perceptual categories: symbols by which we interpret reality e.g., nature of human condition or character of God or kingdom reign of God.

These various categories of literature each offer a different kind of biblical warrant that function authoritatively in making moral decisions. A leader’s formation as a servant leader requires utilizing a mode of appeal and sources of authority.  (A warrant is a justification for an action or a belief).

Worldview. Consciously or unconsciously people formulate a grid by which they make particular ethical decisions that blend their cultural perspectives/traditions. A worldview is how a person sees or understands the world in which he or she lives. Servant leaders work to make their worldview assumptions, allegiances, and values explicit. Servant leaders understand that the process of discipleship is a process of transformation and learning and that some of their deeply held cultural values or perceptions may in fact work against the kingdom of God. Assumptions, allegiances, and values of a worldview defined:

  • Assumptions: a fact or statement taken for granted. For example many in the western world, “…assume that the only personal beings in a given room are the ones we can see, we are following a worldview assumption taught us as we learned our culture.”[7]
  • Allegiances: the loyalties that define what is important for example: family, job, friends, country, organization, and etc.
  • Values: something intrinsically valuable or desirable and useful and important for example: freedom, loyalty, high mobility, interpersonal competitiveness or interdependence.

Personal experience generates the practice needed to refine or develop. Personal experience includes: the conceptualization of self, experience of social change, family history, and lessons learned or avoided in the consequences connected to decisions and actions. Personal experience does something with the feedback generated by action. Feedback accepted creates a learning cycle. Feedback rejected creates a gap between behavior and the consequences of behavior as illustrated in Figure 1.

Engaging ethical reasoning with a conscious awareness of the interaction between theological reflection, worldview, and personal experience expands a leader's capacity to manage complexity. When a leader exercises awareness the possibility of change through learning occurs. The way theological reflection, worldview, and personal experience interact provides a mental model for interpreting situations. A mental model is a unique and personal generalization, mental picture, or image that influences how one understands the world and takes action. The importance of defining one’s mental model rests in the fact that learning does not take place without a conscious awareness. See Figure 1.

In Figure 1 the mental model (the interaction of theological reflection, worldview, and personal experience) results in a moral decision. When the process of ethical reasoning is conscious a person moves from decision to recognizing the outcome of their decision. The outcome allows responsible reflection to decide whether the outcome was desirable or undesirable. It is important to see that regardless of the outcome the feedback loop illustrated by the solid line process results in learning. Learning results in a realignment of theological reflection, worldview, and personal experience to account for new data.

Figure 1: Ethical Decision Making Grid

Wheeler Ethical Decision Model

Conversely if the process of ethical reasoning is unconscious, the chance of working out of bias and blind spots amplifies and the risk of becoming a toxic leader grows. Figure 1 illustrates the risk of blind or unconscious action in dotted line loop titled, “externalized loop.” This process avoids analyzing the outcome of a decision and results in a failure to learn. Instead of accepting responsibility for the outcomes generated by one’s decision or behavior this person fixates on events outside themselves as either the reason for success or failure. A leader in this situation would simply condemn Samantha and leave her with few options to move forward in her life other than existing in some second class state.

A person who lives in a disconnection between their mental model and the outcome of their own behavior and decisions creates a learning gap. This gap contributes to the process of denial and the development of a mental model that effectively insulates the leader from the consequences of his or her behaviors and decisions in their own mind. Notice the gap between the dotted line loop and the mental model in use represented by the three interactive boxes (theological reflection, personal experience, and worldview). This illustrates how a leader can insist on the same ineffective action or perspective repeatedly despite a negative result obvious to those outside that leader’s mental model.

For servant leaders the ethical decision-making process always results in reflection about the outcomes of decisions and behaviors as well as the process that generates the decisions and behaviors in the first place. As is clear in Figure 1 the outcomes of any particular decision or behavior either confirm and/or challenge our mental models. Hence, feedback is extremely important.  Feedback, whether positive or negative, is the essence of a learning process that sees the outcomes of decisions in an exercise of intentional reflection. Reflection considers how the servant leader made a decision in the first place, and the degree to which it is consistent to one’s ethical commitments and the degree to which Scripture forms one’s ethical commitments.

Feedback is also important to recognize because it represents cultural, familial or organizational norms. The summons to live together as resident aliens even within our own cultural setting is a summons to engage the world around us from the perspective of God’s working. This perspective can set up cross-currents with the moral assumptions and value choices of our own culture or of our organizational culture.  But more importantly, the summons to live as resident aliens allows us to use a wider perspective in our ethical reasoning.


Making moral and effective judgments based on a process of ethical decision-making is unavoidable in leadership. But more, ethical decision-making provides a means for early intervention to forestall either personal or organizational disaster.

Ethical decision-making is a process of responsible action based on explicit moral imperatives and values requiring that servant leaders be capable of explicitly defining the basis of their ethical reasoning.

Samantha did not answer the question of whether to have surgery or not in our time together. She did understand that the reconciliation she experienced with God was contagious and provided a basis for her to hope she could be reconciled to her parents. She returned home and began to work through what it meant to be a believer reconciled and transformed by the grace of God. How do you make ethical and moral decisions?

[1]Peter G. Northouse. Leadership Theory and Practice, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2004), 313.

[2] 2 Kings 5:1-19.

[3] Daniel 3:1-30 relates the incident of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego and their refusal to worship a golden statute set up by Nebuchadnezzer.

[4] Esther 4:14.

[5] Esther 2:10.

[6] Esther 4:13-14 (NASB)

[7] Charles H. Kraft. Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2003), 11.

Start Here: Where Does God Fit into Your Thinking as a Leader?

starting pointI got together with a new friend the other night – we met recently at an event and decided to get together and explore the possibility of friendship (you know that dance that occurs when you meet someone who seems interesting and you decide to spend focused time with them to check your first impressions). In the course of our conversation we talked about how we came to faith in Christ. Both of us came to faith from different directions, he had no family connection to church but stumbled into an encounter with some vibrant Christians who demonstrated God's love.  I grew up in the church and stumbled into an encounter with Christians who showed me how to know God personally. In my journey I didn't really have a quest toward a specific faith - I had questions. I was in the first grade when I asked a question that set a tone of how I approach faith. The teacher described the miracles that occurred in the life of Elijah the prophet. The story intrigued me.  I asked, “Why don’t these things happen today?”

The teacher obviously flustered said, “Raymond, wait here until I get the pastor.” (Adults used my full name as a sign of their elevated agitation level, an insight I learned from my mom who usually followed the use of my full name with a litany of my offenses and in ultra serious violations a promise that she would recite my offenses to my father who would then deal with me accordingly.)

Knowing I had not done anything more than ask a question and not understanding the agitation I saw in the teacher I simply waited for the arrival of the pastor who could apparently answer my question.

The pastor arrived and pulled me aside from the class to the doorway, “Young man,” he said, “What did you say to your teacher?”

I remember being surprised at the intensity of his question.  I repeated the Bible story of the day and my question, “Why don’t these things happen today?”

The pastor got the same flustered look the teacher had and said, “You wait here until I get your father.”

I was really surprised by this response and thought, “my dad knows?” We had never discussed this at home but my dad was a knowledgeable guy – a scientist and engineer so I waited for dad to arrive.

Dad looked agitated, that was not a good sign.  He marched up to where I was standing, now in the hallway, and said, “What did you say to the pastor?”

I repeated the Bible story and my question, “Why don’t these things happen today?”  At that point my dad heeled around toward the pastor and they engaged in a lively discussion the nature of which was over my head as a first grader. The net result was that we left that church never to return and went to another.  On the way home from church that morning my dad attempted to answer my question with an explanation that I didn’t quite follow – but at least he engaged the question.

Why do we as leaders stop engaging the question?  I get it, really I do. Life throws reality at us in a way that feels like a little league player put into the batter’s in front of Clayton Kershaw’s 97 MPH fast ball.[i] It’s not a pitch it’s a missile. As leaders we end up with a litany of barriers, obstacles, and disappointments all of which lead to the conclusion that not much is going to happen - the conclusion itself seems confirmed by our situation.  This kind of confirmation bias leads men and women down a rabbit hole of mediocrity.

Consider a statement the apostle Paul made to the Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

So here is the question, do your questions engage the possibility of God’s work or do you limit your questions and hence your actions to a scope you can both generate and manage yourself?

The discussion with my friend reminded me of my childhood question. Paul pushes me to ask it again as an adult with all the depth of my experience and education. What I have observed in working with pastors and Christian leaders over the years is that those who risk beginning their thinking from the starting point of what God does see a depth of engagement and results that others never see.  On the other hand those pastors who begin their thinking on the basis of their situation or experience consistently fail to see what they hope for and begin to talk like they are victims of a circumstantial conspiracy to rob them of success and significance.

Starting one’s thinking from the what God does is not an exercise of denial about obstacles, setbacks, barriers, or disappointments – Abraham, Isaiah, Elijah, David, Nehemiah, Paul, Peter, Ruth, Esther, Naomi, Huldah, Mary, and etcetera illustrate that faith instead sees the circumstance with crystal clarity. However, these same people started their thinking from the perspective of God’s promise.

Do your questions engage the possibility of God’s working or do you limit your questions and hence your actions to the scope of what you can generate and sustain?  Perhaps it is time to renew your relationship to the undomesticated God of the Bible in a fresh way and to begin asking new questions.

[i] 2014 MLB Player Pitching Stats. Source:; accessed 7 August 2014.

1 Clayton Kershaw LAD 18 18 128.1 92 26 26 17 157 13 2 0 0 5.4 0.85
  1. 82


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

God is Not Silent - Are You Listening?

Pietro_Perugino_-_Prophets_and_Sibyls_-_WGA17241I had just completed reading the second book of Chronicles in the Jewish scriptures.  The conclusion of the author caught my attention.  It reads,

The Lord, the God of their ancestors , sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at this prophets, until the wrath of Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy. (2 Chron. 36:16-16, NRSV)

I reflected on the persistent disregard the king's of Israel had toward God's personal communication.  My response is not uncommon, "How can people who have so many clear interventions from God so completely miss God's attempt to communicate?"

My ruminations about transition emerge from the context of my own experience.  There have recently been times were I felt at the end of my most important contribution.  Oddly, opportunities for which I am amply qualified have closed in front of me. Ageism?  Perhaps. Diversity goals? Perhaps. Cost reduction? Perhaps. The reasons were insignificant compared to the questions I face at this stage in life. I am part of the Boomer generation and I look forward to the convergence of experience, learning, and opportunity. Yet, I sometimes feel convergence slipping from my grasp.  Fear assails my thoughts, resignation like a mental rigor-mortise has tried to rob my creativity and resilience.

In the midst of these fairly common emotions I am reminded to embrace yet another metamorphosis as I learn to apply my knowledge and experience in new ways. Reading the historical lessons of Chronicles has been encouraging - a reminder that God is not silent and that the shaping of destiny and purpose continues through a life time. Decisions made today are as significant as decisions made a decade ago spiritually. Look at faithful men and women in Chronicles who live an entire life of faithful and powerful relationship with God who then fail to finish well in the end through hubris or some other arrogance that leads to a wreckage of faith and not a flourishing of faith.

Hence my rumination, "How can people who have so many clear interventions from God so completely miss God's attempts at communicating?" And hence, my commitment to remain attentive to that still small voice of God - God's communication that is clear in the scriptures read and reflected upon or in those intuitive thoughts that emerge from prayer that bear the stamp of God's own voice.

I went about my day and was preparing to leave my office and run some errands when I heard a knock at the door. A young man in a lime green logo shirt with iPad in hand was conducting an energy survey to find out who in our neighborhood qualifies for alternative energy projects. Janice and I have already explored these alternatives so I was closing the conversation when the young man surprised me with a request, "May I pray for you?" he said.

"Sure, what congregation are you a part of?" I asked.

He told me, we prayed and then he looked at me and said, "A man your age sometimes thinks their time of fruitfulness is over.  Your greatest time of fruitfulness is about to begin. God has you in this time of transition not to forsake you but to complete the equipping and preparation you need for what is next.  The end of your life will see the greatest of God's work in scope and in impact.  You have been faithful in little, God will make you faithful over much more."

He said several others things too personal to share in this format that spoke to the deepest parts of my being.

Ok, that was different. Some might even say it was weird.

After he left, I considered my reflection about the kings of Israel and their response to the prophets.  I am separated from their experience by thousands of years and yet the God of Abraham still speaks to me like the God I read about in the Bible.  I remembered something Dallas Willard once wrote:

In the last analysis nothing is more central to the practical life of the Christian than confidence in God's individual dealings with each person.  The individual care of the shepherd for his sheep, of the parent for the child and of the lover for the beloved are all biblical images that have passed into the fundamental consciousness of Western humanity....The biblical record always presents the relationship between God and the believer as more like a friendship or family tie than like merely one person's arranging to take care of the needs of another.(1)

I take the young prophet's words to heart. I listen for the voice of God who is also my friend.

In case some wonder; I am not lost in the pursuit of the next episodic thrill of existential phenomenon. I am attentive to what God says in the scriptures, in prayer, and through the voices of others. I have specific goals and I work toward the convergence I want to see also recognizing that opportunities I have not thought of may well land in my lap as a result of the guidance and grace of God.

Is it a surprise that the prophetic (a gift of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14) still finds expression through and in the church?  Not at all. This is the promise of God at work to guide, restore, heal, comfort, and develop God's people. Are you listening for the voice of God?  What do you do with what God has said or is saying now?  How do you test the validity of what you hear to decide its reliability?  If you are a follower of God through faith in Jesus Christ then be ready to see God act today just like you see God acting in history.

If you are not familiar with God acting in this way then contact me, I am happy to talk with you. Or, pray, ask God to show God's self to you in a way you can't miss. Walk the journey of faith with expectation, hope, and joy; one greater than you walks with you.


(1) Dallas Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 22-23.

Stop Facilitating Toxic Leadership Behavior!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Your Organization a Safe Place?

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

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

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

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

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

Table 1: A Polarity of Expectations for Organizational Interaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Stage Development Helps Negotiate New Life Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Table 2: The Adolescent Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

Table 3: Early Adulthood

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

Form Christ-like character.

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

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

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

Table 4: Middle Age

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

Joy of relationship (with God and with others)

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

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

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

Table 5: Aging Years

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

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

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

Conclusion - We Need Leaders Who Exercise Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

Need a Big Idea? Ask Questions.

ideaBig ideas and significant breakthroughs come by asking questions. According to Rich Warren courage determines the quality of your life and work.  It takes courage to question what you are doing and it is by asking questions new insights reveal themselves.  What kinds of questions does it take courage to ask?  He suggested eight.

Use these insights to systematically ask yourself and your team the kinds of questions that will transform the way you work.

  1. Termination. What do you need to stop?  You will never have the margins and the energy to innovate if you don’t first stop doing what is no longer effective.
  2. Collaboration. How do we do it faster, cheaper, or larger with a team?  How can we coordinate the resources in front of us to get things done?
  3. Combination. What can we mix to make something new – what can we combine to create a synthesis?
  4. Elimination. What part can we take out to make it simpler?  What barrier can we remove to give greater access?
  5. Reincarnation. What has died that we can bring back in a new form?
  6. Rejuvenation.  How can we change the purpose or motivation for what we are doing to recharge our energy and engagement?
  7. Illumination. How can we look at this in a new light?  What can we see by simply altering our perspective?
  8. Fascination. How can we make it more interesting or more attractive?

These are more challenging than they sound. Spend some time asking these questions about what you do - you just may discover a deeper insight into the purpose you really want to pursue.  Don't stop however until you have asked all the questions.  Testing your insight with the full scope of these questions will help you avoid the pitfall of short-sighted enthusiasm and engage long-term transformation.

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

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

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

Boundary Events are Predictable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: Boundary Factors in Development

Boundary Experiences

Three Common Boundaries

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

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

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

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

The Significance of Seeing and Embracing Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Missional Churches Re-shaping Things to Come: a quest for something deeper

The Future and Three Essential Commitments It is a political season and political discourse causes me to think about the future. However, I find the political discourse of part of the church disappointing in both its lack of depth and failure to show character that looks different from the norm. What is the shape of the church tomorrow?  How will the church re-shape the future? What is important to remember every day when taking single steps into the future? There is, I am sure, more than one answer to these questions. The variety of cultural and geographic situations of the local church guarantees an assortment of answers.  One thing seems persistently true in every culture – thinking about the future has a dual character of release (freedom from the ineffective and imprisoning) and rebirth (an entrance into trauma that makes new). Release and rebirth reflect the nature of God’s promise and leads me to think about the future in two ways.

First, I think about the local church. I have served in the church as a campus pastor, pastor, church planting supervisor, executive pastor, missions director, board member, and 2 and 3-year-old teacher for over forty years…it does not seem that long!  Time has reinforced my appreciation for the fact that new generations must wrestle with how to be the authentic and vibrant church.  New insights and forms consistently disrupt and encourage how I think about faith.

Second, I think about the business stewardship with which I am entrusted i.e., how businesses create, communicate and deliver value to customers through the products or services they design and manufacture or offer.  Businesses cannot ignore the social changes facing the local church and their own business any more than other leaders can. The reality is that the church by nature is a catalyst to change (transformation) and not just a victim of social change.  As believers we have to embrace the disruption of our thinking because the promise of God woos and summons us to a new future. I like the way Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer put it in their new book:

The alternative to this biblically mandated transformation is to pick a rut and make it deeper.  And this is just what many churches have done, preferring, even if not consciously, repetition or even stagnation.  As leaders we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that just managing the status quo is good enough…Rather than missionary disciples for Christ going out into the world, we have a group of people content to go in circles.[1]

I have seen businesses and congregations dig ruts that look too much like a graves – they have either gone out of business or gone bankrupt.  The only way I see to avoid following in a similar path is to engage the sometimes uncomfortable and always transformative vision of the future the work of God brings.  Isn’t it strange that the promise of God is simultaneously comforting and disconcerting?

In thinking about the church and business in today’s social environment I cannot avoid the need for three essential commitments. In my view without commitments like these the church fails miserable at being a differentiated body of people.  Without commitment the church floats somewhat aimlessly amid the currents of culture without making any real difference and without demonstrating any real change. I attempt to explain these commitments below.

Engage the Conversation

Commitment 1: Engage the conversation about how the church relates to the culture.  One of my friends complained that the church can never get this right.  It is right to say that the conversation is perennial, and it needs to be.  Culture is not static.  New generations grow in changing contexts and express different ways of addressing their situation’s critical questions.

Paul S. Minear in his book on the images of the church reinforces the necessity of thinking about how to reach the world in which we live.   Conversations about how to relate to the culture necessarily start with a commitment to Jesus as Lord. Minear’s insight is sobering:

Yet we know enough concerning God’s design for the church to be haunted by the accusation of the church’s lord: “I never knew you.” So there is much about the character of the church to which the church itself is blind.  Our self-understanding is never complete, never uncorrupted, never deep enough, never wholly transparent.  In every generation the use and reuse of the Biblical images has been one path by which the church has tried to learn what the church truly is….[2]

Commitment to Jesus as Lord result in a devotion to learning that is characteristic of a close friendship.  Friends are attentive to each other. Friends discover preferences and share dreams and fears.  It is disappointing to find church leaders who are more self-assured than humble learner – can we really afford to behave in ways that contradict the words of Christ while claiming to act in the name of Christ?  By learning I don’t mean academic learning.  Instead I mean a willingness to face one’s self and one’s context with the realization that knowledge is incomplete and perspective is always limited.  The most effective leaders I know live transparently as learners – they constantly work on relating to their world authentically.  Their congregations don’t run into ruts but race toward a powerful vision. Learning means constantly looking and listening for what the church needs to fulfill its vision in a constantly changing social context.

Demonstrate Conviction

Commitment 2: Undiluted and transparent conviction is essential to saying anything important.

In a day when pluralism is emphasized as a social necessity (respect for people who hold opposing views or differing cultural perspectives is essential for a civil society) it also unfortunately acts as a barrier to real communication.

Pluralism means several different things.  In common terms it describes the reality that ethnic, religious, political differences identify groups of people as distinct from one another.  Sociologically it defines a policy or theory that minority groups within a society should support their cultural differences and share overall political and economic power.  Philosophically the term describes the theory that reality is made up of many kinds of being or substance and (1) may not be definable or (2) that a plurality of realities actually exists. Each of these nuances is used in various ways when people talk about pluralism.

For this discussion pluralism can be categorized in two schools of thought; identist (all religions are oriented toward the same religious object) and differential (religions promote different ends – different salvations).  In this definition it is safe to say that evangelicals generally define pluralism differentially i.e., we recognize that different ideas of salvation or the need of salvation exist but that Jesus claimed a unique status and a single reality in the midst of these differences.

Here is the challenge. There are those who consider any unique conviction to be a denial of pluralism (a loss of respect for any other view). My contention is that without clear convictions communication cannot take place because without clearly stated convictions there is no opportunity to agree or disagree there is simply an artificial truce that goes nowhere.  Luther, who was not known to hold back on his convictions and opinions, describes a Christian’s basic conviction this way:

The chief article and foundation of the gospel is given you …when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you.  On this you may depend…to have a proper grasp of the gospel, that is, of the overwhelming goodness of God….This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content.  This is what preaching the Christian faith means.  This is why such preaching is called gospel, which in German means a joyful, good, and comforting “message”….[3]

The good news of God’s great love and goodness as revealed in Jesus Christ is at odds with certain religious and social views.  This does not cut its universal application – it affirms humankind’s universal dilemma i.e., the quest for meaning and the diagnosis that the lack of meaning stems from separation from God. In the biblical view there is no exception to this diagnosis (Rom. 3:23 and 6:23).

This clear conviction does not need to be reduced to unbending bias, cultural/ethnic hegemony or squishy acquiescence of one’s deep convictions. If the church is going to say anything important today it has to be honest and transparent about its assumptions and beliefs and to allow for the scrutiny of its convictions with the confidence that God really is at work in the world around us.  An example of this kind of conviction occurs in Paul’s defense before Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26 (see vs. 24-28).

Hans Küng carries the idea of conviction further. The way the church lives out its attributes determines its credibility and authenticity.  There is a point at which the clarity of difference summons a decision to believe or disbelieve.

“That the world may believe” (Jn. 17:21) depends entirely upon whether the Church presents her unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity credibly in accordance with this prayer of our Lord.  Credible here does not mean without any shadows; this is impossible in the Church composed of human beings and indeed sinful human beings.  Credible does mean, however, that the light must be so bright and strong that darkness appears as something secondary, inessential, not as the authentic nature….[4]

One implication I find in Küng is that authentic living does not need “spin”.  If being credible means that the light need to be stronger than the darkness then I understand this to mean that being credible is not only living out one’s conviction but admitting when one’s behavior does not align with one’s convictions.  In our experience in business admitting mistakes or errors and working with our customers to find a solution creates far more credibility and customer loyalty than trying to cover things up.  Isn't the same true for the church?

Make a Contribution

Commitment 3: Contribution to the world around us in measurable meaningful actions is the earmark of grace.

The church father Cyprian summarized what is sometimes missing in more esoteric theological reflection on the nature of the church.  Cyprian wrote in more concrete terms about the nature of the church i.e., how should the church behave? The third commitment may be framed as a question, how does the behavior of a congregation impact its neighbors?

In conclusion, my dear brothers, the divine admonition never rests, is never silent; in the holy Scriptures both old and new, the people of God at all times and in all place are stirred up to works of mercy…’Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.  When you see the naked, clothe him; and do not neglect the household of your own family. Then shall your light break forth in due season and…the glory of God will encompass you.[5]

I love Cyprian’s insistence that the impulse to contribute to the world around us is divinely motivated and never at rest. When I look at the unknown future I find courage in the fact that if our company continues to be stirred up to works of mercy i.e., to contribute to real needs we will never end up in ruts that look like graves and lead to demise.  The same is true for the church.


There may well be other important aspects of facing the future but it seems to me that if we engage in conversation with those around us and do it with honest convictions with the goal to make a real contribution then the future does not present itself as a threat but as an opportunity.  Will there be such a thing as the church in 20 years?  Yes. I am more confident to assert that if we keep up a commitment to conversation, conviction and contribution the as expressed in congregations and in business will offer a quality and vital impact in society.  What does your conversation, conviction and contribution look like?  Does it lead unmistakably to Christ?  Or, is it muddled, muddied and misleading?  Join me in making a measurable difference by being a living demonstration of what it means to be a believer.

[1] Ed Stetzer and Thom S Rainer. Transformational Church (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2010), 3.

[2] Paul S. Minear. Images of the Church in the New Testament (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2004), 25.

[3]  Martin Luther, “A brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed, Timothy F. Lull ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 95.

[4]  Hans Küng. Structures of the Church (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1982), 27.

[5]  Cyprian. “On Works and Alms” in Documents in Early Christian Thought, Maurice Wiles and Mark Santer eds. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 210.

Don't Try to Change Me – Discovering the Differentiated Leader

An inauspicious start to a critical engagement “Don’t think you can change me…don’t even try.” The department director shot these words at our introduction.

I caught the eyes of my friend darting toward mine to see if I would buckle or flinch in the first volley.  I smiled and while grasping the hand of the director to shake it I looked into his eyes and said, “That is the last thing I would attempt…I am not here to change you I am here to help you leverage the success of the department you have built to the potential you see for it. Is that ok with you?”

“Ok,” he responded. He looked surprised.

“Well then I have two rules,” I continued “and I need you to agree to them before I begin or I will pack up and walk out.”

“What are they?” the director queried.

“First, you give me permission to discover the unvarnished feedback of your employees,” I began.  “Second, you agree to debrief with me at the end of the project to tell you what I have learned.  Do you agree?”

“I agree,” he said and looking at my friend “he is not a bad guy Tim.”

“I told you Dick, he is good at what he does.”

This engagement germinated when Tim had asked me one night what I my research focus was in my doctoral program.

“I am looking at how hope impacts the development of existing and emerging leaders in complex organizations” I responded to his inquiry.

As we talked more about the insights I had gathered in my field research Tim asked, “Would you be willing to see if that fits at the school district? Our department could really use something like this and we have no budget for consultants right now.”

Tim told me that the technical maintenance unit developed in the early 1980s. The director and his secretary were the first employees.  At the time of the project the unit operated with 80+ unionized employees.  The unit’s original assignment was limited to fulfilling EPA directives on the abatement of asbestos contamination.  Today the unit handles abatement of every potential environmental health risk to students.  Not only has the complexity of regulatory compliance increased but the volume of work within this metropolitan school district increased with its initiatives to meet its plan of reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance.

The growth of the department, its technical focus, its existence within a complex metropolitan school district and the fact that its original director was still the leader made this an irresistible field study.

I negotiated for permission to publish my findings (I didn’t know school districts had so many attorneys). The District finally gave permission to publish my work as long as I never mentioned it by name.

Tim had initiated a focus on best practices in management at every level of the department.  He had a long leash that resulted from the fact he served as the de facto director for several months the director was recuperating from a significant health challenge and that Tim had the highest respect for the expertise of the director.  Tim’s respect was both professional and personal.  This respect provided the safety net the director needed to extend trust to my research project.

Classic leadership tensions

In the course of doing the field research some interesting observations emerged:

  • Growth in the scope of leadership responsibility requires a change in how the leader works.
  • Growth in the scope of leadership introduces political (relational) challenges not clear before.
  • Growth in the scope of leadership responsibility reveals gaps in a leader’s capacity.
  • Growth in the scope of leadership requires that a leader find new sources of feedback.
  • Demands on capacity require a change in time management strategies.
  • Demands on capacity require a leader to leverage organizational sovereignty (i.e., depend on the skills and abilities of others and expand the scope of decision-making versus insisting on one’s own perspective exclusively).
  • Growth in the scope of responsibility requires an ability to find and engage other leaders.

Change was not an option for this department.  A vortex of constant and discontinuous change resulted from the department’s growth and contentious budget/philosophical changes in the District.  A chronic degree of mistrust and anxiety existed among the employees I interviewed and surveyed. I prepared to debrief with the director at the end of the research project. I could not help but remember his edict, “Don’t try to change me.”

When changes occur what is impacted?

The Director’s warning about challenging him to change was intriguing in its own right.  He had already faced a wave of change but struggled with altering his behaviors in ways that are classic to a founder.  He managed like a tyrant in that he refused to delegate control of decisions – he was the bottleneck of his department that threatened to push the department in into dangerous lapses of execution.  He was the first in and the last out of the office often working 16 hour days.  He had destroyed his family, had few friends and was losing political capital in the District because he did not know how to relate with peers.  As captain of his own ship he worked more like a pirate barking orders and threatening to keel-haul inefficient crew.

The Director was on a collision course with the future – a future that no longer needed a pirate at the helm of an underfunded loosely supervised division.  He had sailed into the center of the District’s maintenance budget in part by the fact he is an internationally recognized expert in his field and in part because of the success he had achieved over the years in raising recognition of the dangers of environmental pollutants and the need to give safe educational environments.  The problem was not a fight for recognition and budget in the bureaucracy. The problem was the director’s own lack of self-regulation in the face of tension.  He did not know how to relate to the organization he had built.  He had no idea how to relate to the larger bureaucracy of the school district.  If change did not occur the District would slowly dismantled the maintenance unit and absorb it into other departments.

The Director’s initial bark, “don’t try to change me” was not the bark of a blind tyrant hell-bent on running the department into the ground.  It was a statement of recognition that he felt he could not compete on the same ground as the polished political apparatchiks of the District office and was not sure he wanted to – but he did need to adjust something.  So how does a pirate accustom to effecting immediate and sweeping change, immediate execution of ideas with full budgetary discretion alter behavior enough to avoid being abandoned by his allies i.e., the District he serves?

The power of reflection in defining context

After talking with the Director and his team I realized the Director did not see how his own success altered the political terrain.  The director faced two big crises: readjust his approach to his own team or risk losing the best and the brightest that were all frustrated by the repressive tyranny of the director’s micro management (he did not trust them and they knew it). The director had to readjust his approach to the District that now saw him as a policy maker and not an odd ball outlier – he now had power but he did not realize it.  There are few things more dangerous than a leader that possesses power but fails to exercise the self-awareness to realize the extent (or limitations) of their power. The Director was still fighting for recognition of his expertise and the importance of student health.  But, he had won that war – the District had become a model for school districts around the nation for environmental health.

In my curiosity about what the Director had done and my probing about how the changes he initiated had altered District policy both of us gained insight into the shifting political terrain in which he now functioned.  We had several three-way interviews between the Director, Tim and me.  Tim was a master at pointing out the Director’s accomplishments, offering deep respect and bringing the current challenges to clear definition.  These conversations forced a reflection of the type top leaders desperately need – a strategic reassessment of their position.  The Director however had never taken the time to do this on his own because he was too busy fighting the good fight to realize that he was wining fewer battles because the opponents had moved.  He ended up wounding his political alliances and most trusted employees.  Tim served as the Director’s first mate inside the office and as his emissary to the District.   Without Tim’s respect for the man and his accomplishments the Director’s survival in his role was doubtful.  The Director realized two things in these conversations based on his reaction to me.

First, the district trusted his opinion about the law and regulations around environmental safety.  The former pariah was now a recognized expert.  He had accomplished something significant and meaningful.  The problem was that while he had achieved a new status he did not know how to behavior relative to his new status – he is like a championship boxer who after beating his opponent continues the fight with the referee trying to name him the champion.  The failure to change behaviors based on the changing environment makes more enemies than friends.

Second, the Director was rapidly losing the political capital needed to keep his clout in the organization he had created from scratch. He still had fight left and still had battles to win but had not defined them appropriately. The Director sensed the loss of political capital but had interpreted it as an irrational outside threat and not a self-inflicted wound to his own credibility.  His dissonance upon realizing this had shaken his confidence in himself. Tim used the opportunity to drive both realities home with data that was affirming, disarming and incontrovertible.   The Director became more inquisitive and open to learning.  This was the easier of the changes.  As the Director grasped the new limits of his fight and talked about what needed to happen next in his department and beyond.  He became quite inspirational in the weeks we talked together – he is passionate about environmental health.

The breakthrough

How did this change occur?  At the end of the field study I prepared a report and the Director and I sat down to lunch to discuss my findings.

“Ok,” I began.  “You committed to hearing feedback at the completion of my research. I am ready but I need two actions from you.  I want you to commit to doing these actions for three months without fail. Will you give me that commitment?”

The mood of the lunch shifted at the tension and competition of our first meeting reemerged.  The director repeated his first words to me, “Don’t try to change me!”

“We already agreed to these ground rules, Dick,” I responded. “Your insistence on resisting feedback only tells me that you would prefer to sabotage your entire division and sacrifice it on the altar of your own hubris. Is that what you are telling me?”

“Geez, you are ….”he paused, “…ok what do you want me to do?”

I asked, “In your own words who are you?”

He floundered for a moment grasping for what I meant.

“I am an expert in my field. I am focused. I want to make a significant contribution in life. I am gruff and impatient with incompetence. I am a man of few friendships but I think they are deep,” he replied.

“Ok,” I said, “…your team agrees with all of this but they don’t trust you.” He looked rather stunned as founders often do.  I explained that in my experience founders are very capable of outlining how they have sacrificed. Founders ably describe the risk they assumed in the pursuit of success.  Yet they are blind to the sacrifices and risks taken by those they have inspired to help them achieve their big goals.  Granted, the risks incurred by employees seem small in comparison to putting family, assets, and reputation on the line like founders often do. However founders inherently infer that a proportional sacrifice is required of all their key employees.  It takes a different shape usually in long hours and high demands and initially low pay. If the employees sacrifice remains unacknowledged and devalued then a mutiny occurs. The casualty of such a mutiny is not limited to the founder – everyone is hurt.

It was quiet for a long time – I felt little compulsion to rescue Dick from whatever internal reflection he was doing in the silence. Finally he said, “Ok, I will commit to your suggested actions.”

“Great,” I replied.  I need 20 minutes of your time each day.  I need 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening.  As your employees arrive I want you to walk out of your office and greet your employees by name.”  For all the years Dick had worked to build the department he always arrived up to 60 minutes ahead of his employees and stayed for up to three hours after they left – and never left his office.  Only two people dared to enter his office without being invited – Tim, his first mate and Dick’s secretary.  Employees summoned to Dick’s office endured scolding on their failure to consider all the aspects of their projects. Dick would itemize their failures and send them back to correct their mistakes.  If anyone pushed back during these interactions Dick would launch into a review of his published work and his stature as an expert.

“I can do that,” Dick replied.

“Ok, then 10 minutes before the end of the day I want you to come back out of your office and thank your employees for their hard work.” I said.

“What?  They are paid for that work.  That is their thanks. They and the union give me nothing but grief with all their gripping, their grievances – we spend so much time with union reps and attorneys over this crap that we fall behind on critical projects.” Dick’s face had begun to glow with a reddish hue.

I stared right back at him, “You gave me your word that you would keep your commitment.  Are reneging? I am happy to leave you the bill for lunch and go home now. But, I need to know if you have the integrity to keep your word.”

Dick stopped mid-breath. “Why do I need to thank them for doing their jobs?”

“Because,” I said, “…they are doing their jobs.  They could be out sitting behind the district buildings drinking beer and simply reporting that they are working.  They could be doing all kinds of things that would destroy this department.”

“They try that crap and they will be fired,” Dick retorted.

“Good,” I said, “you need to be consistent in excellence and in the management of the task.  That excellence is not the problem here. Thank them every day because they perform the work you assigned to them. And if any of them are not you have the disciplinary processes in place to discuss that problem – use them consistently. The question is; will you keep your commitment?”

Dick agreed.  In the months that followed I checked in with Dick in a surprise visit.  He was noticeably happier and his employees in the department caught me and thanked me for whatever it was I had done to make Dick human.  A year later the department inherited all maintenance functions in the district.  Eventually Dick moved to a new position that allowed him to be the knowledge expert and put Tim in the Director seat.  The employees, Tim and Dicks all told me that the consult had been a success.  The real success however is that Dick emerged as a fully differentiated leader.  He was never the best friend of his team.  However he had become human and began to allow his direct reports to thrive.  By appreciating their work Dick begun to recognize their expertise and slowly backed away from micromanaging every detail.

Conclusion – what is a differentiated leader?

A differentiated leader is a person whose identity exhibits several critical behavioral characteristics.  Dick had started the department as a differentiated leader but then because of the capacity shift that occurred as the department grew he fell into regressive and reactive behavior.  As his identity reemerged several critical behaviors returned and grew in-depth.  Being a self-differentiation leader requires:[1]

  1. The capacity to go it alone. Dick’s capacity to move with or without popular support had built the department.  His failure however to extricate himself from the emotional binds of the less emotionally mature leaders in the district had caused him to retreat from this position of leading to a defensive position that ultimately made him the victim of District “politics”. Dick despised the feeling of helplessness – he overcame it by reasserting his willingness to engage people.
  2. The ability to recognize and extricate oneself from emotional binds. When Dick began to re-engage his team he had to face the reality that his retreat from relationships to isolation in his office had only complicated the emotional binds of the less emotionally mature.  The more he retreated the more his employees turned to grievances and work slowdowns to express their malcontent.
  3. Recognition of the folly of trying to will others to change.  Oddly enough the director resisted strong-arm tactics to change his style while simultaneously trying to force others to change.  He faced two points of resistance: (1) the intransigent and emotionally regressive who needed to be reminded to take responsibility for their own well-being and destiny and (2) those who were attempting to “will” the director to change by amplifying grievances and work slowdowns. The fact is that when change (or crisis) is “…viewed in terms of proportional or systems thinking and not straight line, linear thinking, then outcomes other than mere capitulation or escape become possible….mobilization of an organism’s resources such as resiliency, determination, self-regulation, and stamina.”[2]
  4. The modifying potential of a non-anxious presence. The department under the Director’s insistence on capitulation by the union had become reactive i.e., attempts to squelch or side step union activity resulted in a greater degree of intransigent resistance on the part of the union and attempts by potential leaders to escape the conflict by blending into the environment as though they could exist unseen by the reactive parties. When the director changed his approach by exercising awareness and thankfulness it altered his anxiety and de-escalated the reactive anxiety of the employees. Conversations began to look at the larger issues faced by the department and new contributors emerged from the shadows with new solutions.
  5. The ratifying power of endurance in crisis. Tim demonstrated endurance in the process. He stayed by the Director’s side providing honest feedback and creative perspectives and remained engaged with the employees refusing to allow them to capitulate their part of making the department a success.  His endurance encouraged participation and the possibility of change in the minds of the employees.
  6. The self-regulation necessary for dealing with reactive sabotage. As the department began to make a shift toward change some saw change a more threatening potential than the undercurrent of reactive conflict that had been the norm.  Dick’s new found fortitude helped him engage the transparent conversations needed to lay out the opportunity and the result of not taking the opportunity. He began to see that the union agreements restricted more than his behavior, it outlined expectations on the employees.  Not everyone exercised self-regulation.  A couple of the employees requested transfers to other departments because they resented the new more positive environment and higher degree of personal responsibility.  Dick and Tim transferred employees who failed to assume personal responsibility. Each transfer reduced the number of sabotaged union negotiations and project deadlines.  Sabotage follows effective leaders.
  7. The factors in the leader's own being that cause him or her stress. In the private conversations Dick talked about the collapse of his marriage and his health and his faith. He wanted to find a way to renew his faith and health…his marriage had ended in a rather nasty divorce. As he came to terms with the impact of his spiritual and physical health he saw how his own struggles had contributed to his poor leadership and the slow erosion of trust and integrity in the department. To the degree leaders exercise self-awareness about the factors that cause them stress they are effective in mitigating the stress of others. (See the comments on emotional intelligence in

So how is your differentiation as a leader?  Can you describe what makes you unique?  Do you exercise the seven traits outlined above?  In what ways do you see improvement may be needed or advised? Who are you talking to about it?  Dick had two trusted advisors that led him through significant changes in perspective – Tim who worked for him and me who served as a timely mentor/coach.  If you don’t have a trusted advisor who provides clear and unvarnished feedback it is time to find one.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Thanks.

[1] Edwin Friedman. Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Margaret M. Treadwell and Edward W. Beal eds. (New York, NY: Church Publishing. [Kindle Version downloaded from], 2007).

[2] Friedman (2007)

What Does it Take to Effectively Lead a Congregation?

What does effective leadership need?  What actions best enable pastors and pastoral staff to lead their teams to success?  How do they set standards that challenge people to new levels of commitment in ministry? Why do other managers and leaders seem unable to motivate their team to meet even minimum standards?  How do they allow for powerful leadership within others, without feeling threatened, and still offer direction around clear values and mission? Why do some leaders and managers succeed and others watch in agony as their team’s performance slowly fades to the point of crisis?  Why do some pastors seemingly drive away their best staff people in a flurry of spiteful suspicion and hurt?  What is needed? I sat with a group of business owners listening to their comments about their pastors.  Each of these men ran successful businesses and consistently integrated their faith with their leadership activities.[1]  These men had a measurable impact on their communities, employees and professional networks.  However, their comments about their pastors were filled with frustration, pejorative exclamations, and cynicism.  They had come to expect poor leadership skills, socially detached behavior, dishonesty and ethereal theological reflection that failed to offer any real insight to the immediate challenges and problems of these leaders.  Why had the ministry partnership between these men and their pastors broken down?  Two problems presented themselves in the midst of our conversation.

First, the pastors in question (all of them leaders of churches over 800 in attendance) could not speak the language of these businessmen.  Pastors conversed about the need for salvation, social justice and the importance of giving but were not fluent how to mobilize the talented and the able toward these needs.  The absence of a clearly articulated ministry/management philosophy, employee guidelines, job expectations for staff and analytically measured outcomes for the money invested in the church contributed to the perception in these business men that the work of the church was misguided at worst and ineffectual at best. They wondered why the work of the church seemed unimportant enough to create clear strategies and accountable/measurable action-plans.

Second, as I listened it became clear that the pastors in question ostensibly lacked the skills needed to engage in honest relationships with these men.  Personal disagreements were framed as problems of spiritual immaturity.  Personal honesty was replaced with denial and ecclesiastical censorship. Pastors seemed more interested in securing the power of their domain than of partnering with gifted men and women in their congregations for extending the grace of God.

I pondered the wide gulf of both relationship and respect clear between these men and their pastors.  Could it be bridged?  What might that bridge look like?  What skills were needed by the pastors to bridge the gap?  What assumptions in the businessmen needed to be challenged in how they viewed the mission of the church?

I reflected on the lives of highly effective leaders. Effective leaders have the ability to successfully bridge between or integrate the “spiritual” and “secular” in how they frame meaning and the purpose of the church. Or to put it another way, highly effective leaders capably define meaning.  In my excursions into the business world and the church I have found both capable and incapable leaders.

While my remarks contrast business and church leaders in terms of ability (which was true in the context of the conversation cited) I have met just as many incompetent business leaders as church leaders.  The difference is that incompetent business leaders are removed or fail more quickly because the metrics of their success are less complex than those facing leaders within the congregational setting.

Admittedly Christian leaders are not always so socially ambidextrous in their integration of spiritual/secular concerns. However effective Christian leaders have a perspective of culture and their relationship to it that enable them to communicate functionally in both the context of the church and the society in which they live. Watching leaders interact with culture seems to render one of two types of approaches; those that invite cultural dialogue and those who rejects cultural dialogue.  In effective leaders, regardless of their orientation to culture, three things seem inherently embedded in their approach to ministry.

Frame a Clear Vision that Applies God's Promise

The first is that they exercised the ability to frame vision and outline clearly measurable tasks in light of the promise of God.  This vision inspired a “mind to work” in those they influenced.[2]  Nehemiah’s context for example possessed rules and boundaries that find similar to the networks and relational histories inherent in today’s experience.  Nehemiah had to address the threat to the Babylonian worldview raised by his conviction about the prominent role of God in history, the tension of unmotivated followers, the opposition of divergent worldviews and power agendas, and the propensity for organizations to disintegrate into mediocrity and “group think.”

Demonstrate Courage and a Bias Toward Action

The second is that in the face of a very real threat to their well-being and their future, leaders exercise courage in action and decisions.  Like Nehemiah, leadership action involves spiritual/social courage, not only because of one’s expressed faith in the God of Abraham, but also because clarity in demarcating action can drawn one into a power struggle between faith and the prevailing deities and power structures of the leader’s context.  In today’s context every leader faces the same pressure.  On the one hand a pressure exists to avoid rocking the prevailing social paradigm and violating certain social taboos on the other hand the leader must decide how to express clear commitments without bigotry but with a sure purpose.

Inspire, Direct, Maintain, Correct and Celebrate

Third leaders like Nehemiah exercised leadership activity that inspired, directed, maintained, corrected, and celebrated the right actions of those who worked around them. Stated from the premise of the reference above, wouldn’t it be nice if a pastor had the skills to, (1) create a team  of business people, other congregational members and pastoral staff and (2) lead them to work at the peak performance of their gifts and abilities that (3) helped them work toward measurable social and personal change as a result of their faith?

I have had plenty of opportunities to experience the frustration of not knowing how to lead people.  As a result, I have asked lots of questions and fired off more than my share of acrimonious complaints about the lack of commitment and follow through I saw in others.  What does effective leadership need?  What actions make the most successful production managers or effective executive and senior pastors, and enable them to lead their teams to success?  How do they set standards that challenge people to new levels of performance, while other managers and leaders seem unable to motivate their team to meet even minimum standards?  How do they allow for powerful leadership within others, without feeling threatened, and still offer direction around clear values and mission? Why do some leaders and managers succeed and others watch in agony as their team’s performance slowly fades to the point of crisis?  Why do some pastors seemingly drive away their best staff people in a flurry of spiteful suspicion and hurt?

I offered three insights to these questions yet I am certain there are more. What do you think it takes to lead a thriving congregation?

[1] I did not sponsor the meeting, I was a guest.  I did notice that among all the business owners in this evangelical organization not a single female business owner was present, nor did it seem like this was expected.  I mention this because many female business owners run companies that exhibit cutting edge employee relationships, superior customer service and superior profit margins.  The National Association of Women Business Owners, of which my wife is a part, has industry leading female executives that are often overlooked or dismissed by their male counterparts.  I would like to say that in the church world things are different that women are recognized for their gifts and abilities and authenticated in their ministries and leadership – but the same bigotry faced by women in the market place is simply re-framed with spiritual language in the church world and is offered as a biblically authenticated model of gender relationships.  I want to call this into question.

[2] Nehemiah 4:6.  My premise has been challenged by other educators in Christian Leadership who suggest that business models and assumptions are inadequate for the church – I agree with the statement as it stands. The mission of the church is not reducible to profit.   What I disagree with is that the ministry of the church is not measurable.  The simple fact is that the reasons why pastors and some Christian educators say that the ministry of the church is not measurable mirrors the excuses I have heard from my direct reports in business where everything is measurable.  The same verbiage and the same reasoning from one context to the next suggest to me that such statements are excuses used to mask the fear of accountability.  So, in the absence of a compelling alternative I will retain my assumption that there are measurable aspects of ministry and organizational development that must be used in the church and para-church organizations that keep the missional focus sharp and the work effective rather than the dull irrelevance that is sometimes the case.

Men and Women are Different – Learning to Mentor across Genders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Establish a Safe Mentoring Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understand Women Learn Differently

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

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

Women develop a morality of care and responsibility. Instead of pressing for blind impartiality women argue for understanding the context noting that the needs of the person cannot always be deduced from general rules.[10] Role of the mentor is to create and keep up a supportive environment that promotes conditions necessary for learning – this underscores the significance of defining the relationship clearly and of those mentor types (e.g., sponsorship) that work to protect the learning of the mentee. (See more at and If the mentor refuses to engage this way of knowing when working with women the reciprocal benefit of the mentoring relationship is lost.

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

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

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

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

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

Received knowledge: listening to the voices of others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reinforce the Relationship with Clear Definition

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

Table 1: Define the Expectations[13]

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

Communicate Violations of your Boundaries

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Zachary, 513 of 6664.

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

[10] Ibid, 8.

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

[13] Zachary, 3579 of 6664

[14] Zachary, 3710 of 6664

[15] A number of studies look at the corporate context and emerging women leaders and their impact on business results. See for more information.


The Leadership Challenge - Why Mentors are Needed Is it better to improve what exists or create what isn’t yet?[1]  Today’s context requires that a leader do both.  Leaders face the tension of living in the present and the future simultaneously.  In today’s world the rate of change often exceeds a leader’s ability to define change.  As one author points out change has changed.

Leaders today must own two important factors of success.  First is faith.  Faith summons us to live in the present as though the future were here now.  Without faith leaders tend to show the mediocrity that leads their organizations to live as though they were bound to the past than the future.  Even once great organizations find themselves irrelevant, powerless and more connected to the past than the future.  Their best people seem muddled and their leaders hamstrung.

Second, effective leaders all have mentors. If any leader in history seems to be exempt from the need of having a mentor it was Moses.  Moses had a face to face and daily relationship with God according to the scriptures. Who needs a mentor when one can check in with the Almighty?  The lesson seems to be that connection with God does not make independent super hero as much as it shapes authentic humanity that recognizes the interdependence of relationship that plays such a significant role in human development.

Moses and the children of Israel had experienced one of the greatest miracles of history in the Exodus from Egypt but when they landed in the wilderness they faced a problem, the success of the past would not carry them into the future unless they connected to the future than the past as their point of reference.  Moses ran smack into the limitations of leadership capacity on the one hand and the necessity for expanding his capacity as a leader on the other.

Mentors Play a Critical Role in Leadership Development

When entering a harbor ship Captains often use experienced “pilots” to guide their vessels safely to dock.  A pilot is familiar with the channel, hazards, currents and traffic the ship will face.  As great a leader Moses was he needed a pilot at one point – a mentor to help him understand his own blind spots and develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward.  Jethro served as Moses’ pilot or mentor.  Jethro “piloted” Moses through new leadership terrain (cf. Exodus 18).  Jethro modeled the tone as well as the content of an effective mentor.  The encounter between Jethro and Moses offer seven insights into an effective mentoring relationship.  Consider the following insights. How do these observations reflect the approach you take with mentees?  What insights can you glean to improve the effectiveness of your own mentoring?  I extracted the observations below from Exodus 18:1-27.  What tools did Jethro use to enhance Moses' leadership capacity?


Jethro journeyed to the wilderness to meet Moses and Israel.  Principle: Effective mentoring occurs out of relationship.  Mentoring or consultations of any type do not take place or give help if engaged in as a backseat driver or detached prognosticator.  Mentors are often incarnations of divine assistance. The bottom line is a mentor knows you, initiates contact and identifies with your unique situational challenges and strengths.


Jethro heard of all that God had done.  Principle: Effective mentors are attentive to the needs of their mentees.  They act on what they hear or see.  Mentors have the ability to see the wider perspective of purpose and meaning.  Mentoring is not a one-size-fits-all approach but an approach that seeks exposure to the leader’s context, a larger frame of reference and sensitivity to the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is a personal and at times nearly an intimate interaction that identifies with the leader and empathize with their situation and personal victories and challenges.


“I your father-in-law Jethro; am coming to you.” Principle: Effective mentoring possesses and expresses a passion for leaders.  Jethro’s relationship to Moses resulted from the marriage of Moses to Jethro’s daughter.  If a mentor does his or her job well they will foremost act out of care and respect for leaders. Benevolence as a motivation helps reduce barriers to advice and understands that a foundation of honest communication and respect is an essential ingredient to building trust.


“Jethro said, ‘blessed be the Lord, who delivered you…’”  Principle: A mentor must not only see things to improve they must start with things to celebrate.  Note that up to this point Jethro had done nothing but see and understand the context, goals, past and present work Moses was involved in.  A significant part of any mentoring engagement or consultation takes place in celebrating the accomplishments and the passion from which the leader draws both courage and vision.  It reinforces the leader, demonstrates respect for what the leader has accomplished and sets the stage for the leader to express or recognize any boundaries to the development of their capacity as a leader as demanded by their situation.


“You will surely wear out; both yourself and these people…Now listen to me.  I will give you counsel.” Principle: The benefit of mentoring is introduced – Jethro’s observations based on his wider perspective and appreciation for the great work God was doing in Israel had two primary goals; that Moses successfully engage his task with energy and endurance and that the people embrace their changing destiny and situation with peace.  Jethro diagnosed and prescribed with sensitivity to the context and the insight of experience and intuition.  Warning: a double jeopardy exists in an overburdened leader – the leader and the people wear out.  This one-two punch guarantees that an organization will eventually suffer a collapse and if left untreated die.


Moses listened.  Principle: The best mentors in the world are worthless if a leader or leadership team is unwilling to listen to questions, direction and carry out a plan that applies the advice.  Mentoring and consultation is a partnership that culminates in new implementation and immediate follow-through.

Punctuated Time Frame

“Then Moses bade farewell to his father-in-law, and did all he said.”   Principle: Effective mentors know when to disengage from directive communication. When the mentee owns the implementation of a new concept mentoring is a success.  This is sometimes called “freezing change” – mentors know when change must be frozen and consolidated in action.  When Moses and Israel accepted the need for altering their leadership and followership behaviors they experienced a revitalized perspective.  This observation reinforces the reality that effective mentors own a clear sense of their own identity and do not engage leaders as trying to shore up their own sense of importance, value or influence.  This is not to say that mentoring is not rewarding but that mentors who work out of their own need for recognition ultimately attempt to suppress the important step toward differentiation and interdependence the mentee most make to be a healthy leader.


Jethro’s approach to Moses illustrates a mentoring framework that mentors today would do well to use. Notice that Jethro’s approach builds a foundation and then leverages Moses’ capabilities forward.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1: A Model Mentoring Approach

Figure 1 represents a model approach to mentoring that provides guidance to emerging and experienced mentors alike.  Try working through these steps in your next mentoring conversation and see how it impacts the readiness of the mentee to listen to advice.

Who are your mentors? Are you listening?  In what ways have you altered your behaviors as a leader?  Who do you mentor?  Do you know when to engage and when to disengage?  Do you exercise the discipline and skill of honest feedback? Do you celebrate your mentee’s successes with them in front of their followers?

In the next article I will offer a synthesis of this approach to mentoring and organizational development cycles.  I invite your comments – share your experience.

[1] Ken Blanchard and Terry Waghorn.  Mission Possible (San Francisco, CA: McGraw Hill, 1997),  xxi.


The Betrayal: When Broken Trust Turns Toxic Part 1

Surprising Venom “Look Ray,” he said, “I know you have your stuff together.  Sit here, gather your consulting fee and look for another job while you do. This is not about you.  This guy does not deserve to be in business.  I am going to take him down, take what cash I can and move to the job I already have lined up.”

These are the last words I heard upon exiting my first job after graduate school.  How in the world had this company come to such a venomous end?  The guy speaking was a man the owner trusted completely.  Upon receiving news that I would  be let go in the downsizing after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center I was told that based on performance I was a good choice.  However, the owner preferred to bring his longtime friend and director of the manufacturing division in to restructure the company to survive the hit we had taken in our cash flow as a result of a vanishing sales pipeline.

How did I get here?  Why was this guy so filled with poison toward this owner?  Why was the owner so clueless?

 The Back Story

I completed a master’s degree in intercultural studies with an emphasis on organizational development and leadership development.   I became more and more enamored with the subject of organizational design and leadership development. I knew I wanted to take this new knowledge into business and work to improve personal and organizational performance.   I did not know how to make the transition from directing and leading in the religious non-profit world to the business world.  I knew two things, I had something very valuable to offer and a lot to learn (the curse of graduate education is that it provides new knowledge and in so doing also catalogues every students ignorance).

I alerted several mentors and close friends that I was not interested in another non-profit role but wanted to enter the business world to test the wings of my newly acquired expertise.   Brian, a friend of mine (a recently minted MBA on his second post-graduate role) asked me to join his turn around team.  I remember his pitch.  The company he was hired to lead had a pioneering software product for managing the front desk operations of hotel and other hospitality property.  The company had developed and protected an innovation the big guys had not yet thought of.  The company was strongly capitalized.  The owner had made a poor hiring decision and was ready to listen to business/organizational talent that could structure and propel his innovation forward.  The owner would back away from daily operations and give Brian and his team the opportunity to lead forward. Brian recruited me to serve as director of operations, another experienced friend to lead sales.  We rebranded, reorganized, restructured our way through the first three months and began to see the promise of building sales momentum.

I went to work understanding the operational functions of programming, customer service, human resources, and sales.  I mapped a new organic organizational structure designed to leverage Brian’s business plan forward and began recruiting and retraining across all departments.   Lora went to work restructuring the sales department.  She worked through our database like a lioness stalking a herd of gazelle. Brian went to work rebranding the company and analyzing financials.  These were heady days. We were succeeding in turning things around.  The owner was happy, our customers were either happy or becoming happier and our innovation was protected and winning us sales from our bigger and more established competitors.

I was on the freeway traveling to the office in Anaheim, California before sunlight on the morning of 9/11 and heard the news of the first plan hitting the tower of the World Trade Center.  I drove to work glued to the radio and stunned at what I was hearing.  When I walked into the office instead of seeing the sales team on the phones to our Caribbean and east coast customers they were in the lunch room standing around a television set watching the horrifying drama unfold.  Before the day was even over potential customers started calling to cancel their orders for our software.  In the first 48 hours following 9/11 we lost our entire sales pipeline and began analyzing how long we could keep the doors open without any sales revenue.

The End – The Enigma of Human Relations

What a contrast to my first meeting with Brian. My last meeting with the owner ten months later was a dirge. “Ray,” the owner announced “I would like you to orient Bob (the director of operations at the company’s manufacturing division) on operations in the software division.  Bob will take over operations of both divisions as we merge to survive this set back.  I have known Bob for a long time and his law degree and experience are just what I think we need to survive.  If there were any way financially I could keep you and your skills I would but without sales we are going into a hole at an unrecoverable rate.”

We negotiated a consulting role that would last for two weeks.  I would have two weeks to find something new and turn over the reins of the software division.

I showed up to the office on my first day as an ex-employee turned consultant.  When Bob walked into my office and described in detail how he was going to destroy the owner financially and why.

What happened?

If you have insights into this catastrophic dynamic write your comments here.  Over the next several weeks I intend to write on how business relationships disintegrate to the point that trusted friends turn into fatal enemies.  The subject of betrayal and situations leading to betrayal are not new nor are they simply the fodder of English literature classes studying Julius Caesar.  Do strategies exist that help owners and managers avoid this collapse of trust? What are your insights?  Have you experienced a similar collapse of relationship?  Have you seen it?  Have you studied it?

Mom Was Right, Gratitude is Necessary for Success

Remember What Your Mother Taught You about Gratitude A group of clients dropped in on our office the other day.  One of them had their seven-year old son in tow and while he was well-behaved he was obviously bored.  We have a collection of marketing and trade show trinkets including a box of rubber band balls with our company name on them. In a lull in the conversation I grabbed one and offered it to the young man.  As he reached to receive the gift I offered, his mother posed a question.  What was this maternal prompting?  As you may have guessed she asked, “What do you say?” The expected answer was, “Thank you.”

Just how powerful is gratitude?  Gratitude is a virtue that contributes to living well. It is an emotional state and an affective trait demonstrated in behavior and as such it has tremendous potential for engaging change in how a person experiences life or determines the meaning of their circumstance. It is a positive emotion that has more recently captured the imagination and eye of researchers because of the mediating role gratitude plays in other positive emotions and overall mental health.

What role does gratitude play in how we shape our thinking or our success or our failure?  Can the practice of gratitude actually make a difference in how we experience life?  Can acts of gratitude alter corporate cultures and increase productivity and the bottom line?

Gratitude Acts as a Pathway to Expand a Sense of Meaning and Purpose

Why is gratitude important?  Does the significance of experiencing and expressing gratitude survive childhood into adulthood?  Gratitude occurs when we recognize someone has intentionally done something for us that is beneficial to us.  The ability to recognize what others do for us is dependent upon a consolidation of a sense of self as a causal agent understanding that others are causal agents as well. This sense of self-awareness and awareness of others is called an “internalized theory of mind” that understands that other people (like oneself) are intentional beings whose behavior is motivated by desire and belief.[1]  This fundamental grasp of selfhood and sense of others formulates in children at around age 4.  Without this internalized theory of mind a person becomes narcissistic.

Narcissistic individuals disdain gratitude because of an inflated sense of their own superiority – is it any wonder then that our mothers are so adamant about teaching thankfulness?  Narcissistic people view expressions of gratitude as little more than attempts to curry favor or weakness – an unnecessary emotion that distracts from the need to perform expected tasks. In contrast to the extreme self-sufficiency inherent in narcissism the experience and expression of gratitude requires the ability to relinquish some self-sufficiency to see the actions of others and to acknowledge that no one really lives independent from the beneficial actions of others.

Is it any wonder then that Paul equated the act of gratitude with the discovery of God’s will? (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18)  It takes a sense of self related to others and aware of others including God to come to an awareness of deeper meaning and purpose in life beyond the satisfaction of one’s own immediate and self-absorbed impulses.

Emotions like gratitude are not the same as sensory pleasure or mood.  When talking about emotions researchers refer to multi-component response tendencies that reveal themselves over time.  Emotions are rooted in how a person defines the meaning of some event in what Lazarus (1991) called the personal environment relationship or adaptational encounter. Defining meaning consciously or unconsciously triggers a series of response tendencies that influence how a person experiences the event.  It is not the event itself that leads to emotion as experienced by the person in their facial expressions and physiological changes. It is the meaning assigned to the event by the person that result in emotional reaction to the event.

The interaction between belief, interpretation and experience is what makes the study of emotions and positive emotions in particular so important in understanding whether (1) a person can decide to alter their emotional state; (2) can support new behaviors over time and (3) can experience appreciable or measurable psychological and physiological benefit. If there is a relationship between a person’s belief (how they assign meaning to events) and their emotional state and if their emotional state influences their choice of behaviors in response to triggering events then the possibility of influence the belief triggered by events opens the door to influencing the range of responses expressed by the person to those events.  This is precisely why positive emotions and gratitude specifically has been the subject of research.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a sense of appreciation and joy that arises when an person receives a tangible benefit provided by another person or source who has intentionally acted to improve the beneficiary’s well-being. Gratitude is also the experience of a moment of peaceful enjoyment evoked by natural beauty.  Gratitude assumes a personal nature when the benefactor is another individual or it may assume a transpersonal nature when the benefactor is God or the cosmos. Fitzgerald (1998) takes the definition a step further identifying three aspects of gratitude: (a) appreciation for another, (b) a sense of goodwill toward that person or thing and (c) a disposition to act that flows from a sense of indebtedness.

How does Gratitude Change Us?

Gratitude is an adaptive perspective that engages continuous personal development.  Fredrickson (2004) asserts that gratitude broadens an individual’s mode of thinking and builds psychological and social resources.  Hence gratitude broadens and builds a person’s momentary thought-action repertoire (the power to grasp and analyze ideas, cope with problems and manage an increasing degree of complexity).

The term “thought-action repertoire” refers to the spontaneous character of emotion.  Thoughts (ideas or interpretations of events) actually lead to specific action.  In negative emotions such as the recognition of danger (the thought) leads to an immediate fight or flight response (action). In contrast to negative emotions that yield quick action, positive emotions tend to challenge our assumptions or beliefs allowing us to alter our thought patterns and hence develop other responses. It is possible to alter emotional response by altering the belief behind the emotion.  Hence it is possible to change the degree to which one experiences gratitude by engaging exercises designed to leverage awareness of the benefit one experiences either through the intentional actions of others or through apparently providential circumstances at work.

Gratitude is a powerful and critical force in personal survival and growth. Grateful people show (or develop) a different perspective on life that some researchers describe as a positive memory bias.  A positive memory bias means that a person not only recalls a greater number of positive memories they reframe unpleasant experiences more positively over time as compared to the initial emotional impact of those experiences.   People who exhibit a state of gratefulness are more alert, enthusiastic, determined, attentive and energetic.  Fredrickson (2004) asserts that the benefits gained in emotional episodes of gratitude are durable i.e., they stick with a person.  For example:

  • Grateful people rebound faster emotionally from negative events.
  • Vaillant (1993) theorized that adaptability in life is the ability to replace bitterness and resentment with gratitude and acceptance.
  • The willingness to practice gratefulness even in the face of life’s greatest disappointments is critical to boundary processing in personal growth. Boundary experiences are those events that force a person to move to depth in their skills, perspectives or self-awareness to continue in and grow in effectiveness.

Gratitude literally prompts people to engage their environments and take part in activities that are adaptive – i.e., push the boundaries of experience and insight in such a way as to build new thought-action repertoires that can be called upon later in more stressful situations.

The Way People Experience Gratitude Varies

Gratitude is a complex emotion. Thus people experience gratitude in different ways. Research suggests that gratitude is an emotion experienced in a combination of facets including intensity, frequency, span and density.  Understanding these facets helps to (1) recognize the depth to which gratitude impacts perspective and behavior and (2) suggest ways to develop a state of gratitude through the practice of appreciation and reflection.

Gratitude intensity describes the degree to which a person feels gratitude in the experience of a positive event.  An intensity scale recognizes that people experiencing the same positive event may not experience the same degree of gratitude.

Gratitude frequency measures the number and types of events that elicit a report of gratitude.  Some people report gratitude for in the simplest act of politeness while another may consider such simple acts as insufficient to call for gratitude.

Gratitude span refers to the number of life circumstances for which a person feels grateful at a given time.  Someone with a strong grateful disposition reports gratefulness for family, job, health, and life itself as well as a list of other benefits.  A person with a lower span of gratitude reports gratefulness for fewer aspects of his or her life.

Gratitude density refers to the number of persons to whom one feels grateful.  Such persons may include parents, school teachers, tutors, mentors, friends and God.

Consider your own experience of gratitude.  Take a moment to rank your gratitude quotient by assigning a level of experience to the facets of gratitude above. Use the number 5 to show a strongly felt occurrence of each of the facets above and the number 1 to show an absence of experience in each of the facets above.  While the results of this informal self survey are anecdotal they indicate the degree to which you are aware of how others benefit or positively impact your life.  If your score is low ask yourself how others experience you – are you present in these relationships?  Do you see what others have done for you?  Do you express gratitude for their actions?  A practice of gratitude could yield some important changes in your relationships at work and at home.

Does Practicing Gratitude Make a Difference?

So why would one actually practice gratitude? (Other than assuring your mom does not show up at work or a social engagement asking the question, “What do you say?” when others act in ways that are beneficial to us.)  People who practice gratitude find that gratitude creates the urge to:

  • Engage reciprocity with creativity
  • Build and strengthen social bonds and friendships
  • Act altruistically
  • Act faithfully with obligation

Conversely those who do not express or experience gratitude exhibit the opposite characteristics.  The urges associated with the practice of gratitude occur in every aspect of a person’s behavior: social, physical, intellectual and spiritual.

In addition to the interpersonal benefits of gratitude grateful people also experience intrapersonal benefits of gratitude. In an experiment conducted by McCraty et al (1995) subjects who consciously experienced appreciation for 5 minutes actually reduced stress as exhibited in heart rate, pulse transit time and respiration rate.  Clearly the practice of gratitude makes a quantifiable difference in how people perform and how they experience life.

How Does Gratitude Work if you are a Leader?

Gratitude engenders organizational transformation and performance by encouraging positive emotions that reverberate through others. A leader’s positive emotions predict the performance of their entire group.

Gratitude as expressed by a leader is dependent upon the leader’s recognition of his or her follower’s intentional benevolent actions.  Remember that people experience gratefulness as a complex interaction of intensity, frequency, span and density. Observing and probing a leader’s experience of gratitude offers an insight into the degree to which their experience and expression of gratitude may influence group behavior.

Team observations made by Losada (1999) concluded that those teams that flourish show the highest ratio of positivity to negativity and the broadest range of inquiry and advocacy.  Teams that experienced extreme negativity calcified after such encounters and lost their behavioral flexibility and ability to question.  They ended up floundering in limited thought-action repertoires centered on self-absorbed advocacy.  Fredrickson (2004) notes that when “…positive emotions are in short supply, people get stuck.  They lose their degrees of behavioral freedom and become painfully predictable.  But when positive emotions are in amply supply, people take off.  They become generative, creative, resilient, ripe with possibility and beautifully complex.”[2]


Gratitude prompts people to engage their environments and take part in activities that are adaptive.  The broaden and build theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson 2004) hypothesizes that positive emotions actually produce health and well-being and not just mark or signal health and well-being.  Gratitude is an adaptive perspective that engages continuous personal development. Gratitude enhances organizational transformation and performance. Finally gratitude is an interpersonal and intrapersonal experience that benefits the social, psychological and physiological health of those who are grateful.

Test these observations yourself by practicing the exercises below.  Let me know the results.  I want to hear back from you.

Exercise 1: Recalibrating Your Thinking. Identify three things that happened today for which you are grateful? (e.g., a coworker’s extra effort, an employee’s extra effort, a friend’s feedback, or a spouse’s feedback etc.)




Exercise 2: Transform your Experience.  One technique utilizing a behavioral-cognitive approach to learning gratitude encourages a four-step process: (a) identify non-grateful thoughts; (b) formulate gratitude-supporting thoughts; (c) substitute the gratitude-supporting thoughts for the non-grateful thoughts; and (d) translate the inner feeling into outward action. (If this seems too simplistic review the Stockdale paradox described by Jim Collins, “I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” Admiral Stockdale said this on his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.)[3]

[1] Emmons and McCullough (2004:88)

[2] B.L. Fredrickson. “The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions.” Department of Psychology,University of Michigan, 7 August 2004, 1375.

[3] Jim Collins. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. (New York,NY: Harper Collins, 2001), 85.

Change, Complexity and Courage

How Did We Make It So Boring? The problem was that the change project we designed as a pathway to release ministry in the congregation threatened to turn into a train wreck.  My pastor and I had spent hours sitting in church chairs in the sanctuary reflecting on the health of the congregation, the opportunities in front of us and the challenges we faced.  We had the right goal in mind and we had a good plan.  It was now time to diagnose our situation and make mid-course corrections. We began our conversation by evaluating what kinds of changes were happening simultaneous to our strategic change and how these changes affected our potential for successful completion of the project.   We needed to reframe the change so that the board, staff and members could process the change at multiple levels.

As we talked about the resistance and support the project faced I leaned back in the church chair I was sitting and unconsciously sighed a long and exasperated sigh and said, “How in the world have we made the resurrection of Christ from the dead and the promise of a transformed life so boring.  We have equated the entirety of God’s work to managing programs.  The means have become the end. This is not only dull it is draining.”

I find two extremes plague congregations and other organizations.  On the one hand organizations and congregations forget the observation that the church is “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” a Latin phrase we inherited from the reformation that reads, “the church reformed and always reforming.”  Change in this perspective is expected because of a continuous movement toward the image of Christ.  Paul said it this way, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which some from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)  In contrast personal and organizational behavior gravitates toward a kind of religious stasis in which all change stops.  Stasis is a state of stability in which all forces are equal and opposing and therefore cancel each other out.  Not all aspects of stasis are bad.

People need emotional equilibrium to be secure enough to risk change. When a person’s equilibrium is upset their behavior mistakenly equates equilibrium with rigid inflexibility based on inviolable tradition. This behavior confuses values and tactics so that the tactics used to express core values take the place of the values themselves. Effective leaders recognize this demoralizing and corrupting trend and work to nurture change at multiple levels of experience.

On the other hand I see organizations that misinterpret “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” as an excuse for personal and organizational impulsiveness.  In this scenario the only thing held as sacred is an avoidance of consistency or constancy.  This behavior mistakenly equates dynamism and innovation with impetuosity.  The result in this case is not creative spontaneity as much as undisciplined failure to follow through and hence an attendant loss of resources and a growing dissonance among those subjected to constant change.

It is important to understand three kinds of change and to differentiate strategies to discuss the challenges in each of them. I call these types of change organic, situational and strategic.  In my observation it is important for leaders to understand the difference of each of these types of change, the way they impact each other and the strategies needed to successfully address each.

Organic Change

Organic change is unique in that it is expected though sometimes surprising or upsetting in its consequences. For example I am getting older.  I never expected to exist in a static body – through out my childhood and young adult years I observed my own development and even looked forward to it.  It would be far more upsetting to have experienced arrested development. Organic change is the real foundation of the phrase, “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.”  It recognizes that the transforming (developmental) work of the Holy Spirit in our overall development is paralleled in the physical changes we experience as we age.  This does not mean that organic change is without trauma. One’s first brush with hormones is illustration enough that change, while normal and expected, still requires adjustment and new emotional and relational tools to successfully integrate it.

Organic change is predictable.  Stage development theories of human development for example identify patterns of growth with reasonable accuracy. If these patterns or stages of growth are ignored then an individual’s capacity for social and personal adjustment is stunted. On the other hand if these stages are anticipated then people are less likely to get stuck in the boundaries represented in the space between stages.  Organic change emphasizes integration i.e., how a person relates to a group on the one hand and differentiation i.e., what makes them unique on the other. Part of the challenge in dealing with organic change is to recognize the difference between differentiation boundaries (when individuals need to separate and secure their personal identity) and integration boundaries (when people need to redefine their relationship to the group).

Organic change is not often considered when working on strategic change. However, if the maturity level and specific boundary time of everyone participating in the change is not considered participants may lack the emotional reserves and skills needed to move through the change.  If there is strong resistance to change from specific people the dynamics of organic change may be at play.  Stage development theorists like Erickson, Kohlberg, Kegan, and Fowler are all helpful in understanding how people develop and the boundaries they face in development. Clinton’s developmental stages are outlined below.  Use developmental theories to help people define what they are facing outside the strategic change process.[i]

Situational Change

Situational change often presents the greatest potential for trauma or emotional dissonance.  The unexpected nature situational change reinforces human vulnerability. Situational change typically requires some immediate adjustment because it renders plans and thinking obsolete. Situational change creates emotional and epistemological dissonance or a state in which what we thought we knew and depended upon is upended by circumstance that contradict expectations about what is real or just or normal.  It is possible to pretend that situational change has no effect however this kind of denial leads to increased tension and sickness related to stress.

Situational change is unintended although it is predictable as illustrated in such anecdotal truisms like Murphy’s Law.  The forces behind situational change may be human (relationship changes, economic changes, wars, political shifts etc.); natural (as in weather, geological events etc.) or non-human (as in an unexpected encounter with animal life or encounter with spiritual entities).

Not all situational changes are a product of Murphy’s Law – even a good turn of events creates a situational change that shares the same upsetting emotional consequences as something going wrong.  Look for example at people who win the lottery and are then unable to adjust their thinking and personal management to fit the radical change in their new social situation. The same dynamic works in churches (and businesses) that experience rapid growth that out paces the willingness of the leadership to adjust their thinking, leadership styles and working structures. The tendency in either example is to return to the more familiar situation hence lottery winners go broke and churches loose their growth and return to the attendance level leaders are familiar with managing.

Even though situational changes are predictable they are not always included in planning strategic change.  If situational change is not considered when planning strategic change then any significant situational change is usually enough to derail or collapse strategic change plans.

Strategic Change

Strategic change is volitional – it represents a set of actions one chooses to engage to meet a specific end. All discussions about organizational change are framed as strategic change. Strategic change is often induced by cognitive dissonance which is a distressing mental state that arises when people find that their beliefs are inconsistent with their actions.  In response to this dissonance people either change their actions or their beliefs. When strategic change works it starts with belief in the overall purpose of the organization.  When people believe in the purpose of an organization they change their actions to align to that belief.  The problem Pastor Dan observed was that people had begun to question the purpose of their congregational experience and so changed their actions i.e., giving dropped off, attendance dropped off and participation in various outreaches sponsored by the congregation fell.

Successful strategic change also depends on proper reinforcement systems at work in the organization. I saw this at work in one congregation that continually taught that everyone was a priest and that they wanted to develop leaders but their functional practices failed to reward those who came up with new ideas. Instead they discouraged people from taking initiative by having several thick layers of permission requirements that usually ended in a “no” answer.  Initiative was redirected to participation in working in the nursery, teaching Sunday school, serving as a sound technician or serving as a greeter/usher.  Soon people stopped trying to introduce new ideas, recruitment plummeted and average attendance dropped by 400 in two years.  The leadership blamed the diminished attendance on consumerism, lack of commitment and the mega-church down the street – they did not see how their own behaviors contributed to the problem.

Successful strategic change also depends on possessing the skills required for change.  People need consistent role models to watch.  People need to see how to apply the change and see that the change can be successfully engaged.  The simple fact is that adults don’t learn by listening to instructions or admonitions from the pulpit. Adults must absorb the new information, use it experimentally, and integrate it with their existing knowledge.  This is part of the reason small groups are so vitally important in congregational life – they offer the environment needed for adults to absorb information by teaching others, experiment with its use in a safe environment and integrate their existing knowledge.

Use a Multi-dimensional Approach to Change

Thinking of change as a multi-dimensional process is complex.  However, thinking this way can help leaders demystify some of the barriers to change they face both inside their own personal experience and outwardly as they interact with those they lead.  Table 2 provides an overview that outlines the kind of strategy each change process requires to be successful. Without a multidimensional approach it becomes far too easy to characterize those who resist change negatively.  Adding a multidimensional perspective provides a richer diagnostic tool that can anticipate and address resistance to change by identifying what organic and situational factors may emerge as the change occurs.


Change is a multidimensional process and never just a linear process.  The reason some change processes derail is that they fail to anticipate the total context of organic, situational and strategic change and thus launch projects that fall into the trap of idealism, impulsiveness or tyranny. Any of these traps cause leaders to behave in ways that are inconsistent to the message of reconciliation with God and as a result lead to growing cognitive dissonance that brings about needless loss.  If you are leading a change process consider the following questions.  They will help you refine your thinking and engage a multidimensional perspective.

What did we say we wanted to accomplish?

Is what we are doing contributing to that accomplishment or moving us further away?

What changed between when we set our action plan and today?

What aspects of the change process need to adjust because of a changing situation?

What is the non-negotiable end and what are the negotiable means?

If the change is resisted what kind of change may be at the root of resistance?  What is the best strategy to address this resistance?

Are all the participants in a place of equilibrium in their development?  If not, who is in a boundary time and how are they processing it?  Do they need more coaching to process their boundary?

What other steps do we need to help others process the change we want to make?

Is this the right time for change?

What happens if nothing changes?  Is this a biblically consistent outcome?

What things should not change?

How will we address potential loss in a way that is consistent to the message of reconciliation and discipline evident in the New Testament?

[i] Clinton, J. Robert and Richard W. Clinton.  “The Life Cycle of a Leader: Looking at God’s Shaping of a Leader Toward an Ephesians 2:10 Life.” ( Pasadena: Barnabas Publishing, 1995)

Do You Know Where You Are Going?

Leaders See the Road Ahead Will Mancini of Auxano provides a great summary of what he calls the Vision Frame.[1]  It is a quick way to review the work of the church in light of its mission and thus shift the focus of assessment from attendance and money to the outcomes the church is commissioned to generate.

The Vision Frame focuses thinking on values, measures, mission and strategy.  The frame is illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1: The Vision Frame

Frame Component

Missional Reorientation


Irreducible Question of Leadership



Question zero

What are we doing?



Question hero

Why are we doing it?



Question how

How are we doing it?



Question now

When are we successful?

Vision Proper

Mountain top + milestones

Question wow

Where is God taking us?

The question asked by Mancini is, “Do you have compelling answer to these five questions?”  These questions define the DNA of your congregation so to the degree to which the answers are fuzzy your team will lack focus and experience dissonance between what they hope to carry out and what is actually happening.

Next Steps

Now that you have these questions in hand why not take time with your key leaders and work through each of them. Keep it simple.  The task is to bring clarity that inspires action in the same direction. As a leader you serve as a catalyst to this kind of thinking.

Not sure if you are a leader?  Consider the definition below.  If you find yourself living out these characteristics then you do want to take another look at how you assess your influence.

If you are confident you are a leader then use the definition below to double-check how you are doing.

What is leadership?

Leadership is the capacity, moral authority and skill needed to influence a group’s goal attainment in an ethical, spiritual and socially responsible way. Leadership is a spiritual gift (Romans 12: 3, 8). The Apostle Paul encourages leaders to do act with diligence i.e., earnest thoroughness and attentiveness in accomplishing the task.

Lead well!  Have fun!

[1] Will Mancini. “The Vision Frame; The Core Tool for Visionary Church Leaders” available at; accessed 2 Sep 2011.

Bikers, Church Chairs, Community and Diversity

The unmistakable rumble of three dozen Harley Davidson choppers rolling into the church parking lot sent a shiver down my spine and resonated over the church chairs in the sanctuary – it had only been three weeks since the leader of an outlaw gang had threatened to show up on a Sunday morning and kill me because his girl friend had accepted Christ.  I was still the new guy in town and new to my first congregational assignment. My pastoral experience up to that point consisted of four years in campus ministry. In those four years working with youth and their parents I had framed a clear view of what I thought a congregation could become.  I envisioned a cross-generational, cross-cultural community that expressed contagious love for their neighbor because of the deep transformation they experienced by engaging Christ.  I assumed that transformation would lead to a contagious love and growth in the character and numbers of people who would connect to Christ and to one another.  However, the realities of stepping into leadership of a congregation forty years past its prime were jolting.

I may as well have used Greek in my sermons – as much as I tried to explain my vision I felt I was making zero progress.  I asked the congregation one Sunday to kneel and pray together for the community only to discover in the lukewarm response and angry visitors that marched through my office the following week that such “radical” expressions of religion were unappreciated and cause for the congregation to reconsider acceptance of my appointment as their pastor!  It did not take long for me to understand that what I assumed was normal Christianity was a radical divergence from the pattern of my congregation’s nearly fifty year existence.  The gap between my vision and reality felt like the distance from wall to wall of the Grand Canyon.

So what lead up to the day I watched three dozen choppers pull into the church parking lot causing me to calculate escape routes to the nearest phone if things became uncomfortable?  It was discouragement with the status quo I could not break in the early months of being the new guy.  So one day I left the church office to walk around the downtown area of our small western Washington city.  I had noticed a Harley Davidson motorcycle shop downtown and decided that I would browse around as an escape from the discouragement of the church office.

Shorty, the proprietor of the shop offered a lukewarm greeting (apparently my khaki slacks, golf shirt and flip-flops failed to exude the right look for a Harley Davidson shop).  I told Shorty I had seen the sign on the shop and was curious about motor cycles. When Shorty found out I was a local pastor the conversation turned surly. I wasn’t put off, four years in campus ministry on high school and college campuses had given me plenty of experience conversing with surly people who had both suspicions of religion and open hostilities toward any one associated with religion. I still love to converse with people suspicious of religion.  I too tend to be suspicious of religion. I would rather spend time talking about knowing Jesus Christ at a deep personal level.

Shorty and I became friends and my wife and I ended up meeting many of Shorty’s friends.  That series of introductions and time spent together is how the girlfriend of the club leader ended up receiving Christ.  About that same time we discovered that the bike shop was a suspected cover for an outlaw gang – the club was actually an outlaw gang and conduit of illegal drugs into the state.  So, we had been in the community by this point for several years.  I had succeeded in offending the congregation resulting in an exodus of a dozen families, leading a few people to Christ and ticking off one of the most notorious outlaw leaders in the state.  The usher team was not thrilled with the prospect of having to deal with a mad outlaw on a Sunday morning.

But this was a Tuesday morning and no one was around.  My part-time secretary did not work on Tuesdays.  Most the neighbors around the church property had gone to work for the day.  I stood face to face with three dozen gnarly looking Harley Davidson riders and I was still dressed in khakis, a golf shirt and flip-flops.  I decided I had a better chance in the open than in the building if things became uncivil.  I walked out the front door of the church office.

“Hey man, we are looking for pastor Ray is he here?” The spokesman for the group in front of me threw out the query with a voice that boomed with intimidating firmness.

“Why do you ask?” I answered still calculating the nearest escape route.

“We heard he had a ministry to bikers and was working with the outlaw gang in this area, we came to help him.”

“I am pastor Ray” I said nearly giddy with relief. I was jubilant to have Christians in front of me and not outlaws.

The next exclamation surprised me and taught me a deep lesson about ministry.

“You can’t have a ministry to bikers man…look at you…you don’t even look like a biker.” The warmth I initially felt for this man cooled a bit.  My jubilation melted to astonishment and humor.

After convincing the group that there was no other pastor Ray in the area we talked about what God was doing in them and through them in the biker community and how I had become involved in that community.  They decided to visit that Sunday. When I looked out on the church chairs that weekend I saw more diversity than I had ever seen in that congregation – uncomfortable diversity yet undeniable unity in the Holy Spirit.  We had two significant breakthroughs that day.

The first was that I realized that being a leader and a catalyst to a church movement could only happen if I was simply and authentically myself knowing God through Jesus Christ.  I still don’t look like a biker. I could never pull off trying to look like a biker – I am too…well I leave the descriptors to others who know me. But, the relief of knowing that all I had to be was myself…that was huge.  God called and summoned me to be myself not a farce.  God asked me to follow God with my own warts and all.  That is why and when ministry is more fun than wearying. I still don’t look like all the people I reach, but there is something about being authentic and a learner that works to bridge differences.

The second was that the congregation saw what I had tried to describe.  It made more sense to them to see the gospel in action than to hear me describe the action.  No wonder Jesus first asked people to follow then explained what was happening.  Explanations of God’s love and power doesn’t make much sense until people experience God’s love and power in their context.  For example; when the 6 foot 2 inch 280 pound leather clad bearded spokesman for bike club walked over to the chairman of the board and smothered him in a bear hug that lifted him right out of his church chair and expressed deep appreciation for what the congregation was doing to minister to bikers in the area – the chairman began to grasp what transformation felt and looked like.  He changed after that and became as “radical” as he accused me of being.

It has been almost thirty years since those three dozen Harley Davidson motorcycles rumbled into the church parking lot.  But the lessons for me are just as poignant today as they were then.  When I hear Thom Rainer talk about the diversity represented in the Millennials, when I look at the changing demographics of my community, when I meet customs and languages I don’t comprehend at the local neighborhood gas-mart I take comfort in the fact that authentic love that engages people in the context in which they live still reduces suspicion and hostility. Authenticity still opens the door to see God do powerful things in the lives of others.  I am still learning. To hear some people I am still radical. I still wear flip-flops although the rest of my wardrobe has morphed.  I still go exploring when I am discouraged…only now there is an expectation in the wandering.  I expect God to bring people across my path who will deepen my understanding of grace like Shorty and the outlaws did by their own encounter with the grace of God.

The expectation makes me wonder – what is the next great rumble I will hear resonate across the church chairs in the sanctuary?  I can’t wait to find out.