Leading From Burden

images-1Leadership is inherently about change. To truly affect change you must be burdened about something.

Nehemiah was a cup bearer to King Artaxerxes in Persia. Suddenly, a group of men from Judah, Nehemiah’s homeland, arrived and delivered some devastating news. Years before, the nation of Judah had been overrun by the kingdom of Babylon, carrying off a host of exiles, of which Nehemiah was one. Now there is bad news from those who remain.

In Nehemiah 1:3, the report states, “The remnant . . . is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” In the Ancient Near East, a city was protected by her walls. When a city had no walls and no gates, it was open to any and every would be enemy. This is a source of great shame for any citizen in such a situation.

A burden is something that is carried. It is something that can become wearisome. It is something that turns into a personal duty or responsibility.

Nehemiah’s response is profound and propels him to lead. v.4 shows the depth of what Nehemiah was feeling, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah felt deeply which caused him to lead courageously. He identified with the plight of his people and his city. He formed a plan, asked the king for permission to leave and for resources, traveled to Jerusalem, and rallied his country men to rebuild the wall against great opposition in an astonishing 52 days.

If leaders want to affect great change, they must lead with a burden.

It begins by personally identifying with the gravity of a situation.

The response is one of contrition and prayer, seeking the God who can truly change things.

A posture of being willing to be used of God to affect the needed change is essential.

It progresses to a plan that leads to definite action.

Walls are rebuilt. People are rebuilt. God is glorified.

What are you burdened for?

We Are All Armstrong & Te’o

images-1We long for a greater story.

I was very intrigued by our collective response last week to the stories of Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong. There has been a lot of press on both of these men and many are tired of hearing about them. Yet I think there is something in these stories for all of us. I believe that we are all created with a longing for a greater story. At our core we understand that we are living out a story. I also believe that we can comprehend the whispers of a larger story we were meant to fit into. We especially love redemptive stories, where the broken are healed and the enslaved are rescued. We all wanted Lance to come clean, to own up to his indiscretions. In some strange way we wanted Manti to have loved a real person, even in the midst of tragedy. We want these stories to be fulfilled and be fulfilling.

I can identify with Armstrong and Te’o.

We want these things because we see ourselves in them on a smaller stage. We have tried and failed and we have loved and lost. And we had to live with the consequences. And sometimes there is redemption. I will be cautious here and state that I obviously don’t know either of these men. But I do think I can identify with the apparent desires that contributed to their behavior. I believe that Te’o simply wants to be loved and accepted. He longs for unconditional love. I believe Armstrong intensely wants to succeed. He longs for significance. How can I make these claims? Because I long for the same things, and so do you. We all long for love and significance. We want to matter. We want to be unconditionally loved and accepted.

How did you respond?

That is why I was surprised by the public’s general reaction to both stories. Those who are following the Armstrong story see him largely as an egotistical liar. Those who are following the Te’o story see him as a naive, truth stretching young man. I see me. You and I may not go to the extremes that either of these celebrities went to in their quest to fulfill their longings. Our exploits are not on the same level of public display either. But I have done things to be noticed, hoping that someone would love me or count me as significant. And if you are really honest, so have you, at some point in your life.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:1-9

How will you respond?

The human condition claws and scratches for transcendence and is never content until it is achieved. And there is the problem. Our personal stories, including that of Armstrong and Te’o, are too small to achieve what we long for. Until our small stories are connected to the greater story of redemption that Christ offers we will continue to struggle, in big and small ways. But the greater story is one of grace. Grace can only be received. Grace actually recognizes our inability and offers forgiveness anyway. Grace replaces our small story of sin and struggle with the greater story of love and forgiveness. Grace is found in Jesus Christ alone because only Jesus Christ offers true redemption at the cost of his own life. His, the greatest story, gives ultimate meaning to ours. Will you connect your story to His?


5 for Leadership (1/19/13)

images-2Here is a fresh 5 for your leadership consumption. As your wait staff would say at your favorite upscale eatery-Enjoy!

How To Find Your Passion And Change Your Life  This is a classic post from the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell. He helps us think through our passions by pointing us towards our pain and our strengths. Discontent can be the key to discovering your passion. Read on.

Whole Foods’ John McKay on Capitalism’s Moral Code  McKay has been in the news this week with the release of his new book, Conscious Capitalism. This is a podcast interview with McKay on the theme of his book. I have not read it yet-but I am intrigued with where he is coming from in light of the Whole Foods model. The podcast is from the HBR blog and provides some great insight that has biblical overtones. This is about leadership ethics-worth the hearing.

Three Elements of Great Communication, According to Aristotle  In one sense, there is nothing new here if you are familiar with the categories of ethos, pathos and logos related to communication. But Scott Edinger on the HBR blog does a great job elucidating these core concepts again from Aristotle. Every leader needs to be a constant learner in good communication. Take a look.

If You Want To Be A Leader  This post is by Bill Elliff, who was my pastor when I lived in Norman, Oklahoma. He is now directional pastor at Summit Church in Little Rock. I have benefitted greatly from Bill’s teaching over the years and he models well the character and function of leadership. This post provides a solid, straightforward paradigm for leading.

What’s It For  This is Seth Godin at his best again. In this post, Seth challenges us as to why we do what we do, as leaders, as organizations. This is a thought provoking article about true intent. A must read.

There are the 5 for this week-and don’t forget to take a look at my latest post on Leading Sustainability. Have a great weekend!

Leading Sustainability

UnknownI was recently in some organizational leadership meetings. The time was stimulating and profitable. I get to work with great leaders. One topic of interest that came up, almost as an aside, was sustainability. What makes an organization or a strategic effort sustainable? How do leaders lead in sustainable ways? I think this is a critical topic that is often misunderstood.

Webster says sustainable means using a resource in such a way that it is not depleted; to give support or relief to; to nourish.

My observation is that when leaders think about sustaining a strategic effort or organization, they often work hard to establish rules, regulations and procedures that will ensure a common approach. The hope is that if we can get everyone moving to the same drum beat we will protect ourselves from that which might serve to deplete us.

But look again at the definition. Sustainability is about the environment that leadership creates. This is agricultural language. The idea is to support, bolster, and nourish a critical resource. Many times rules, regulations and procedures serve only to have a depleting affect. No doubt we need boundaries that keep us focused and avoiding chaos. But I would argue that these types of boundaries are only effective if there really is an environment of true sustainability being propagated within the organization.

Our most important resource will always be our people. Even beyond that, we must pay attention to our current leaders and emerging leaders. They must be “utilized” in such a way that they are not simply being depleted. They must be supported. Given relief. Nourished. 

Plants are given good soil, water, nutrients, and careful oversight, so that they might grow and reproduce. Leaders will flourish in the same environment. What replicates this resource rich environment? I think there are four important elements to creating a sustainable culture.

Elaboration  Do your people and leaders clearly understand your vision, mission and values? Not just the “what”, but more importantly the “why?” Sustainability will arise from people who clearly understand and have the freedom to contribute to the organizational direction.

Equipping  Do your people and leaders know “how?” Sustainability will be powerfully enhanced by a culture of ongoing, personal development that amplifies each person’s strengths.

Empowerment  Do your people and leaders feel empowered? Do you actually entrust to them good resources, decision making authority, and healthy accountability in such a way that they can see organizational growth that they have helped to create? Sustainability will thrive in an empowerment culture.

Encouragement  Do your people and leaders feel loved? Does that sound strange? It shouldn’t. We all need words of hope and encouragement. We need to be bolstered when we make mistakes or walk through trials. Become a leader who infuses courage into others with your personal words and public acclamation if you want to drive sustainability.

Are you a leader who grows resources or depletes them?

What are your thoughts? How have you helped to create a sustainable culture in your organization?


Leading Large

UnknownI read a WSJ article this weekend that got me to thinking about what it really means to lead at a high level, over distance, towards a significant number of people. I am also in the midst of an 18 month leadership development process for executive level leaders in our organization. I am part of the design team for this training. But make no mistake, I am learning as much as I am having any impact through my teaching or influence. For the purposes of this post, I am thinking of leaders that lead over distance (their scope is at least regional, if not national or greater) and lead entities that have at least 50 people or more. Probably what makes this type of role complex is the distance and scope more than the number of reports or employees.

The article, entitled In Defense Of the CEO, was making the case that some CEO’s are worth every penny of their multi million dollar salaries. The writers, Ray Fishman and Tim Sullivan, began their case by evaluating how the average CEO spends his or her time on a daily basis. They relied heavily on prior research that revealed little has changed in the past four decades in how the average CEO spends their time. By far and away, the average CEO spends the majority of their time in face to face meetings. But why meetings and why face to face meetings?

Here is where a part of the article sparked my thinking. Leaders that lead at this level must stay focused on two critical activities:

1. Uncovering Information.  What information do you have to have to inform top level decisions? How will you get it? It is better to retrieve this kind of information face to face so that the information is not distorted (as it can be in written form) and where you are able to ask key questions. Hard data and soft data are the lifeline of a leader leading at this level. You can obtain some of that information by looking at reports. But you must be in conversation with others if you are to get a truly accurate picture. The title of this point if for a particular reason-the information you truly need will not always be handed to you on a silver platter. You must seek it out-yoiu must uncover it.

2. Refining Their Message.  Vision and direction has to be cast and refreshed many times over for everyone to understand and act in accordance. Face to face meetings help you see how people below you are hearing and understanding the message. Their questions of you are revealing as to what is not clear or what is troubling. As you take in face to face soft data, you will know how to refine your message. You will better understand what needs to be more clear and less clear. Your primary role is to focus on “what” and leave “how” up to capable, empowered people below you.

I report to leader now who is really good at both aspects of this. I have often noted that he leads by conversation. He is constantly on the phone, Skype, or face to face (personally or in meetings). He understands well the value of first hand information. This same leader is also very good at continuously refining the message. He is quick to pick up on what are the important leverage points in his communication and what must be made more clear. His direction rarely wavers, but his communication of that direction is always going through an upgrade process.

The WSJ article ended with this emphasis. I am taking time to ponder this some more and think through the implications. What are your thoughts?

Great CEO’s are great intelligence gatherers, great communicators, and great deciders. Therefore, meetings are one of their most important tools.