5 for Leadership (9/23/13)

images-2Here is a fresh 5 that is two days late from my normal posting. I had the privilege to speak at a student conference over the weekend and had a great time of interaction. This week we take a look at leadership caring, leadership mistakes, leadership opportunities, leadership development and ministry in Italy. All things leadership-enjoy!

The Biggest Mistake of My Life  “Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?” This was the question that Ron Edmondson’s son asked one day of his father. You might find the answer surprising.

Caring or Care-taking?-A Fine Distinction  “In this blog I write a lot about caring in leadership.  I write about it because I strongly believe that if leaders care about people, their efforts will be rewarded in a multitude of ways, both intrinsically and extrinsically.” Gwyn Teatro does a great job in distinguishing between the attitude of caring and care-taking in leadership. This is a must read.

23 Great Thoughts on Leadership Development: A Frontline Festival  This comes from Karin Hurt. “I’m delighted to present the September edition of the Frontline Festival.  This month’s focus:  Leadership Development.  I encourage you to read the insights and share your perspectives.” This is a great resource!

David, Goliath, and Cows Looking At New Gates  This comes from the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell. “Cows run from new gates. There’s no path. It’s unfamiliar. People are like cows looking at new gates, when it comes to opportunities.” Dan challenges our assumptions about new opportunities–this will give you a shot of courage.

Italy Trip Recap  As many of you know my family spent five years on mission in Italy. They were great years of growing and learning. They were great years of better understanding leadership in another culture. God is at work in this nation. The Gospel Coalition Blog put together a short video highlighting some of what they see God doing in the incredible country.

There are the 5 for this week–sorry it were a little late. Saturday will get us back on track! Have a great week!

The Culture of Horn Honking

medium_5475747169This is simply meant to be a light-hearted post, nothing worthy of deep thought or reflection. I am an American who lives in Italy and just returned from a 13 day visit to India. I am fascinated by different cultures and how societies work. You can often pick up on differences by how different cultures utilize similar means. For this post I will explore the use of the car horn.

In the U.S. I will argue that Americans largely use their horns to warn or complain. We honk when we want to make people aware of danger. We honk when we feel a great wrong has been done to us on the road. Someone has violated the law (as we see it) or someone has made us very angry with their driving methods. But on the whole (maybe apart from New York City) we are not a culture that regularly communicates through our car horns. That is different from Italy and India.

I have lived in Italy for the past five years. And now we are actually in transition to return to our home culture in the U.S. Italians love their cars and their car horns. It was a little unsettling when we first moved here to constantly hear car horns. My observation is that Italians use the horn as a regular means of communication, but mainly out of being annoyed. If you wait more than two seconds after a traffic light has turned green, you will get a long blast from a car horn behind you. Italians are a very passionate people. Therefore their communication is passionate as well, verbally and through their car horns. But it doesn’t mean anything negative. They simply express their “in the moment” feelings readily. The car horn is just an extension of their present feelings. You have to understand this here or you will think everyone is simply rude. But they are not, they are just temporarily annoyed with you and letting you know. You can still be best friends and enjoy a cappuccino together.

India has almost a billion people. Apparently, every one of them owns a car. I have never seen this kind of traffic or heard so many horns in my life. But my observation is that the communication pattern is different. Americans honk out of anger and “injustice.” Italians honk out of annoyance and to simply express their temporary emotion. Indians see driving like Americans see snow skiing. At least this is my grid for understanding their “car honking” culture. It is like an American snow skier simply saying “on your left” or “on your right.” Skiing etiquette dictates that you let the skier in front of you know that you are about to pass them on the hill and to let them know which side you are on. I think it is the same way for Indians. They drive all over the road and use any lane available to them, no matter which way the direction of traffic is suppose to be going. But they will clearly let you know that they are “on your left” or “on your right.” Their facial expressions never change-for the honker or the one being honked at. The trucks even have hand painted signs on the back that say “please honk.” They are not angry or annoyed. They are not informing you of some law you have broken. They are just using skiing etiquette. For the passive passenger-like me-the whole experience can be quite frightening and confusing. But once you see how skilled the average Indian driver is to navigate traffic in his own context-and you see more clearly the “horn honking culture” at work-you can relax-a little!   That is just how I see it.

Here’s to life in the fast lane, going the same direction, seat belts buckled, using our horns to their greatest end!

(photo credit)

The Vatican Under Fire and Moral Authority

The headlines each day carry something related to the Catholic Church being under enormous pressure in light of the sexual abuse charges by priests around the world.   I live in Italy-the vortex of the Catholic world.  On the whole, Italians are suspicious of the Catholic Church.  I often hear university students speak of the prime minister, the mafia, and the Catholic church being in cahoots together regarding all things Italian.  At best, the Catholic Church is seen by most Italians as irrelevant to the lives of everyday people.  And honestly, they have over 1000 years of history to validate some of their claims.  Over Easter many parishioners were bothered that Pope Benedict did not mention the scandals at all.  People want to know what happened on his watch while a Cardinal in Germany.  Some pundits have already claimed that this is the end of the Catholic Church.  I don’t pretend to know about the demise of the Catholic Church-I do know that the cathedrals here are more empty than full these days.  But I actually believe that the current controversy is a primary lesson in leadership.  The Pope is losing moral authority.

Leadership is about influence and always includes authority.  In leadership there are two possibilities regarding authority-moral authority and structured authority.  Structured authority is that authority which comes with position or title.  People follow and obey largely because they have to.  Moral authority-or what I like to call granted authority-is that authority which is given to you by your followers because they want to follow and obey you.  Structured authority goes with the title or position-the other type is earned-every day.  Leaders earn granted authority through their authenticity and character.  And it comes just as much from admitting mistakes and dealing with real problems as it does from making progress in the mission or seeing success.  As the elected head of the Catholic Church Pope Benedict has structured authority-but he is quickly losing moral or granted authority.  People may continue to “follow” by code of conduct or association-but he is currently aiding the abiding notion that the Catholic Church is irrelevant by not acting in a more determined way towards these abuses.  God will preserve His Church-by that I mean the whole body of Christ.  But I am saddened that people may miss Jesus because of the church.

Fast Coffee-Slow Food

medium_6968187518There are many cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy. We lived in Italy for five years. One notable difference is the importance of relationships in Italy and how they are conducted. I call it the “fast coffee/slow food” connection. Most people realize that in the U.S. we have developed a “slow coffee/fast food” culture. Over the past 50 years Americans have moved towards a fragmented family and a dietary nightmare called “fast food”. Meals are taken as quickly as possible or only for strategic purposes. Thus why families rarely eat together and the invention of the “power lunch.” But over the past 10 years and the advent of Starbucks we have also begun to develop a “slow coffee” culture. The coffee shop mentality has returned in the U.S. This is often where we catch up with people, even our children at times. The follow up to the power lunch has become the “power coffee” appointment. Yet I have to admit that Starbucks can be quite loud and distracting. While I really enjoy their coffee, the very environment can threaten my ability to really connect at a deeper level.

In Italy they do the opposite. There are caffe bars on almost every corner. They are small, often with only a counter bar. You enter, you order your espresso or cappuccino, you pay, and you leave. The whole experience may take less than five minutes. Ah, but meals, that is a very different story. There is “riposo.” This is a pause from work for a two to three hour lunch. And the evening meal often lasts two to three hours also. Italians take their food and their meals very seriously. Meals are done in a very particular order for dietary purposes. Every region has its own specialties that are not to be missed.

But more than that, life is done around the table.

Relationships are nurtured around the table.

The largest room in our 800 year old home was the dining room.

You take acquaintances and colleagues to coffee.

You have meals with your true friends and family.

The home and the dinner table are sacred.

We noticed that doing ministry in Italy requires trust and time. Italy can be a suspicious, non trusting culture, and for some historically good reasons. But we have also noticed that the walls drop and trust is built in the home around the dining room table. Conversations go much deeper and spiritual truth is better received around the table. While Italians are certainly known for loud, boisterous conversations, there is an inescapable focus that takes place. There is one conversation, even if five people are having it at the same time. We rarely conducted ministry events during those days without food and a home setting.

I know a lot of ministry happens in Starbucks these days in the U.S. But I wonder how much of it is truly effective in terms of building a relationship of trust. I think I like the “fast coffee/slow food” environment of Italy better. For one, the food is amazing, but so are the opportunities to take time to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Invest in someone over a long, slow meal!

(photo credit)

Amanda Knox and Character

Yesterday Amanda Knox finally took the stand in her murder trial here in Italy. Amanda and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, are on trial for the murder of a British student, Meredith Kercher, back on November 1st, 2007 in Perugia.

Amanda, her boyfriend, and another man already convicted of the crime (Rudy Guede) were accused of killing Kercher while taking part in a bizarre sex and drugs game the night of the incident.

Amanda gave conflicting testimony during the investigation phase–but now claims that she was under a lot of pressure from Italian authorities and that they are to blame for her misleading claims.

The crime and the trial has been a huge deal here in Italy–and has gained notoriety in the U.S. I don’t know if Amanda is guilty of any aspect of this murder or not–but I find one particular aspect very intriguing and it runs to our broken human nature. Amanda expects others to extend her credibility out of a reservoir of flawed character. Read Amanda’s court room testimony as to her “true” alibi for the evening of November 1st: “She said she checked her e-mails at his place before the couple had dinner, watched a movie, smoked a marijuana joint, made love and fell asleep.”

Think about this–first, she already committed another crime. Possessing and smoking marijuana is against the law here in Italy–just as it is in the U.S. (Yes, I know there is a medicinal provision that exists in the U.S.–but not in Italy). Second, after only being in the country two months as a study abroad student, Amanda had an Italian boyfriend and was having sex with him–and this was probably not the first time. Third, the investigation and trial has revealed without a doubt that Amanda kept a very questionable stable of friends–guilt by association? No, but it certainly points to a lack of judgment. It is always interesting to me in our society that while we want to legalize drug use and allow people to maintain whatever moral lifestyle they choose–we inherently question people’s truthfulness when these extenuating factors exist. Think of any famous trial in the last quarter century and you will see the same thing. Deep down we actually believe that we are created with a moral conscience–with a moral compass–though deeply flawed, still active. In other words–good people largely don’t do heinous crimes–but bad people do. When we observe bad or illegal behavior in other areas of a person’s life it becomes really difficult for any of us to extend moral credibility in another area. Yet the accused always expects us to simply buy what their selling–even though their character doesn’t back it up. Character does matter–and we all know it–whether we are followers of Christ or not–it is in us. We are glad to extend credibility to those who demonstrate honorable character–we are immediately suspect when our observations do not back up the proposed claims of innocence–and so it will always be.

Character has everything to do with integrity–meaning we are the same people inside and out–there is a moral consistency to our lives that people can trust–we are not one person in one situation and another person in a different situation. Compare Job 1:1 and John 8:43-45.

Amanda cannot remotely demonstrate that integrity–therefore she is suspect. I don’t know if Amanda Knox is guilty of this crime–but her character has eroded her credibility. She deserves a fair trial–she does not deserve unquestioning trust and believability.