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The Power of the Leadership Narrative

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Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ryan Lochte, and Omran Daqneesh all have something in common from the past couple of weeks. They all had a measure of influence on us. They all began, sustained, or were caught in a leadership narrative.

We live in a narrative culture. We crave story. We are drawn to the heroic, moved by the tragic, tantalized by the scandalous, teased by the comical, irked by the ridiculous . . . and frustrated and angered by the fraudulent. The protagonist and the plot draw us in. The hero and the villain help us to choose and pull for one side or the other. It has been proven that the stories we long for most are those that redeem or reinvent.

Hillary Clinton can’t escape “Email Gate” nor the stench of The Clinton Foundation. This week it is Colin Powell’s fault that she maintained that pesky server. The Donald can’t shake why he won’t reveal his tax returns . . . or why he donated to The Clinton Foundation.  Ryan Lochte’s inconvenient truth will cost him a bundle in lost endorsements and reputation. And little  Omran Daqneesh  just wants safety and stability. He longs for a place to play free from the danger that other leader’s reign down. He too is a leader—because this week he carries influence. His survival and ubiquitous presence on the cover of every news outlet tells a story. His narrative is the most truthful. His is one we can trust. His picture of influence stirs us with compassion and makes us angry. We want better for him . . . and we want those responsible for his plight to pay. Some leader told a story that began a conflict that wreaked havoc on a little boy’s life.

Leaders always tell a story. They should. We need leaders to guide, provide, and protect. We need leaders to instill hope and confidence. These efforts begin with vision. They begin with a good story . . . one we can believe in. Hillary, Donald, and Ryan all failed that task this past week.

What influence do you have? What kind of story are you telling? You may think your actions don’t matter . . . that your words don’t carry weight. Your leadership role is too nebulous, too mundane, too small. This week, focus on telling us a story that has one or all of these three traits:

Redemption: To buy back. To free from captivity.

We long for justice.

We need leaders who can bring redemption . . . who can lead others into redemptive acts and restore a sense of dignity.

What needs redeeming in your sphere of influence this week?

Who can you bring a measure of freedom to through your leadership?

How will you communicate it to those around you?

Reinvention: To make new. To make over.

We long for beauty and purpose.

Do you ever wonder why “make-over” shows are so popular?

We want to see the ugly and mundane become beautiful.

We want to see the discarded become purposeful again.

What needs to be reinvented in your sphere of influence this week?

Who can you make better this week . . . as a person or at their job?

How will you communicate it to those who can join with you?

Hope: The confident expectation of something better.

We long for righteousness.

No more untruths or half-truths.

No more blaming “right wing conspiracies” or something being “rigged.”

Enough!

Who needs a healthy dose of hope around you this week?

Will you be the one to dispense it?

Ultimately we want noble . . . we want something greater than the mundane around us. We want truth. We long for beauty and righteousness. We want a better story.

Tell a better story of redemption, reinvention, and hope!

Tell a better story!

Followers deserve that.

The greatest story declares this: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us . . .

The Language of Leadership

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Janet Galore on Flickr

The language of leadership is valuable currency. A leader’s words matter. They matter a lot. Every word spoken by a leader is leveraged. That means that a leader’s words have great power and even greater consequences . . . more then the leader imagines. Therefore a leader must consider his or her words . . . every day. Do your words empower others? Or do they disenfranchise? Do they encourage? Or do they discourage and reflect merely a performance mentality? Do your words truly reflect what is important to you and to your organization? Do your words advance the well-being of every person in the organization and the organization as a whole?

Every person needs to have three questions answered on a regular basis: What are my role and contribution? What do you expect of me? How am I doing? The language of leadership seeks to answer these questions in the most positive and helpful way.

Consider the language of leadership listed below. Do these words regularly flow out of your mouth towards those you lead?

“Do you understand why this organization exists?”

“Do you see how your role clearly contributes to the mission of this organization?”

“Do you clearly know what is expected of you?”

“You made a difference today.”

“You are necessary to what we do and your best efforts matter.”

“How can I help you succeed?”

“Are you becoming more and more aware of who you are and how you fit in the longer you work here?”

“What thoughts do you have on how to make this a better organization?”

“What can I do to become a better leader?”

“How would you describe our organizational culture?”

“What do you think we as an organization do best?”

“If you could change one thing about the culture of our organization what would it be?”

“What personal development do you desire or need to make your best contribution?”

“Do you feel like a valued member of the team?”

“How can I serve you today?”

“Thank you!”

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

 

Three Necessities For Eradicating Leadership Suspicion

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Paul Cross on Flickr

It is not uncommon to encounter teams or whole organizations that have a growing sense of suspicion towards their leaders.

To be suspicious is to have a feeling that something is wrong or that someone is behaving wrongly. 

Suspicion can mount over quick, impactful decisions. 

Suspicion can rare its ugly head over seemingly improper benefits or favoritism.

Suspicion can grow in the fertile soil of silence and isolation.

Suspicion can be nurtured in the absence of any viable process.

The reality is that lingering suspicion breeds an “us vs. them” mentality.

Suspicion will result in followers giving less than their best.

Suspicion leads to a lack of honesty from followers–therefore, leaders will never have a clear picture of team or organizational reality.

Suspicion kills trust.

Leaders can create suspicion without even thinking. Actually, that is the primary way in which leaders create suspicion. Often, the prelude to an atmosphere of suspicion is the desire for efficiency . Most leaders do not go about craftily trying to deceive their followers. They simply want to execute strategy and change at the speed of light. They communicate out of order. They circumnavigate organizational culture. They see the problem and the solution–but not the appropriate process. Their followers begin to surmise. Followers begin to attribute poor motives to the leaders above them. A spirit of suspicion is birthed and the consequences will certainly multiply.

If you are a leader who has knowingly or unknowingly created an atmosphere of suspicion–there is a remedy. Or better yet, there is a pathway to allaying suspicion before it begins. There are three things that are necessary to keeping suspicion at bay.

  1. Inclusion.  By definition, to be excluded is to be left out. When people feel left out they create their own narrative. Leaders must always assess a situation and determine who must be included in key decisions and information sharing. To assume that you can exclude key stakeholders that will certainly be affected is to certainly to sow the seeds of suspicion. Not every person you influence or have authority over must be included. But those that can make or break a decision or stall out a new initiative must be a part of the information chain and possibly the decision process.
  2. Transparency. This follows on the heels of inclusion. There must be a proper transparency in all of the communication that surrounds a critical decision or point of change. This communication must include the right people and the right means. Sensitive decisions are not best handled via email or social media. They must be communicated in such a way as to invite dialogue and feedback. Questions must have the opportunity to be asked and answered. This takes time. But it takes much more time to undo the damage of suspicion and mistrust.
  3. Formality. Agreed upon processes must be honored. Pat MacMillan, in his book The Performance  Factor, states “Processes are the ‘how’ we go about achieving the ‘what’ in our purpose. They are a sequence of step-by-step actions designed to produce a desired outcome. Processes, like other dimensions of organizational life, must be addressed with a determined intentionality.” Agreed upon processes can exist for a variety of organizational functions: hiring, decision making, conflict resolution, strategic planning, etc. When agreed upon processes are followed, suspicion is greatly reduced. When processes are violated for the sake of efficiency or expediency followers feel cheated and misled. Suspicion is the natural result. Carefully design necessary processes. Gain consensus around these processes. Embrace the formality of carefully conceived regimens that will save you a lot of heartaches later.

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

Leadership in a Connected World

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Micolo J on Flickr

In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the midst of a political season. I am always amazed at the things that fly around social media that pass for fact. Speculation runs abundant . . . but hardcore facts are sometimes hard to come by.

Leaders are not only talked about on social media . . . they pay attention to social media . . . and attempt to lead by and through social media. I am not suggesting that social media is bad. It is simply the carrier of information.

The problem lies with leader discernment.

Discernment is the ability to see and understand people, situations, or things clearly and intelligently.

And there lies the problem.

Too often, even the well-intentioned leader communicates half-truths via social media or accepts as fact that which is merely speculation, or worse still, corrupts social media with known lies. It is if we actually believe the lightly held axiom, “If it is on the internet it must be true.”

Here are the two biggest principles I see that tend to undermine our leadership when it comes to reliance on social media for communication and decision making.

Knowledge Without Validation

Validation is to support or corroborate something on a sound or authoritative basis . . . to establish the legitimacy of something.

Not all knowledge is legitimate.

Not all knowledge is sound. 

Not all knowledge stands on an authoritative basis.

Take the time to fact check and validate before you stand on something as conviction, decide something based on sound bites, or pass on something that others will read simply because you are the one that passed it on.

Truth Without Verification

To verify something is to prove, show, find out, or state something as true or correct.

Not everything we see on the internet is true.

Not everything that is passed on to us via social media is true . . . or worthy of being passed on again.

Not everything coming out of Wikipedia, Breitbart, BuzzFeed or Mashable is verifiable. 

Take the time to verify something as true before you stake your reputation on it, risk your leadership capital on it, or communicate in mass.

The ultimate issue is leader credibility.

Credibility is the leader quality of being believed.

It is the ability or power to inspire belief. 

It is the capacity for belief in you by those that follow.

It takes a lifetime to build a leadership reputation worthy of being followed. It can be torn down or severely damaged in an instant.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Out of Africa . . . and Leadership Joy

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Worshipping together in Pader, Uganda.

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Elizabeth-a Ugandan child that Carrie and I sponsor through African Renewal Ministries

Joy is defined as a source or cause of delight.

Joy is different from happiness.

Happiness is circumstantial.

Joy can be experienced regardless of circumstances. 

I just returned from my second trip to Uganda in the past seven months. Our church has a partnership with a Ugandan-led church in Pader. I was privileged to lead a group of six residents into this setting in Northeast Uganda . . . where Joseph Kony once reigned in terror and havoc. The incidence of HIV is high. There are few men . . . thanks to the results of war. There is great poverty and life is day to day. Yet there is a thriving church plant led by humble pastors named Enoch and Ivan.

Pader Community Church is a holistic effort to bless the community in the name of Jesus. On 12 acres of land, there is a small church building, a pre-school, and a community well for fresh water. There are plans to build a child development center, a medical clinic, and a soccer field. Even in its infancy, there are over 200 congregants.

Leadership joy can come in many sizes. We forget that. We often think that success can only be defined with us at the center . . . in control . . . highly visible . . . leading out front. But I learned afresh that great joy can come from a different kind of leadership. This is leadership that allows others to lead.

Leadership joy can result from . . .

Seeing Others Lead

This trip has been in the schedule for months. One of the residents, Lauren, who serves besides the missions pastor at our church, took the lead to communicate and plan out the purposes of our visit. She did a great job arriving at a purpose, a strategy, and a curriculum to accomplish what God had placed before us. We were to help facilitate a youth conference for the youth of Pader. First, realize that “youth” are the equivalent to 18-30 years of age in Uganda. This was really about helping young adults better understand their identity in Christ. Lauren planned, prepared, and provided meaningful instruction so that all of us could engage in specific ways in ministering to the Ugandan youth. Four of the residents gave plenary messages. Every resident had an opportunity to share their personal story about how Jesus has changed their lives. They led small group discussions and modeled outreach to the youth leaders of this sister church. It was incredibly compelling to watch them engage wholeheartedly in this effort. It brought me great joy. I had the opportunity to preach twice in two different churches.

Seeing Lives Transformed

For two days we worked beside the Ugandan youth leaders in clearing fields and engaging in evangelism among the villages. Over the course of our time, we know conservatively that some 10-12 people gave their lives to Christ. On one occasion we had the opportunity to communicate the gospel to over 100 school children . . . the results are known only to God. Lives were being transformed before our eyes. This formerly war-torn region was experiencing new life. Single mothers were finding hope. Young men were discovering an eternal purpose. Communities were being united around the efforts of this fledgling Christian community. That is what the gospel does. It was incredibly joyful to participate and witness.

Taking Steps of Faith

It is good to cross cultures. Entering into new and unfamiliar settings causes us to trust God in fresh ways. That kind of faith will always produce growth. I have taken many such teams overseas before. My family and I have lived in another country for five years. But it never gets old exposing emerging leaders to new horizons and seeing them take fresh steps of faith. And . . . not to be confused that this was not a faith venture for me . . . it was a fresh step of faith to let others lead. And there was a profound joy in doing so.

Leadership joy can be found in many ways . . . and sometimes the greatest joy is in letting others lead!

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The children of the pre-school excited about the fresh artwork created by two of our residents.

5 for Leadership-March 19th

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Sandy Horvath-Dori on Flickr

Here is a new 5 for Leadership for the end of Spring Break in Texas. There is something here for you that will enhance your leadership.

Confessions of a Middle-Aged White Woman: 5 Leadership Lessons on the Way to Diversity

My friend Cas Monaco has written an excellent piece on this important and timely topic. This is a must read for any majority culture leader.

The Importance of Care in Leadership

“There’s an old line about every journey, even the ones of thousands of miles, beginning with a single step. Leadership, as a concept, really isn’t any different. It all begins from a single place — but oftentimes, getting to that initial step can be hard for many leaders.” This is a quality post from Marc Smith Sacks.

Out of Africa (And Four Lessons I Learned)

Kurt Bubna shares four great principles from his cross-cultural experience. There are principles here beyond Africa and another culture–there are some valuable principles for leadership and life.

100 Ways You Can Express Love as a Leader

“Many people believe that love doesn’t belong in business or leadership. But I have found that when leaders love their people, their people love them back. They remain loyal, they respect each other, they trust each other. It is the kindness you show and the appreciation you express that lets people know you value them.” This comes from Lolly Daskal.

The Secrets of Compassion for Leaders

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” Lao Tzu

“Today’s challenge: Be passionate about compassionate leadership. Compassion doesn’t ignore problems. It isn’t neglecting results or sacrificing forward movement. But leadership without compassion is tyranny.” The final post is by Dan Rockwell.

 

 

 

5 for Leadership-February 13th

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maf04 on Flickr

5 for Leadership is a collection of thought-provoking posts on the principles and expression of leadership. Take some time this Valentine’s Day weekend to embrace your leadership. There is something here for you.

The Heart of a Leader

“Conversations about leadership are plentiful these days. I enjoy the many perspectives, wisdom, and insight I glean from so many leaders. People are interested in what attributes, character qualities, and talents make a great leader. Many questions are being raised: What makes a great leader? Can anyone lead? Who is best equipped to lead?” Angela Besignano shares some critical insights that every leader must consider.

Leadership-What’s Love Got To Do With It?

“In 1984, when I was launching into my pre-teen years, Tina Turner released her classic song, “What’s Love Got to Do with It. In some circles, this philosophy likely governs the work of leadership as well—keep love and emotion out of it.” See what else Justin Irving has to say on love and leaderhsip.

Frederick Douglass v. Slaveholding Christianity

“On this day, many, including Google’s homepage, honor Frederick Douglass’ legacy. Born into slavery, he heroically fought for his freedom, became a leader in the abolitionist movement, and even challenged “the Great Emancipator”, President Abraham Lincoln to end his moral equivocation and openly denounce slavery as a society evil. Upon reading his autobiography in college, I was particularly surprised by the appendix in which he qualifies his scathing critiques of American slave holders who draped themselves in piety. He embraced the “Christianity of Christ” and rejected “slaveholding Christianity” which he considered a fraud.” My friend Rasool Berry writes a very poignant piece that every leader should read.

9 Things You Should Know About Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)

“U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died today at the age of 79. He reportedly died in his sleep during a visit to Texas. Here are nine things you should know about one of the leading conservative voices on the nation’s highest court.” This comes from Joe Carter on The Gospel Coalition blog.

Why Speaking Well of Your Spouse Is So Important

As a leader, the health of your marriage directly affects the impact of your leadership. I have witnessed this time and time again. Being effective at work or in ministry begins by being effective at home.” Michael Hyatt is a well known and respected leader. He gives us five principles and a ten day challenge on this important leadership topic.

There are the 5 for this week.

5 for Leadership-January 2nd

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Alan Cleaver-Time Flies-on Flickr

Here is the first 5 for Leadership of 2016! I always appreciate this time of the year to reflect and evaluate . . . and make changes. I hope these recent posts aid you in your preparatin time for leading in 2016.

The Power of Vision, Part 5

“As you look out the future, what is the picture of a preferred future both for you and your organization?” Justin Irving provides some very practical principles and steps to help insure you stay on track in 2016.

3 Box Thinking–Structuring Your Church for Innovation

“As you enter 2016 it is helpful to put everything you do in your church into one of three boxes.” This is a great post from Eric Swanson . . . and will help you immensely in getting off to a great start in 2016 . . . whether you are part of a church staff or not.

How Not To Make New Year’s Resolutions

About 150 million Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year. That’s a lot of disappointed people. A quarter of those people will abandon their resolutions in just a week. Fewer than half will still be on track by summer. Ultimately, only 8 percent will be successful.” See what Michael Hyatt has to say to help you not be part of the 92%.

Personal Disruption–The Force That Will Shape 2016

“Disruption has the power to transform organizations, communities, and well, the world — but it doesn’t start on that macro level. It starts with individuals. Companies and organizations can’t disrupt, if their people don’t.” Whitney Johnson does a great job at disclosing the truth of this concept and helping us understand its benefits.

20 Encouraging Bible Verses For Young Leaders

Leading is never an easy proposition. Add being young to leadership and you can easily feel overwhelmed. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I know I can turn to the word of God for a bit of encouragement. The good book is full of encouragement for young leaders (and people in general). If you’re not a believer, I strongly believe you can still find the words of the Bible encouraging. Let’s take a look at the 20 verses I believe can encourage young leaders.” Joseph Lalonde points to some thought provoking and practical parts of the Bible that will benefit any leader.

There are the 5 for this week–are you ready for 2016?

3 Qualities of Leadership from My Golden Retriever

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Every dog has a different personality, even within the same breed. We have had two Golden Retrievers over the past 13 years. Taffy was our dog who got us to Italy and back. You can read more about her here. Cappuccino is our current Golden Retriever, who will celebrate her second birthday on the 26th. (You think I am kidding about a celebration–but my kids and wife will make sure she is celebrated) She is our Christmas Golden.

Taffy and Cappuccino are very different dogs. But they do carry some similar traits. There are three characteristics that I have observed over time that make for quality leadership reflection.

Curiosity

Many breeds are curious by nature, but a Golden Retriever is supremely curious. Any sound from outside will spark an immediate reaction. Any new object within the home, or even an out-of-place item, will cause a sensory speculation that must be satisfied. At this time of year, a wrapped present sets the stage for sniffing, surveying–and hopefully tearing–to discover the contents inside. House guests are welcomed beyond measure as they must be greeted with all manner of tail wagging and licks. This supreme curiosity may arouse excitement, fear, or great caution–but nothing must be ignored.

The curious leader is an aware leader. 

We too need to be attuned to the unusual noise, the new element in “the room” that could change everything, and especially those we lead. Curiosity leans into the unknown. Curiosity discovers. The unknown may startle us, cause us anxiety, or even fear. But curiosity also leads to possibility. Leaders chase what’s possible. Aware leaders are curious leaders.

Tenacity

I know this will surprise you, but Retrievers retrieve. Our Cappuccino will retrieve from sunup to sundown if you will supply the throws. As soon as she has had her breakfast, Cappuccino will bring you her tennis ball and beg you to throw it in the backyard. She will cajole you, bug you, and frustrate you. But you will throw the ball eventually–even if it is to just get some energy out of her. She will outlast you.

To be tenacious is to not be easily stopped. It is the essence of determination. 

The measure of a leader is what will stop them. By definition, leaders move things forward. Leaders change the status quo. Leaders push against what is to get to what could be. And there will always be barriers. Tenacious leaders draw energy through calling and conviction. They are driven by a vision. If they are leaders of true character, that vision is for someone else’s good. But they are never easily stopped.

Gratitude

Golden Retrievers are nothing if not grateful. Taffy would show her gratitude through leaning on you and her low-level grunts. Cappuccino demonstrates her thankfulness with a gentle lick. It is a very conscious move on her part. Immediately after breakfast, or dinner, I can expect the grateful lick. She is also quite happy to show you her gratitude when you return home. These are social animals.

Gratitude keeps us grounded and humble.

For a leader to say “Thank You” is to acknowledge that he or she is less than omnicompetent. Leadership is about influencing others. It is also about serving others. No leader has ever tasted success without the help of many others. To be grateful is to be appreciative. The more specific you can be, the more powerful your gratitude–and the greater your influence. Leaders who are worthy of being followed are leaders who say “Thank You.”

Are you a Golden Retriever leader?

5 for Leadership-November 21st

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Liz West on Flickr

5 for Leadership is a collection of weekly posts focused on the topic of leadership. This week there are posts covering leadership gratitude, first-time leaders, knowing when your leadership time is up, an interview with Max Lucado, and what millennial women think of leadership sacrifice. There is plenty to ponder.

Millenial Women Question: Is Leadership Worth The Sacrifice?

“The real question is: do Millennial women really not want to be leaders? Or, have they recognized how great the sacrifices female leaders must make, and how many obstacles there are for them in the business, and chosen other paths?” This post comes from the Switch & Shift blog and contains a great infographic.

Take An 80-20 Approach to First-Time Mangement

“As an individual contributor, your focus is on doing the work, getting projects done, and meeting deadlines. But when you switch into a manager role, it means that you have to help others get the work done and ensure that they have the support, resources, and encouragement they need to be successful, both as individuals and as a group.” David Witt contributes a great post for anyone new to leadership or improving in their leadership–on the Blanchard Leadership Chat blog.

5 Leadership Questions with Max Lucado

This is a podcast on the Christian Leadership Alliance website. I think you will really enjoy this interview with pastor, leader, and author–Max Lucado.

10 Ways A Leader Knows It Is Over

“Leadership is temporary.  Our responsibility is to steward it well while we have it.  The fact our leadership responsibilities will one day conclude is a sobering reality that is in the back of all our minds.” This post is from Brian Dodd on his blog, Brian Dodd on Leadership. Brian takes some points from a recent USA Today piece on Peyton Manning and makes some great leadership applications.

What Is Leading With Gratitude?

“Each of us has many things to be grateful for in our imperfect personal and professional lives. Although it may be easier to look at what is not working, it is more empowering for leaders to identify what we are thankful for. As Thanksgiving approaches for many of us, let’s explore ways to show our gratitude.” Terri Klass shares 10 great ways to show leadership gratitude on her blog Terri Klass Consulting.

There are the 5 for your Thanksgiving week. Take some time to truly reflect on your leadership journey this week–and give thanks!