Posts

Do You Have Soft Skills?

Soft-Skills-Leadership

Do you have soft skills?

Most leaders who have led for any length of time know something about strategic planning, problem-solving, vision-casting, or spreadsheets. Those qualities are often considered some of the “hard skills” of leading. But what about the soft skills?

Soft skills are defined by personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Soft skills include categories such as character traits, attitudes, and emotional intelligence. Largely, soft skills define your leadership presence.

Many leaders and employees used to ignore the “soft skills” aspect of work. Organizations would tolerate bad leadership behavior if the results were right. Not anymore.

A few months ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, Hard to Find: Workers with Good Soft Skills. The writer, Kate Davidson, called soft skills the most sought-after skill set today. Most 21-st century organizations work collaboratively within and without. Employees must be able to work effectively in teams. Leaders must know how to lead teams. Sometimes these teams are co-located and at other times they are virtual. The need for a foundation comprised of character and a stabilizing emotional presence is critical to be able to relate well and share leadership.

According to Davidson’s article, Linkedin did a thorough analysis of what soft skills are most required today—here they are: the ability to communicate (and hold a conversation), the to ability to organize, a capacity for teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity, and adaptability. By the way—the ability to communicate rose above all other desired traits. The article concludes by saying that the need for these skills are only going to increase—and employees are desperate for them.

Monster.com makes three recommendations for how to obtain soft skills: take a course—to gain an intellectual understanding of the skills you need, seek out mentors—on the specific skills you need to develop, and volunteer—working at or for a non-profit will always increase your soft skills experientially.

Where do you need to improve?

The Top Posts of 2016!

I trust you have had a good and profitable 2016. Here are the top 5 posts from my blog for this past year. Thank you for helping to make this blog a success. I hope your leadership was strengthened this past year–and may you excel still more in 2017!

Delegation vs Empowerment

To delegate means to choose or elect a person to act as a representative for another. To empower someone means to give power or authority to someone else. Do you hear the difference?

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 25

King David penned Psalm 25.  We are not sure when he wrote this psalm.  Therefore, we are uncertain about the circumstances of Psalm 25.  David speaks of his enemies in verse 2 and verse 19.  But David had many enemies and they were a consistent part of his life and leadership.  What most intrigues me about this psalm or this prayer from David lies in verses 4 and 5.  David the leader asks to be led.

Two Types of Courage

Merriam-Webster defines courage as the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. Real leadership deals in the currency of courage on a daily basis. Yet there are different kinds of courage. Some forms are more valuable than others.

3 Marks of Leadership Maturity

One aspect of leadership I have been pondering is how Christ-centered leadership matures. As I have looked back over my own leadership life it is clear that there have been seasons marked by immature leadership–leadership that was more focused on self than on Christ and others.

The Principle of Focus

There are many things to which you can give your leadership energy.  The tendency is to fall prey to the urgent, which as Mr. Covey reminds us does not always include the most important priorities.

The Leader’s Pitfalls: What Disqualifies Leaders? (Part 2)

ball-and-chain-851439_1920

Henry and Rochard Blackaby have been outstanding spokesmen for leadership and the Chrisitan faith for many years. Many have benefitted from Henry’s work on Experiencing God. That was a foundational workbook for my wife and I when we were “young” seminarians.

I have had the privilege of meeting and working with Richard Blackaby while I served with Cru in Western Europe. He addressed one of our emerging leader forums for Western European leaders during an intensive in Latvia. He is a humble servant leader who taught our participants well.

Several years ago they combined their efforts to write Spiritual Leadership, a landmark work for God’s servants. They revised and expanded this volume in 2011–and it is as relevant today as ever.

One chapter that a friend and colleague brought to my attention again was a chapter on “The Leader’s Pitfalls.”

I reviewed the first 5 pitfalls in a previous post. Here are the second 5 for your consideration. Pay careful attention to the application.

The Pitfall of Oversensitivity

“People who cannot handle criticism need not apply for leadership positions.  Being criticized, second-guessed, and having one’s motives questioned are unpleasant but inevitable aspects of leadership.”

“True leaders are more interested in doing the right thing than they are in their popularity.”

“True spiritual leaders fear God far more than they fear people.”

The Pitfall of Spiritual Lethargy

“Spiritual leaders are not haphazard people. They are intentional. Just as they plan thoroughly for important meetings in their work, they also plan carefully to allow substantial time for listening to their Creator.”

The Pitfall of Dometic Neglect

“Wise leaders strive to preserve their families in the midst of the pressures on their professional lives.”

“Conscientious leaders take their God-given responsibilities for their families seriously.”

“God is the family’s greatest advocate –leaders who seek God’s help will readily receive it.”

The Pitfall of Administrative Carelessness

“Ultimately it is the leader’s task to ensure that the organization is healthy.”

“Leaders must become adept in two areas, or their organizations will collapse within: conflict resolution and communication.”

“effective leaders are known for their aggressive problem solving.”

“Leaders need to develop the reputation for dealing with important issues promptly and thoroughly.”

The Pitfall of Prolonged Position Holding

“Wise leaders know when the time has come to exit graciously and allow a new leader to step in.”

“Leaders with integrity recognize when they have made their most worthwhile contributions. They graciously hand over the reigns of leadership to the next generation.”

“Older leaders tend to have difficulty giving their blessing to the emerging generation of leaders.”

Application

First, developing a healthy awareness of the pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them.

Second, putting safeguards in place will provide protection in times of indecision or temptation.

Third, leaders should have before them the continual reminder that:

  • their organization is more about people than it is productivity
  • they are not indispensable
  • the most effective, efficient thing they can do for their organization is to maintain a close, vibrant relationship with God

 

The Leader’s Pitfalls: What Disqualifies Leaders? (Part 1)

pitfall-leadership-mousetrap

Henry and Rochard Blackaby have been outstanding spokesmen for leadership and the Chrisitan faith for many years. Many have benefitted from Henry’s work on Experiencing God. That was a foundational workbook for my wife and I when we were “young” seminarians.

I have had the privilege of meeting and working with Richard Blackaby while I served with Cru in Western Europe. He addressed one of our emerging leader forums for Western European leaders during an intensive in Latvia. He is a humble servant leader who taught our participants well.

Several years ago they combined their efforts to write Spiritual Leadership, a landmark work for God’s servants. They revised and expanded this volume in 2011–and it is as relevant today as ever.

One chapter that a friend and colleague brought to my attention again was a chapter on “The Leader’s Pitfalls.” I will review all 10 pitfalls–in this post, we will cover the first five, with some brief commentary. My hope is that this will entice you to read this book for the first time–or again. I also prayerfully hope that this keeps you from one of the ten in your leadership life.

The Pitfall of Pride

“Pride may well be leaders’ worst enemy, and it has caused the downfall of many.”

Pride makes leaders unteachable.

“No matter how talented or how smart a leader may be, an unteachable spirit is the path to certain failure.”

Pride causes leaders to think they are self-sufficient. 

“Pride targets successful leaders, convincing them they have enough talent, wisdom, and charisma, to achieve whatever they set their minds to do.”

Pride leads to a loss of compassion.

“When leaders lose the passion to contribute to their organization and begin to focus instead on what they can receive from it, they are no longer authentic leaders.”

Pride makes leaders vulnerable.

“Pride is a sin, and pride will do what sin does. It destroys.”

The Pitfall of Sexual Sin

“If pride is the most insidious pitfall of leaders, sexual sin is the most notorious.”

Safeguard #1: Leaders make themselves accountable.

“Prudent leaders are proactive; they enlist at least two people as accountability partners and give them freedom to regularly question their moral purity.”

Safeguard #2: Leaders heed their own counsel.

“Spiritual leaders must understand that they are no more immune to moral failure than those they are leading.”

Safeguard #3: Leaders consider the consequences.

“Astute leaders cultivate the habit of regularly pondering the devastating effects of sexual sin.”

Safeguard #4: Leaders develop healthy habits.

“Careful leaders can take practical steps to protect themselves from sexual temptation.”

Safeguard #5: Leaders pray and ask others to pray for them.

“The most practical step leaders can take is to pray that God will help them keep their lives above reproach.”

The Pitfall of Cynicism

“Leadership is a people business, and people invariably let you down. Negative leaders spawn negative organizations. Cynical leaders cultivate cynical followers. True leaders focus on what is right and on what gives hope, not on what is wrong. Older leaders seem particularly susceptible to cynicism. It is crucial that leaders guard their attitudes.”

The Pitfall of Greed

“Like many things, money and possessions can be either good or bad in a leader’s life. The lure of material possessions has enticed many leaders to make foolish career decisions. As a result, some people will sacrifice almost anything in order to achieve material success. The hunger for wealth and possessions can destroy spiritual leaders. Wise leaders know that the measure of their success is not the size of their bank account but the quality of their lives.”

The Pitfall of Mental Laziness

“Problem solving is an essential function of leadership, so leaders cannot afford to become intellectually stagnant. Good leaders never stop learning. They seek the company of wise people. They read books and articles that stretch their thinking. They read the biographies of great leaders and thinkers. Great leaders are always learning how to become better leaders.One way Jesus helped his disciples grow as leaders was by teaching them how to make sense of their circumstances.”

There are the first 5 pitfalls. How do you stack up? Where do you need to consider more carefully? Where do you need to make course corrections? The next 5 will be posted soon!

The Power of the Leadership Narrative

book-1291164_1280

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

Words-Language-Leadership

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

wall-cracks-suspicion-leadership

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

two-paths-leadership

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

Uganda-Leadership

Worshipping together in Pader, Uganda.

Uganda-Leadership

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!

Uganda-Leadership

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

5 for Leadership-March 19th

Blue-Bonnets-Leadership

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.