Would You Hire Him?

Ken Collier wrote, “The primary quality of a godly leader is that he follows Someone who is stronger than he is, wiser than he is, more discerning than he is, and more in control of circumstances than he is. A godly leader, whether a parent, teacher, supervisor, deacon, business leader, or student body officer, excels at following Someone to a greater degree than others around him do. How unlike this pattern is from the modern view of a leader as one who is great because he chooses a direction and consults only himself and his own resources!”

One problem people often have with thinking about Jesus as a role-model, is that they don’t think of him as being a leader. Teacher? Yes. Savior? Sure. Healer? You bet. But we have this timid view of Jesus that just isn’t based on the Bible, it’s based on a history of flannel-graphs and bedtime stories.

Think about the challenges Jesus dealt with:

  • Building a team from scratch, who had no relevant skills or training
  • Establishing a sense of purpose and mission
  • Working with imperfect people
  • Dealing with conflicts of time, energy and resources
  • Fierce competition
  • Turnover and betrayal
  • Reluctant customers
  • Handling of criticism, rejection, distraction and opposition
  • Pain and suffering

Jesus taught his followers that leadership, at the heart, is an act of service. It’s not about gaining power, it’s about relinquishing it. He literally turns the popular view of leadership upside down and inside-out, and tosses thousands of pages of literature about leadership out the window.

Servant Leaders Let Go of Their Relevance

The great temptation of power is control, and the great consequence of control is lack of relationship. The reason that intimacy is so difficult in ministry is you’re not in control—you’re in relationship. You have to enter a person’s life and they have to enter yours. The minute you start becoming obsessed with control, you lose the relationship.

Henri Nouwen was an amazing man.  He’s one of my heroes in exemplifying servant leadership.  His story is amazing.  He was a respected Catholic Priest.  He was a professor at Notre Dame, then Yale and finally, Harvard Divinity School.

“After 25 years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues”. As he continued to struggle, he prayed “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!”

Enter Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arch Communities.  Vanier founded L’Arch in the 1960s (L’Arch means “the Ark” in French).  These communities (houses), located all over the world, are formed with a dozen or so mentally handicapped adults, along with a few adults who live with them. It’s a 24×7 arrangement.

So this world-renowned, respected priest leaves Harvard to live in a home with mentally handicapped.  In his book “Reflections on Christian Leadership”  (actually a text of a speech he gave in the late 1980s regarding Christian Leadership in the 21st Century”), he tells more about this interesting relationship.

One of the first things he noticed that their liking or disliking of him had nothing to do with anything he had accomplished.

  • Since none of them could read, they didn’t appreciate his many respected scholarly publications.
  • Since none of them had gone to school, they didn’t appreciate his years of service at Notre Dame, Yale or Harvard.

Every respected, worldly accomplishment he had made was rendered moot.

“These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of accomplishments”.

The Servant Leader is called to be irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his own vulnerable self.  What a model of humility Henri Nouwen was and remains today.

The most important word

The Scout Law

A Scout Is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Helpful
  • Friendly
  • Courteous
  • Kind
  • Obedient
  • Cheerful
  • Thrifty
  • Brave
  • Clean
  • Reverent

Several years ago I asked my scouts which one of these words is most important.  Hands flew up, “Reverent!” several shouted.  I told them no.  Then one-by-one they guessed at each of them.  Frustrated, they finally said they gave up.

The most important word is “IS”.  It doesn’t say a scout tries to be trustworthy, or is sometimes loyal.  It doesn’t say that you are reverent on Sundays and friendly to those that you like.  It simply says that he “is”.  And that’s an important distinction, and why I think it’s the most important word.

Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge

I saw this little plaque in a store in Washington DC a while ago.  It said “Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge”.  I took a picture of it with my phone, but sadly that went swimming in the gulf a while back (another story).  But the quote stayed with me.

We live in a “pro-knowledge” society.  We emphasize knowledge.  We want our kids to go to college.  And not just any college, we want them to go to the best school possible.  And it doesn’t stop there.  We emphasize learning on our jobs and send our employees to a variety of technical and business classes.  All in part of infusing them with “knowledge”.

On the other hand, we often stifle creativity.  We force kids to master standardized tests.  We remove or reduce arts from education.  We take the creative air out of so many things that we do.

Now this may sound like some wacky, left-wing. touchy-feely liberal thinking.  But those of you that know me know that I am far from that.  As I’ve spent the past few years outside of traditional corporate bureaucracy and worked in a small business, I’ve grown to understand the overwhelming power of creativity.

Whether it is coming up with a creative solution to inexpensively resolve a network problem, deal with an employee or resource challenge, or invent the next big thing that will transform your business, creativity is key.

Steve Jobs didn’t create the iPhone and the iPad because of “knowledge”.  He, and every other innovator of our day took their knowledge and took it to an entirely different level because of creativity.

Adapt or Die

I had the opportunity this weekend to spend time with three missionary families.  Each of these families serve God in unique ways in different areas of the world.  Each faces their own specific challenges and have adapted their ministry model to best fit the situation they are in.

One serves an impoverished inner-city where drugs and poverty have led to a corrupt crime-riddled culture.  Divorce rates are very high and fathers have held very little accountability to their wives and children.  Their mission approach is to focus on supporting men and women in small groups.  By increasing accountability, they have seen a dramatic improvement in the families they minister to.

Another mission team servers an impoverished rural nation.  They face many of the same cultural challenges (drugs, teenage pregnancies and split families).  However, in their situation the families are often struggling to meet their minimum daily needs.  These missionaries focus on meeting their most basic needs first, then teaching them the gospel.

The third team works in a domestic mission area where the people they minister to have become very disenfranchised by the church.  They have a synical view of Christianity and the baggage that comes along with it.  They are having to show them what authentic Christianity is all about.

What do these missionaries all have in common?  They have come to the realization that mission work is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each have adapted their approach to meet the needs of the people they minister to.  By meeting their specific needs, they are opening many more doors than if they followed a textbook method of mission work.

The lesson for us is that whatever your mission – whether work, church or any other organization – you need to adapt to the needs of those you are trying to reach.  Whether that is customers or consituents, the old adage “adapt or die” rings true.

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was at the beginning of a new stage of my career.  After an unexpected layoff and the first time not being employeed in nearly a quarter-century, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. 

I had spent my entire career working in IT shops of large corporations.  Three Fortune 500 companies had been my place of employment over 24 years.  Now I found myself in a company that was smaller than the departments I had been in.  Everything about this job was different.  The type of work, the type of company, the type of boss, the type of people, the type of office…. you name it, it was new to me.

I decided that I was going to go into it full bore, roll the dice, and just see what happened.  What I found was a job that has given me more fulfilment, more fun, and more excitement than anything I experienced in the corporate world. 

What has made this so much fun?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to trace my actions straight to the bottom line of the company.
  • The ability to make decisions without multiple levels of review, oversight and second-guessing.
  • The ability to get out of the box and be creative, harnassing the entrepreneur in each of us.
  • The ability to step out of your comfort zone and lead in various capacities (my role has expanded beyond IT into almost every aspect of the business).

Bottom line, I believe the fundamental thing that has made this job enjoyable is the ability to make a difference!  I’ve heard before that the number one thing employees want from their employers is appreciation.  No greater apprecation can be found than to believe you make a difference in an organization.

My encouragement for anyone going through an unexpected job change is to keep your eyes open.  You never know where your next opportunity will come from.  And no matter how different it may feel to you, it may end up leading to the most fun you’ve had (on the job) in a long time!   Good luck and God Bless!

Real leaders don’t take the easy way out

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am an avid supporter of Boy Scouts.  I’ve been part of the scouting movement almost my whole life.  I’m an Eagle Scout and the father of an Eagle Scout.  A couple of years ago, after serving as Scoutmaster of a troop I launched, I decided to step down from the day-to-day interaction of serving at the troop level and try to find another way to help scouts.  I ended up serving as our district’s advancement chairman.  In this role, I interact with scouts on a regular basis who are working on becoming Eagle Scouts themselves.  It’s a very rewarding role, but not one without it’s frustrations.

One thing that frustrates me to no end, is when a scout comes to me with an idea for an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, that is clearly not up to the standards we have set.  Let me explain.  The project (or ESLSP) is like the “capstone” course of your college program.  It’s that opportunity for a young man to take all the leadership skills he has developed over the years and apply them in a very real, meaningful way, by providing service to his community.  There is no set number of hours that he must fulfill, only that he must demonstrate leadership.  There are a number of parameters that further define what is allowed and not.

So, here’s where the frustration comes in.  On a rare occasion I’ll have a young man come in with an idea that’s just “good enough”.  On the surface it meets the criteria, but it doesn’t really do anything to challenge him.  It’s quite obvious when you talk to him that he’s just trying to get by.  In fact, I’ve had a few boys actually tell me that this is what they were doing.  (I guess you can say “at least their honest”.)

Unfortunately, what I see in these boys (albeit a small subset of the onesI work with), is something that’s all to common in society and the workplace today.  People look for just “good enough”.  Good enough to meet the customer requirements.  Good enough to pass the minimum standard.  Good enough to make the minimum return on investment.  Good enough to finish on time, but not ahead of time.

Do you see that as much as I do?  I’m sure you do.  It’s very frustrating whether it’s on the job or in other environment. 

Real leaders don’t do this.  Real leadership involves taking on a challenge and delivering “above and beyond”.  I’m not looking for leaders that can meet expectations.  I’m looking for leaders that will blow away expectations. 

The world is full of people willing to get by.  If you want to make a different – on the job, in your family, in your church or other organization, take the mantle of leadership and don’t look for the easy way out.  Challenge yourself and those around you to blow away expectations and deliver far more than what’s expected.  That’s what real leaders do.

Dealing with Fear? We all need a little love….

This is the third post regarding this topic.  Using the 1 Corinthians model of “what’s important in life”, I’ve learned to apply those concepts to dealing with the fears that life brings us. 

Fear is closely related to worry.  “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.  Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of sorrow, it empties today of its strength”, according to Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust Survivor

When you are dealing with fear, such as that caused by the loss of a job, you have to recognize that one of the most important things you need is a loving, supportive group of family and friends. 

Trying to get through tough times on your own is the worst of all approaches.  It’s really common for those of us of the “male persuasion” to try to muscle up and take things on “like a man” and suffer through the tough times.  But the truth is, we all need support.

But beware, it’s difficult to build this support system when you are in the frays of dealing with a problem.  Therefore, it’s important to build this before you face the need.  And, since you never know when you are going to hit a rocky spot, you need to begin now! 

The key to building your support system is to build your personal and professional network.  Fortunately, there are many tools today to help you do this.  Social networking tools, like Linked In and Facebook, are great ways to help build a record of your network.  But remember that it doesn’t stop at the keyboard.  A true network is comprised of both in-person and virtual relationships.

Last year when I was out of work, I made it a personal goal to network with at least two people per week on an individual basis.  I also tried to attend at least two networking functions per week.  Add that to the online networking I was doing, and I was building a network that not only helped get me through the rough times, but many of whom are still part of my network today.

So, my advice to everyone is to cultivate and grow your personal network.  There’s no better time than today.  Then, when you need them, they’ll be there.