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.

Assess then Act

Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

Over the years I’ve noticed that one area that many leaders (including myself) can often improve on, is the ability to take action at the right time, based upon the right amount of information.  Leadership is often about setting a direction.  That direction comes from making a decision about what needs to be done.  Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

The problem with taking action on too little information is that you often make the wrong decision because you are not fully informed of the details.  Take for instance this one time when an executive I worked with wanted one of my team members to go on-site to address a customer’s problem.  The only issue was, no one had researched yet what the source of the problem was.  And since my guy could only address about 25% of the potential issues, I saw it as a 75% chance of a wasted trip.  (Note, this wasn’t a trip across town, but one that would involve airfare, overnight travel and at least two days of lost productivity at the office).  I put the brakes on sending the person out, and instead had a trained technician call and walk through the issues.  As it turned out, a local technician was able to swing by the customer’s location and fix the problem in a couple of hours.  The customer was much happier than if they had waited two days only to have the wrong person show up.   My company was better off because we saved thousands of dollars in travel expenses and lost productivity.

On the other hand, some people take entirely too long to make a decision.  This is often called “analysis paralysis”.  Over the years, I’ve often found myself involved with decisions that could never be made, because there was always that “one more” piece of information.   A similar issue is “next year’s version” of the software or product will be better.  These decisions (or the lack thereof) also cost the company money.  They cause lost productivity, lost opportunity costs and overall frustration among team members.  I’ve also noticed that the likelihood of these problems increase exponentially with the number of people involved in making the decision.  That’s one reason I love working in a smaller company.

Every leader must become comfortable with making decisions at the right time.  The time is not a measure of days, but a measure of knowing when you know enough.  Rudy Giuliani, in his book “Leadership” talks about the principle of “Reflect, Then Decide”.  He says that he never makes up his mind until he has to.   Recognizing when you “have to” is the key to good leadership.  One of the principles Mr. Giuliani illustrates is relentless preparation.  The more data you have, the more communications you have with your team, the quality of the people giving you advice, all impact your ability to come to a decision quickly. 

The bottom line is that no one can tell you exactly when to make any particular decision.  It’s a skill gained over time.  By learning what works and what doesn’t, it’s something that’s inside the gut of a good leader.  But it takes preparation, confidence and good information to make the right decision at the right time.

Principle-Centered Leadership

I was reviewing the book “Principle-Centered Leadersihp” by Stephen Covey the other day, and was reminded of the great message he has in this book.  Here’s a summary.

Overall theme:  That “natural laws, principles, operate regardless.  So get these principles at the center of your life, at the center of relationships, at the center of your management contracts, at the center of your entire organization.”  Further, these principles have been “woven into the fabric of every civilized society and constitute the roots of every family and institution that has endured and prospered”.

  • We may not like them, we may not agree with them all, but they are there. And they have proven effective throughout many centuries.
  • Six major religions all teach the same core beliefs – fairness, kindness, dignity, charity, integrity, honesty, quality, service and patience.
  • Principles are different than values.  Even street gangs and German Nazi’s held values.

How we react to these principles impacts every aspect of our lives.  For example, the principle of trust impacts us on four levels:

  1. Personal – Trustworthiness
  2. Interpersonal – Trust
  3. Managerial – Empowerment
  4. Organizational – Alignment

He gives characteristics of principle-centered leaders.

  • They are continually learning.
  • They are service-oriented.
  • They radiate positive energy.
  • They believe in other people.
  • They lead balanced lives.
  • They see life as an adventure.
  • They are synergistic.
  • They exercise self-renewal

Traits that are essential for managers to exhibit this type of leadership are:

  1. Integrity – “the value we place on ourselves”.
  2. Maturity – “the balance between courage and consideration”.
  3. Abundance Mentality – “there is plenty out there for everybody”.

The abundance mentality is the “bone deep belief that there are enough natural and human resources to realize my dream”. 

The need for a moral compass.  Values are maps, principles are a compass.  We need to trade in our maps for a compass.  An accurate map is a good management tool, but a compass is a leadership and an empowerment tool.    Maps change, compass bearings are constant.