Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Groundhog’s Day Syndrome

Insanity:  doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.                        Albert Einstein

German settlers in Pennsylvania brought with them a superstition that on 2 February (halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox) they were able to predict the length of winter yet to come.  A bright day meant cold, wintry weather for another six weeks.  A cloudy day meant a less severe few weeks ahead and the winter was ending.  This superstition was attached to a tradition of a groundhog emerging from his hole and seeing or not seeing his shadow.  Actor Bill Murray solidified the day with his portrayal of a TV weatherman doomed to repeat the same day over and over again in the movie Groundhog Day (1993).

Since the popular movie release many have used the metaphor, “It’s like Groundhog’s Day over and over again” or some variation thereof.  Meaning, here we go again, same process with the same results.

Here’s the connection to leadership.  Many established works can get stuck in repetitive cycles, processes, traditions, etc. that have been around for a long time.  No one ever stops to think about why we do such things, we just do them because we always have done them.  They yield predictable outcomes, but we don’t stop to assess whether we could change or discontinue some things.  We just keep on doing what we have always done.

Good leaders will have a discerning eye on items in their environment that we assume are good, but are rarely evaluated.  Critically evaluating the ‘givens’ are a good way to find new creativity, improvement, and energy for  future change.  Just doing what we have always done will give us the same outcomes.  It’s crazy to think that we will see anything other that what we have seen in the past, no matter how hard or efficient we work.

In their book titled, Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers, Kriegel and Brandt suggest that it is not the expert or the pioneer who usually brings lasting change or innovation.  Rather, it is a new leader, often from outside the context, who acts like a beginner.  Beginners ask lots of questions and have few assumptions other than they don’t yet understand the context.  They are not afraid to question anything.

What things in your leadership world are so entrenched that you haven’t taken a hard look at them in a long time?  What assumptions are you making that need to be re-evaluated because it’s been a long time since they were created and times have changed?  Have the courage to take the hard look!

Handling Our Fears

It is interesting to note the number of times that the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid.”  By my count, that phrase is repeated 77 times in the Scriptures (NIV).  We know that all emotions are God-given and morally neutral.  It is what we do with our emotions, how we express them and act upon them, that make them good or bad.   If that is true, then why does God say many times, “Don’t be afraid?”

My understanding is that the exhortation is not to deny the natural response to threat and become some type of unfeeling, machine-like personality.  Rather, a better way to understand this is to say, “Don’t be controlled by the fear that you are now feeling.”

Fear is one of our God-given emotions.  It can protect us from threats, initiating a ‘flight or fight’ response that can, in some serious situations, save our lives.  But fear can also paralyze us – like a deer caught in the headlights; we freeze, don’t act and are rolled up by the rapidly approaching threat.

Some leaders seek to manage fear by becoming more risk averse.  They reason that by not taking any (or minimal) risks, they will be safe and not have to face their fears.  But, leadership means we have to take risks, for leaders bring change.  The exact outcome of that change is unknown because it is in the future.  Fear of unknown future outcomes can paralyze leaders into simply maintaining the status quo instead of initiating risk-taking change for the better.

Another common fear of leaders is a fear of failure or looking incompetent before others.  This finds its root in our ego or in finding our identity in our leadership role.  Failure is perceived as exposing my incompetence before others and perhaps resulting in my loss of leadership responsibilities.  Mature Kingdom leaders recognize that all leadership roles are God-given and we will all transition these roles at sometime.  We don’t find our security or identity in being a leader.  Rather, we find it in being a servant who has the privilege, for a time, of leading others.

Mature leaders also know that everyone fails sometime.  It’s only a matter of when, not if, we fail.  Failure is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s how we respond to failure that makes the difference.  Winston Churchill said, “Success in never final; failure is seldom fatal; it’s courage that counts!”  It is the courage to get up and try again that is key when one fails.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”  (Hebrews 10:36   NIV  1984)

Leadership is a long journey filled with highs and lows, successes and failures, safety and threats.  Learning to take appropriate risks will enable us to accomplish our God-given tasks for His glory.

How’s your risk tolerance?  Don’t be afraid!

 

Giving Feedback in Annual Reviews

We’ve said that leadership and supervision are two wings to the airplane of accomplishing God’s mission.  We lead the people and supervise (manage) their work.  Part of good supervision is giving feedback to those we supervise.  Giving feedback in such a way that it is received and acted upon is an art to be developed.

Below are some notes from an interview with former Navigator International President, Lorne Sanny, on giving feedback, especially in a formal feedback session like an annual progress review.  He framed the topic under the umbrella of leading out of love.

  • Love means we give people feedback on how they are doing
    • Use ‘progress reviews’, not performance reviews
      • Performance reviews – not best term because it means the work is already finished
      • Progress reviews a better term for it implies work is in progress and we can still affect the outcome
      • Progress reviews are based on agreed upon goals, outcomes, or “focus items”
        • Some personalities don’t like the term ‘goals’ – can use the term “focus items” instead
      • Have those we supervise evaluate themselves by asking questions
        • Many are harder on themselves than we would be, so we can affirm them and bring true perspective to them
        • “The imagination is often worse than the realization.”
      • A good question to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help you accomplish your goals?”
        • “What do you think you will need to accomplish this?”
      • End the review by asking, “Is there anything else you want to say to me?”
      • On difficult issues, help them think by asking reflection and open-ended questions
      • Don’t use progress reviews to correct problems!  Do that on day-to-day basis.
    • Romans 14:17-18  – a good outline for progress reviews
      • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
        • Righteousness –  What is right?                  What
        • Peace –  Do I have peace (settledness in my spirit) about it?                                                           When
        • Joy –  Should be a positive experience         How

Certainly feedback takes many forms beyond just annual progress reviews.  Becoming a skilled giver (and receiver) of feedback will help you supervise well and ultimately accomplish your God-given mission.

Managing the Work of Others

Perhaps you have heard it said, “I’m a leader, not a manager.”  This suggests that these are two distinctive people types and implying (sometimes not so subtly) that there is a value difference between the two and that leader types are better than manager types.

While there are ‘type’ or design differences, this is really a false dichotomy.  Yes, there are gifting and design differences and individual strengths, but there is no difference in individual worth or value and both functions are necessary to accomplish mission.

Leading and managing are two wings of the same airplane.  We need both to fly or the plane will crash.  The ‘plane’ in this metaphor is the mission of God and those Kingdom people assigned to accomplish it.

We lead people into an agreed upon mission or task by clearly communicating vision for the mission, setting clear directions and outcomes.  Part of this leading function is then recruiting others and assigning responsibilities and resources to those who join up with us in the mission.

But once people are in place and moving, we now must manage their work.  Note, we are managing the work of people, not the people themselves.  We lead people and manage their work, all to accomplish our agreed upon mission or task.

Another synonym for managing is supervising.  We supervise the work of people by providing accountability, feedback – both affirmation and correction, review and reward related to their work.   Supervision seeks to ensure that the work done is the best possible and those working are contributing to the best of their ability and potential.

Some of us will have God-given designs that allow us to more naturally to function in the lead mode.  Some others will be more naturally gifted in the managing or supervising function.  Both are necessary to accomplish mission.  One can’t say, “Well, I’m just a leader and I delegate the managing side of things to others.”

While you may have a strength in one, you are ultimately responsible for both functions – leading and managing.  Yes, we do seek to operate in our strengths and delegate or staff to our weaknesses.  But we seek to delegate, not abdicate!  ‘Big picture’ types must be well-informed on details, policies, finances, operations, etc.  ‘Detail’ types must be able to band people together to accomplish task.

Self-awareness of your design is the beginning of a healthy, balanced impact.  Knowing your design can help you maximize your strengths and shore up any crippling weaknesses that are preventing you from operating in your strengths.

Martin Luther – Courageous and Combative!

We have just come through the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church which helped launch the Protestant Reformation in 1517.  I decided to read a biography on Luther (Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career by Kittelson) to better familiarize myself with the life of one used by God in such a mighty way.  Here are some of my favorite quotes attributed to this amazing man.

I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.  Amen.

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

Pray, and let God worry.

You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.
Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.

Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.

I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.

The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.

I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.
If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.

Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.

You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.

May the Lord use the example of Martin Luther and many others like him who have the courage to stand for the Lord against the cultural tide of the day!

A New Beginning

As we begin a new calendar year, it’s good to pause and reflect upon what was and what will be.  It is through reflection that we can gain perspective and see more clearly the overarching, God-orchestrated, macro movements of our lives.

Leaders are often too busy to stop and reflect.  We always have more things to do and people to see.  We take one item off of the do-list and add three more!  Who has time to stop and think?

Today…..now is the time to stop and reflect upon who you are becoming and what you are doing!  Here are some questions to get you started in this reflection time.

Are you pleased with your own personal spiritual walk?  More importantly, is Jesus pleased with your pursuit of Him?  How’s the pace of life?  Do you have a margin in your life?  Are you living and leading from an overflow?  How’s the family doing?  Are you paying the price to experience the marriage you committed to on your wedding day?  Are you investing deeply in your children and grandchildren, knowing that the years for significant influence are rapidly passing you by?

What fears are you trying to ignore related to your leadership?  Are you leading with faith and courage?  Is the vision of where you are leading to focused or foggy?  Do you have a team that is unified and empowered around a shared vision?  Are you accomplishing the mission that you intended to accomplish?

These and many more questions are helpful for taking stock of where you are today and where you need to be/go tomorrow.  Use this season for reflection and refocus as you start a new year full of new hope and new beginnings.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Merry Christmas!

Perhaps like me, you’ve wondered where all of the Christmas traditions came from.  Here’s some background to help with giving some new (old?) meaning to these seasonal traditions.

December 25 – The Day of Jesus’ Birth

In ancient times birthdays were celebrated only by kings and royalty.  It was not customary to record the specific date of an individual’s birth.  Being unsure of the exact date of Jesus’ birth, many dates began to be observed as Christianity spread from country to country.

Bishop Hippolytus calculated the birth of Jesus to be December 25 in 235 AD.  Emperor Constantine ordered the celebration of Christmas in 320 AD.  Since 400 AD Christendom has accepted this date as the traditional date of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas was first celebrated in America in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia.  In 1836 Alabama became the first state to establish Christmas as a legal holiday.  Colorado recognized Christmas as a state holiday in 1861.

St. Nicholas or Santa Claus

Nicholas was born and raised in Turkey in 280 AD.  When Nicholas reached age 19 he entered the priesthood.  He became known as the ‘patron saint of children’ because of his habit of leaving unidentified gifts at the homes of needy families.  This mysterious donor is called “Father Christmas” in England.

Introduced as “Sinterklass”  to America by the Dutch as the patron saint of their colonies or as the English and French said, “Saneta Claas.”  In 1809 Washington Irving portrayed a jolly fellow who rode in a sleigh pulled by reindeer; a far cry from the original St. Nicholas.  The giving spirit of St. Nicholas should inspire us all.

Candy Canes

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy to celebrate the birth of Jesus, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane.  He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy.  He chose white to symbolize the purity and Virgin Birth of Jesus.  He made it in the “J” shape for the name of Jesus.  The shape is also that of a shepherd’s staff, to remind us that the Bible calls Jesus the Good Shepherd.  The red stripe is to remind us of the blood Christ shed for us when he died on a cross.

Christmas Carols

Until the Middle Ages there was no congregational singing in Christian churches.  Trained choirs sang chants and monotonous songs.  After the Christmas services, the church members would often gather in the streets to sing songs about the birth of Jesus, called ‘carola.’  Martin Luther introduced congregational singing to the churches.

“Silent Night” is the most popular Christmas carol.  Written on Christmas eve in Obendorf, Austria in 1818 by a priest as he walked in the snow house-to-house inviting his members to the service that evening.  Returning to his church, the priest asked the organist to write the melody to the lyrics he had composed on his walk.  Sung for the first time at the service that evening, it was sung to guitar as the church organ was broken!

Christmas Trees

This tradition was borrowed from the non-Christian people of northern Europe and given a new meaning.  These people would bring evergreens into their homes during the winter months to remind them of the hope of the coming spring.

Christians adapted this custom and added that the evergreen symbolizes the everlasting life offered through belief in Jesus as our Savior.  Trees were set up on Christmas and decorated with lights (candles) to symbolize that Jesus was born on a beautiful, starry night in Bethlehem.  Tradition says that Martin Luther was the first to add lights to the decorated tree.

Creche or Manger Scene

Until the 13th century, those that celebrated Christmas generally overlooked the lowly conditions of Jesus’ birth.  In 1219, St. Francis of Assisi visited Bethlehem where he was struck by the simplicity of Christ’s birthplace.  He was dismayed by the contrast of Jesus’ humble beginnings and the lavish church celebrations of his birth.

St. Francis created a rustic stable scene for midnight mass on Christmas Eve 1223.  He used live animals and people portrayed Mary and Joseph, shepherds and the angels.

Stockings

Long before Christmas trees were a part of the common Christmas traditions, stockings were hung in anticipation of the arrival of St. Nicholas.  English immigrants brought this custom with them to America.

The original Christmas stockings that were hung were those worn for everyday apparel.  They were hung with the hopes of being filled with treats from the visit of St. Nick.

What traditions are a part of your Christmas celebrations?  What values are you communicating as you celebrate?  Perhaps you can lead your family or your friends in remembering the true reason for the season as you reflect upon some of these established traditions.     MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Merry Christmas!

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”  Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26–38  (NIV  1984)

May the heart and spirit exemplified by Mary in submission to God’s will for her be reflected within each of us this coming year.

Merry Christmas!

7 Woes for Leaders – #7

Jesus launches into a scathing rebuke of the religious leaders around Him at the dinner table of a local Pharisee (see Luke 11:37-52).  This passage begins a list of seven failures that these leaders experienced.  The following continues the list of six failures that are prefaced with a dire warning, “Woe to you…”

Here’s #7  –  “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge.  You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”  v 52   (NIV 1984)

These leaders were accused by Jesus of hindering the personal growth and development of others by not providing opportunities for them and by not modeling it themselves.

As Kingdom leaders, we are responsible for the growth and development of those we lead.  Yes, each individual is ultimately responsible for their own maturation, but leaders can create opportunities for growth for those around them.   We can provide a ‘buffet line’ of resources to choose from for those we lead, for their own development.  We can create an environment where growth is expected and valued.

Additionally, we can model life-long learning to those around us.  One never ‘arrives’ and leaders who continue a lifetime of learning will inspire and motivate others to do the same.  Nothing is more discouraging to personal growth than having a ‘plateaued learner’ as their leader.

But, Jesus’ accusation goes a step further, for these leaders were not just passive in their poor example, but He said that they hindered others by their leadership.  It wasn’t that they themselves had not entered into the Kingdom, but they actively hindered others from doing so.

James reminds those who would be teachers, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  James 3:1   (NIV  1984)  The author of Hebrews reminds leaders of their accountability to the Lord when he says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”  Hebrews 13:17  (NIV  1984)

Leadership and its accompanying authority carries with it a sobering reality that we will be accountable for what we did with our leadership.  Did we accomplish the mission?  Did we care well for those under our charge?  And, did we seek to develop them, maximizing their potential?

What’s new that you’ve recently learned?

7 Woes for Leaders – #6

Jesus launches into a scathing rebuke of the religious leaders around Him at the dinner table of a local Pharisee (see Luke 11:37-52).  This passage begins a list of seven failures that these leaders experienced.  The following continues the list of six failures that are prefaced with a dire warning, “Woe to you…”

Here’s #6  –  “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.  So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.”  v 47-48   (NIV 1984)

These leaders were charged with giving superficial or temporary solutions to long-standing problems, rather than dealing with root issues or causes that would yield lasting, positive change.

There is a reason why long-standing problems are not dealt with in a lasting way.  They are messy, complicated, the change may require systemic changes, solutions may point out failures of previous leaders, they may be financially or emotionally costly, or disruptive to the status quo.  These religious leaders built nice looking monuments to the prophets killed by their predecessors, instead of addressing the root of why those prophets were ignored and killed by their forefathers.

We often make decisions on the ‘mini-max’ principle.  When making decisions, we seek to minimize the cost and maximize the benefit.  It’s easy just to give a temporary solution that makes us feel like we are solving something, rather than address the core of it.  We kick the can down the road and realize that the next leader will have to deal with it.  Someone will have to have the moral courage to take it on at its root and bring a lasting change for the good.

Doing what is right, instead of doing what is easy is the way of the leader who is pleasing to God.  Half-way solutions are not solutions!  They are simply patches on a leaky hull.  They stop the water flow for the time being, but later, they loosen and the water again begins to flood our ship.

What long-standing, messy problems are on your do list?  What can you do to address at least one of them?  Screw up your courage and lead!

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