Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Archive for the tag “Organization”

The Leader and Authority

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you…    Matthew 20:25-26   (NIV  1984)

Were you to ask many people today under the age of 30 how they view authority, the overwhelming response is negative.  And with good reason.  Throughout their lives those authorities in whom they put their trust have disappointed, hurt, or taken advantage of them.  No wonder some younger leader stated, “I’m trying to learn how to lead without authority.”

Leaders must exercise authority to lead.  Leadership authority is morally neutral – it’s not good, bad, or purple.  It’s how you exercise your authority that makes it beneficial or tyrannical.

A leader has two types of authority – positional and personal.  Positional authority comes with the title or role one has.  It is vested with the responsibility of leading.  It can be used to bless others – making exceptions to rules or policies, providing resources not available to those they lead, creating tone and environment, and solving problems others can’t solve.  Negatively it can be used to dominate (lord it over), micro-manage, control, and stifle initiative of those we lead.

The second type of authority is personal authority.  It is not linked to one’s position and allows great influence in the lives of others, whether we have line responsibility for them or not.  You’ve seen this in action in groups when someone with this type of authority speaks, all turn and pay close attention.  Personal authority is given voluntarily to others based upon their perceived character (particularly wisdom and integrity) and competency in particular areas.

Personal authority allows you to speak truth to others, guide, counsel, mentor, and coach them as they trust your influence.  Negatively it can be used to manipulate others, promote yourself, or seek your purposes instead of what’s best for others.  Personal authority is the greatest authority one can have for it lasts beyond any position one may have.

Positional authority comes instantly when one assumes the title of leader.  Personal authority is built over time as one interacts with others and demonstrates Christlike character and competency.  It’s like making deposits into the personal authority bank account.  Unfortunately, one can also make major withdrawals from this account by demonstrating foolishness, poor choices, or sinful behavior.

Authority – you must have it to lead well in the Kingdom.  Don’t shy away for exercising your authority.  Just be sure that you’re using it for advancing the King’s purposes and not your own!

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!

Leadership Jazz – 4

How does a leader ensure good, creative work and how does a leader effectively lead creative people?  Max DePree in his work, “Leadership Jazz” reminds us of the following related principles.

1. How does a leader approach the process for creative work?
A leader protects unusual persons from the bureaucracy and legalism so ensconced in our organizations.

“A leader works with creative people without fear.

“While respecting them, a leader is wary of incremental changes.  Don’t let small changes—perfectly good in their own right—replace true creativity and real innovation.

“A leader arranges for projects to proceed along a narrowing path.

“In the end, true innovation will never be a democratic event–it’s just too risky for group-think.  Majorities seldom vote to change.  A small group of accountable leaders together with the creative people involved must make the decision and take the risk.

“Peter Drucker once said:  ‘When you have a real innovation, don’t compromise.’

“A leader paves the way for change.

2. What do creative people need to be fruitful in the worlds of organizations?  First they need access to (even intimacy with) senior leadership.

“Creative work needs the ethos of jazz.

“It matters a great deal how leaders give work to gifted followers.

“Creative people, like the rest of us, need constraints.

“A leader needs to give creative people license to be contrary.

“Leaders welcome the committed skeptic, who wants to be held accountable and demands a share of the risk.

“Leaders give odds to creative people that their work will get to market.

“Creative people need a fundamental level of trust from leaders.

“The work of creative people is only part of a whole; it cannot be taken in isolation.

“Finally, creative people need to work with others of equal competence.

3. What should a leader be careful about when dealing with creative people?  First, a leader will be careful about the utilitarian self-concept so much in favor with administrators.

“Second, just as moving up in the hierarchy does not confer competence, so organizational power does not guarantee wisdom.

“Be wary of setting out to win prizes.

“Good work is the goal; recognition is a consequence.

“A last caution: Don’t fail to give credit.  People who through their unusual gifts bring change and innovation and renewal to organizations need to be identified.”

Are you leading well those creative people around you?  Are you encouraging or stifling their creativity?  Have you defined their contribution and identified their boundaries?

Leadership is an Art – 3

Here’s a final thought from Max DePree’s classic leadership book, “Leadership is an Art.”

“In addition to all of the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills.

“Understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed. It also enables us to begin to think about being abandoned to the strengths of others, of admitting that we cannot know or do everything.

“When we think about leaders and the variety of gifts people bring to corporations and institutions, we see that the art of leadership lies in polishing and liberating and enabling those gifts.”

One of our primary leadership functions is the development of those we lead.  This development must be intentional, seeking to maximize a person’s contribution to the mission.  This development must be individualized, with forethought given to opportunities and personal needs.

Are you developing those you are leading or just hoping that with the passing of time and more experience that they will be developed as better leaders?  It has been said, “Experience is not the best teacher, but it is evaluated experience that truly develops leaders.”  Give feedback to those you lead and they will be better leaders.


What’s So Bad About Hierarchy?

Much of the ‘prevailing wind’ today in organizational leadership is blowing towards the ‘flat organization’ – that is, the fewer the leadership levels we have in an organizational structure, the better that organization will be able to accomplish the mission or task.  ‘Bureaucracy’ is a bad word which implies sluggishness, bloated and wasteful budgets, unmotivated people, and a lack of creativity or willingness to adapt and change.

While the above characteristics of hierarchy, as presently practiced, are true in many organizations, it does not have to be so.  Hierarchy in and of itself is morally neutral – it’s not good, bad, or purple.  A hierarchical structure is no better or worse than a flat organizational structure that has fewer levels of leadership.  Good leaders within a hierarchical structure can unleash creativity, innovation, spawn organic movement, empower entrepreneurs, and stimulate growth.  The structure is not the issue, but rather those within the structure who are setting direction and making decisions that make it good or bad.

There are two important reasons for hierarchy:  health and complexity.  By ‘health’ we mean the health of the individuals within the organization.  We want those we are leading to thrive under our leadership, not just survive.  Leadership is not just about accomplishing mission together, it is also about caring well for those we lead.  Having a large span of leadership with too many direct reports will not allow us the capacity to truly ‘know well the condition of our flocks’ (see Proverbs 27:23).

With increasing complexity of mission comes the need for more leadership capacity.  A large task, with multiple facets, demands the contribution of many people.  These people need a common purpose, clear vision, doable jobs, and accountability for their contributions.  This oversight is good stewardship and need not be restrictive.  It’s how this leadership is done that is key!

We have an example from King David in 1 Chronicles 27 as we see how he organized his kingdom.  40+ leaders are mentioned with their respective responsibilities – army commanders, family heads, property managers, an executive team, and spiritual advisers all contributed to David’s leadership capacity.   The size and complexity of the kingdom required good leaders with many varied, intersecting responsibilities.

So, the next time we are tempted to criticize hierarchy, let’s pause a moment and think.  Is it the structure or is it the leaders within that structure that makes it a challenge?  Mankind keeps looking for better structures, but God keeps looking for better leaders!  May it begin with us!

What a Leader Does – DO

We continue to reflect upon a good way to organize our understanding of the complex subject of leadership.  Using the simple outline of Know – Be- Do – Reproduce we can categorize the important functions of this vast subject called leadership.  Today we will address the category of “Do – What a Leader Does.”

1. Leading and your family

Offices in the home can create unusual stresses

  • Regarding your spouse when your both are at home – respect each others ‘turf’ when working at home
  • Put in a good day’s work; discipline yourself to focus and stay on task
  • Set ‘office hours’ when working at home and actually do your work during these times as planned

Love your kids and help them love God and God’s work

  • Involve your children in prayer for people in the ministry
  • Have people in your home as guests and ask your guests to tell stories to your kids about their walk and experiences with God
  • Give your kids responsibilities at ministry activities, when appropriate – it can be as simple as greeting people at the door or serving refreshments
  • Build a positive identity and a sense of ‘being special’ because they are children of a staff who is serving in this ministry
  • Avoid building a child-centered home – see Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30

2. Leading meetings

Learn to lead a better meeting!

  • Meetings are a part of organizational leadership, so learn to lead good ones!
  • A nice outline for setting meeting agendas is to remember that good meetings have 3 parts – ‘business,’ development, relationships
  • Leading your team in development does not mean you have to be the development expert – just bring some intentionality to this function and lead your team in seeing that all are being developed

Have fun together with your team!

  • Don’t be so serious all the time!
  • If you are not creative at having fun, ask as team member to lead the team in this area with your oversight

Set realistic agendas and schedule with a margin when you lay out the meeting plans

Help others accomplish their work by including them in your meeting plans, but remember that it is your meeting, not their meeting

Be sensitive to time zone changes for those who travel, need for  regular breaks, free time, recreation needs, individual sleep patterns (individual rooms for those who snore?), and personal dietary needs

3. Increase your leadership capacity

Work with an administrative assistant

  • A good assistant will greatly increase you capacity to lead
  • Personal chemistry is very important in your ability to work together with your admin assistant
  • Know what you need and want in an assistant before selecting the person
  • Do you want someone to keep you organized, or are you by design well-organized and you want someone to implement your ideas and plans?
  • Be sure your assistant knows your calendar and schedule so that they can assist others who may need to contact you
  • Keep an on-going Action List with both short-term and long-term action items to be focused on and scheduled when appropriate
  • Review your calendar and Action List weekly with your assistant and update it as needed

4. Additional ‘How To’ Leadership Ideas

  • Seek to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from your daily life and schedule
  • Prepare to transition your leadership well – be intentional in the transition and plan ahead; don’t wait to be forced to transition your leadership in a crisis
  • Operate with “Planned Neglect” – you can’t do it all now; so decide what will have to wait in order for you to give your attention and effort the most important things now

A Leader’s Vision

A leader needs to lead towards a vision.  A good leader does not need to be the one who comes up with the vision.  In fact, that may be best done with a leadership team.  But once the vision is clear, team leaders are the primary communicators of the vision.  These leaders must see more, see farther, and see more clearly than those they lead.  Without clear vision a leader becomes one of the “blind leading the blind” and we settle for activity rather than accomplishment of God’s purposes.

When we say a leader needs to “see more” what we intend is that a leader needs to be able to see the whole, not just the individual parts.  They must be able to think and lead systemically, noting how one decision can impact the whole, not just the immediate parts.  Much like a fine watch that has multiple interconnected gears, so is leadership at an organizational level.  One change can have ramifications at multiple levels.  A leader with vision sees the immediate impact, but can also anticipate impacts on multiple levels.

The second type of vision that is needed by a leader is the ability to “see farther” into the future.  It is that gaze towards the horizon that sees what is coming before others and that prepares one to take advantage of changes thrust upon us or protect others from this change.  This vision truly needs to be bifocal – seeing what is up close and immediate as well as seeing what is coming towards us in the future.  Many get so consumed by the immediate that they are taken by surprise by what arrives on their doorstep.  Much like the approaching tsunami, when the water recedes away from the beach we know that there is an impending wave coming.  Rather than rushing towards the receding water to collect the newly exposed sea shells, we move rapidly away from the beach to high ground because we know what will soon follow.

A third type of vision is that good leaders need to “see more clearly” the issues surrounding their leadership.  This type of vision involves focus as well as depth perception.  A focused vision is one that does not get distracted by the clamor around them.  It is laser-like in intensity knowing that this is a God-given mission that we do for His glory and we do knowing that we will be accountable to Him.  This clarity has depth perception in that it takes into consideration the various dimensions of any issue.  A good leader is able to see multiple sides of an issue, weighing the pros and cons, embracing different points of view, and is willing to change his or her thoughts when confronted with weightier arguments.

Vision – don’t try to lead without it!  Have you had your vision checked recently?

Leverage Points

Given that all resources are finite and that there are always more opportunities and demands for resources than we have available, leaders must choose to say ‘yes’ to some and ‘no’ to others.  But how to choose?  What are the considerations when allocating precious, limited resources when there are many, seemingly equally important choices?  Choosing opportunities that are leverage points can be one way to help make these choices.

A leverage point is where a small difference can make a large impact.  Leverage points provide kernel ideas and procedures for formulating solutions.

Identifying a leverage point helps us:
1.  Create new courses of action

2.  Develop increased awareness of those things that may cause a difficulty before there are any obvious signs of trouble, and figure out what is causing a difficulty.

Identifying the “leverage point” is skill #1 and is identified as “the one thing that, if changed, makes changing everything else easier.  It should be the number one priority on everyone’s agenda.”

Leaders are change agents and leaders of change processes.  Identifying and implementing leverage points will facilitate this change process moving ahead more quickly and efficiently than otherwise intended.  It will also allow you to effectively use your limited resources for the biggest impact.

What are you facing today that needs change?  What are the key leverage points needing to be addressed to get this process moving?

Who is Responsible for My Development?

The heights of great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upwards in the night.

The Ladder of St. Augustine,  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My conversation with this 30-year-old leader had come to a point of discussing his ongoing development as a leader.  “But my organization is not even thinking about my development,” he explained in exasperation.  “When will I be developed as a leader so that I can truly make my contribution?”

I’ve reflected on that conversation many times.  Who is responsible for our development as leaders?  I ‘d suggest 3 sources who are very interested in you reaching your potential for influence in the Kingdom.

First of all God Himself is very interested in your leader development.  While both competency and character are needed to lead well, God chooses to focus our development on the character side.  The obvious reason is that He will certainly take care of competency issues through His help as we depend upon Him.  This does not mean that leadership competency is not so important for Kingdom leaders, but God places a priority on character for His leaders.

He is committed to seeing Christlike character shaped within us all, especially His leaders.  He is constantly arranging the circumstances of our life and leadership in order to help us grow into the person He desires.  We can embrace these opportunities for character growth or seek to run from them.  But should we choose to run, He will again raise up new circumstances to once again move us towards Christlikeness.

Our second source of development should be our organization, corporation, business, or workplace.  Businesses and organization that purposefully invest in developing their leadership communities tend to do well over time.  These organizational opportunities can be formal (academic credentialing through study. i.e. secondary degrees in organizational leadership) or semi-formal (certification, continuing education days,  or seminars around areas of leadership competency).  Some workplaces are better than others about providing this type of intentional development.  And even those who are committed to this intentional development of leaders will often greatly cut the budget or staffing for it when there is an overall budget tightening.

The third source of our develop comes from within ourselves.  We must own our own development as leaders.  Rather than waiting or complaining about not being developed, take the responsibility upon yourself to be the best leader you can be.  Seek out opportunities for growth in competency and character.  Pursue it wholeheartedly!  Start today!

One of the most helpful development opportunities is having a mentor for your leadership. Many emerging leaders tell me that they can’t find a mentor willing to meet with them.  Here’s my suggestion.  Find a leader who you think can be of some help.  Approach them with this question, “Could we begin to meet together for me to ask you questions about how I can be a better leader?”  Note that you’re not asking them to mentor you.  Many busy leaders will immediately decline this offer…too many things to do!  But they all have to eat sometime, so invite them to a meal (you pay!) and come with specific questions that they can respond to.  Take good notes and reflect on their answers for your own growth and development.

Be the best leader you can be for Jesus sake and embrace your own development!

Your First Leadership Team Meeting – Make it a Good One!

There is only one “first meeting” when forming your leadership team–you won’t be able to have a “do-over.”   Therefore, you will want to ensure that it is a success.  It will set the tone and pattern for future team meetings and if done well will create an environment for great teamwork.  Here are some practical ideas for launching your team well at that first meeting.  Some ideas are obviously applicable at any stage of team formation.  Some may fit your team and some not.  Take these ideas like you would eat fish  –  enjoy the meat and discard the bones!

1)  First meetings are important as they set tone, expectations, patterns, and first impressions that are lasting.  So, giving good thought to ensure that it’s a hit is essential.  Come prepared and plan the time well.

2)  As a general outline for all leadership team meetings (especially your first one) think of 3 parts:  business, development, and relationships!  There is not equal time spent for all three, but try to insure that every time together you address these three areas.  The business will always get the most attention for teams form to accomplish a task.  The business items often come with deadlines that demand our attention.  The development and relationship pieces (building community and esprit de corps) are easy to shortcut or minimize their importance.  But to ignore these will be detrimental to your effectiveness and impact as a team in the long-term.

3)  The development part of team meetings should be related to an aspect of leadership and can be varied – from interacting over a bible passage, article, book, or even an entire movie you watch together and then talk about leadership lessons demonstrated, etc.  If leading a team of busy leaders be wise in how much prep beforehand you can expect of the team as all are very busy (i.e. instead of reading and discussing an entire book together, choose one chapter from the book to read and discuss).

4)  Relationships –  for those of us who are more task oriented, this aspect of our meetings can seem like a “waste of time.”  Remember, just because you meet together does not mean that you are building trust relationships on the team!  I’ve done everything from using team building exercises, to having an annual golf tournament with a revolving trophy, to playing board games, party games, going out for a movie (not necessarily leadership oriented), fishing, visiting historical sites, visiting other ministries, etc.  It is only by building deep friendships that go beyond just being on a task-oriented team, building trust through shared experience, that we will be able to create a safe place where we can be real with one another.  The transparency and vulnerability that you model before the team as a team leader will help create this for others on the team.

5)  When you think about these three aspects of every meeting, you realize that you will need to have enough time scheduled for this, in order to have a relaxed pace.  The tendency is just to schedule the business agenda for the meeting and neglect time for development and relationships.  With multi-day meetings I would try to begin by sharing the Word and praying together for an extended time each day.  I would sometimes lead this time or ask others to lead, trying to make the time in the Word interactive.  It can help to begin the first part of our times together with each giving a personal update on life and family – seeking to model the idea that we are important as people, not just the task that we do.  We would often pray for each other during these times.

6)  You are wise to define the purpose of the team as well as expectations.  What will this team accomplish if we all contribute well?  Be sure you don’t have a “hidden agenda” with the answers already decided upon.  No doubt you’ll have some ideas in these areas, but if the team as a whole helps shape this, they will all own it together and will be highly motivated to carry it out.

7)  One thing to discuss is how you will make decisions on the team.  There are several standard decision-making models (a subject for another blog) and you’ll want to clarify how the team will make decisions as you go forward.  I personally believe in “a leader and their team” as opposed to “team leadership” with a participative decision-making style for most daily leadership decisions.  But realize that all decision-making models are appropriate for different times and situations.  This subject can be a development piece for your team members to help them as they lead their own teams in the future.

8)  As you think about setting future goals and plans, you want to insure that the goals are balanced between being realistic, given where you are now, but also faith influenced, having enough growth that they will require the hand of God and His blessing in order to see them accomplished.  Having both aspects and holding them in a dynamic tension will enable you to recruit others to ‘lay down their nets and come with you.’

You only have one ‘first team meeting’ – make it a good one!  And remember, don’t eat the bones!

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