Monthly Archives: April 2014

Transition: Reviewing the past eight blogs and a look at what is coming

The past eight blog articles were an attempt to share some foundational and philosophical groundwork upon which leaders and leadership must be built. For some this might have been a challenge to find as relevant. What is to come will be different. As the Apostle Paul modeled in most of his letters, our ability to apply well must be grounded in solid theoretical truth. Here is what has been discussed to date:

1. What do you bring that is uniquely you (lead, develop, care)?
2. How do you transition well to a new leadership role (values, competencies, time allocations)?
3. Where will you focus your effort (direction/Spirit led, relationships, urgent/important)?
4. Who will you intentionally influence (developmental bias, focused lives, saying no and yes)?
5. The essence of leading well: influence (positional, personal) and relationship (up, side, down).
6. Leading from strength (life message and mission) and protecting weakness (safe people).
7. Who a leader IS versus what a leader DOES.
8. Historical approaches to leadership.

It would be my delight and honor to hear from you on which of these topics you found stimulating and helpful for your living and leading. I would equally value what you would have included in such groundwork for leaders and leading if you were writing such a blog.

The next several blog articles will be of biographical nature that provides a “window into great leaders.” Biographies in general can be very enlightening for the leadership student by gaining insights into what made great leaders great. The Bible is filled with such snippets of leaders from whom our living and leading can be greatly enriched. Perhaps you have certain biblical characters that you go to regularly for reflection and realignment. I have my Bible characters as well and will be sharing from my biographical studies of their lives.

Of the many contributions J. Robert (Bobby) Clinton made through his generous gift of leadership thinking, none has a greater potential for transformation than that of a “Bible Centered Leader.” In his self-published 440 page work called, Having Ministry That Lasts: Becoming a Bible Centered Leader (http://www.amazon.com/Having-Ministry-Lasts-By-Becoming-Centered/dp/1932814132) Clinton likens such a person to an endangered species. Very few Christian leaders make the mastery of key books, passages, and characters a lifetime pursuit. The body of Christ and Christian organizations are impoverished accordingly.

Do we really believe that “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isa 40:8)? If so, do you “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)? Such convictions should force a leader to prioritize the study of the Bible beyond the devotional or basic study level to that of mastery of at least certain parts. In the forthcoming blogs, there will be a taste of some deeper reflection on the lives of great biblical leaders with the hope that your appetite will grow and demand a deeper personal look. Let’s turn now to feast on what made leaders great and what is available to make our leadership and us great as we choose to be a Bible Centered Leader.

Next Blog: David was great because he was humble.

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Your Philosophy of Leadership: Historical Approaches to Leadership

After a short overview of leadership study I will provide some practical applications for men and women in all walks of life and interests.

The study of leadership as we know it today is a rather recent phenomena. For much of human history the dominant perspective on how to learn about leadership revolved around studying great individual leaders. Thus, the mentoring or apprenticeship or disciple approach flourished. Those who were privileged to understudy some great leader were marked by that relationship.

Students of the Bible can immediately think of how Joshua learned from Moses, Elisha from Elijah, the Disciples from Jesus, Paul from Gamaliel, and Timothy and Titus from Paul. This approach is as strong as the leader who is the mentor. Yet, very few people can learn about leading in such a way for such great leaders are both rare and in high demand.

Students of history can obviously benefit greatly from the reading of biographies. To not reflect on the lives of great leaders is to miss a valuable resource for leader development. A goal of reading or listening to at least one biography a year would go a long way to enhance leadership. Two readable compilations of great Christian biographies are: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth Tucker and More than Conquerors by John Woodbridge.

Around 1960 the study of leadership became an academic focus with ever growing insights through research. Why are some leaders more effective than others? What qualities do the most impactful leaders embody? How are good organizations led? What does it take to motivate followers to give their best? Although many leaders are not motivated to discover the answers to such questions through personal study, all leaders will benefit from the answers. Two readable compilations of insightful articles on leadership are: Leader to Leader by Hesselbein & Cohen and The Leader’s Companion by Wren.

Intrinsic to being a disciple is being a learner. In fact, I question how a follower of Jesus can commit to anything less than life-long learning since the Holy Spirit is committed to life-long transformation. Intrinsic to being a leader is being a teacher. Whether one leads informally in the home, neighborhood, school, workplace or formally through some organizational role, every leader teaches. We teach through our words and our actions, through what we say and do as well as what we don’t say and don’t do. Every leader is being watched.

An illustration might help. A professor at a certain college was known by his students as being an avid studier. The light in his room, which could be seen from outside his campus residence, was on late into the night and early in the morning. One day a few students asked this professor why he continued to study so much when he already knew more than most people would ever know. His response has challenged my life in such a way that I have never recovered. The professor said, “I would rather have my students drink from a fresh flowing stream than from a stagnant pool.”

Learning and teaching are vital components of leading. How fresh is your learning? What have you learned in the last week/month that has gripped you? How fresh is your teaching? What teaching topic have you revised recently to incorporate new insights you have gained?

We can and should study leaders and leadership so we intentionally grow is in our ability to lead. Thankfully some people are inclined to study these topics in greater depth through ongoing research. If you are one of those kind of students, share your insights—we need to learn from you. If you learn more experientially, share your insights as well—we need to see new ways of leading well. Approaches to leadership might be rooted in the past but they must be lived in the present. Show and tell someone what you have newly learned about leading.

 

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Your Philosophy of Leadership: Who a leader IS versus what a leader DOES

Are leaders born or made? Yes. Are leaders be-ers or do-ers? Yes. Although a case could be made that being effects the quality of doing more than doing effecting the quality of being, both are inseparable. So let’s not polarize them artificially.

Bobby Clinton in his outstanding book, Focused Lives, defines a focused life as:
• a life dedicated to exclusively carrying out God’s unique purposes through it,
• by identifying the focal issues, that is, the major role, life purpose, unique methodology, or ultimate contribution, which allows
• an increasing prioritization of life’s activities around the focal issues, and
• results in a satisfying life of being and doing.

Both being and doing are an integral part of a satisfied life. Let’s consider both.

Navigators have been known for a strong commitment to the Bible (all that the Hand illustration teaches–click here) as well as deep interpersonal relationships (man to man and accountability partners). These two components are indispensable for growth in “being.” Foundational memory verses like 2 Tim 3:16 and Heb 4:12 teach us that Scripture is a vital part off deep personal change. Life on life learning, a Navigator hallmark, is key to processing truth in a safe relationship. The component of transformation often missing is the essential work of the Holy Spirit.

Although never stated as such, much of my early Christian life was built upon the trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scripture. Frankly, the person and work of the Holy Spirit is deficient for many believers. What I did not grasp until in my 50’s was that the transformation process spoke of in passages like Rom 8:29; 12:2 and 2 Cor 3:18 teach that people CANNOT transform themselves no matter how hard one tries but only participate with the transforming work of the Spirit. Our being or becoming is the primary agenda of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Therefore, how well we learn to partner with the Holy Spirit (yielding, not grieving, but walking in) determine our rate and depth of change in being.

From the early days of The Navigators, there has been a rock solid commitment to the advance of the Gospel—the Great Commission. Learning the skills of “doing” a quiet time, Bible study, evangelism, follow-up, disciple-making, equipping of laborers, etc., have equally mark those called Navigators. In fact, we often hear testimony from those in churches and Christian organizations that if someone has had Navigator training they are solid in their ministry skills. Yet, within The Navigators, we hear far too often that growth in one’s ability of “doing” decreases significantly after appointment as a Nav Rep. Why do we plateau rather than continue strong in life-long learning? Why do we not intentionally cultivate latent spiritual gifts and natural talents? People committed to serving well over a lifetime must not retire from learning to do.

We long for the day when all staff are sharing with one another their development plans for both being and doing. What growth goal do you have in the area of your character? With whom are you processing this arena of growth? What ministry skill are you developing to greater proficiency? How aware are you of the resources available on the learning and development website (www.learninganddevelopment.org) and would you value having a coach to help you? Each of us are responsible for our life-long learning in being and doing. Make it so!

Next Blog: Historical Approaches to Leadership.

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Your Philosophy of Leadership: Leading from strength and protecting weakness

Whenever discussing the concept of strength based leadership someone always says, “I would love to have the kind of team where I could primarily focus in my strength. In my world I must do just about everything.” Well, as mothers of preschool children (MOPS) are told, “your situation will not remain as it is forever.” When we are truly partnering with God by following Him where He is at work, we can count on Him bringing the people we need to accomplish His will. Hudson Taylor started his work in China alone but came to believe that God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. The China Inland Mission (now OMF Int’l) grew to be the prominent missions organization in China. Count on your team composition changing to include people who can serve in their strength so you can focus on yours.

Highly respected pastor and author John Piper says it this way in his book Desiring God, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Among other things, people will be most satisfied when serving in their God-given design. If so, how confident are you of knowing your spiritual gifts and natural talents? How willing are you to serve in your strength?

When I was in seminary, shortly after leaving five years of campus ministry, an older mentor challenged me to value one of my strengths. Administration (sometimes equated with leadership) came naturally to me but when on campus the ministry that was most highly valued was discipling and teaching. I devalued my administrative gift for what I perceived was of greater value. Some of us need to thank God for the gifts and strengths He has given to us and use them for His glory regardless of how they might be viewed

As we mature in age and Christlikeness our greater contributions will come when we intentionally minister in and through our strengths. By the time someone is about 45 years old he or she should have enough life experience to know what kinds of ministries produce personal satisfaction and blessing for others. What are those issues or messages that when you speak of them you obviously light up and people see your passion coming through? One of my messages is that of being a life-long learner. To what passages of Scripture do you most refer and communicate with deep conviction? For me it is Col 1:28-29. Where can you recall experiences that align with your passion and convictions? My interest in education and reading stand out as prominent. I can be like a dry sponge when learning.

Leading from strength means progressively moving toward convergence with your “life message.” A parallel concept is that of your “life mission.” One’s mission is all about the context of where you serve and what you focus upon. Sometimes geography is important as with a person with a special concern for those who have never heard about the love of Jesus (Rom 15:20; 2 Cor 10:16). Others can serve almost anywhere as long as they are able to focus on their life mission.

If we are to steward well our life message and mission we will need friends who love us enough to speak into our life. The word vulnerability is defined by Bill Thrall and friends (Ascent of a Leader, pp. 81-82) this way: “Vulnerability means you choose to let others know you, to have access to your life, to teach you, and to influence you… Vulnerability causes people to know your life is open to them. You are teachable. You will allow the cracks in your life to be not only seen but also filled as you receive their influence.” To lead well we need protection from our weaknesses.

How are you doing about leading from your strengths? What adjustments should you be praying about to better live your life message and mission? Who can you enlist to protect you from drifting into leading from weakness?

Next Blog: Who a leader IS versus what a leader DOES.

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Your Philosophy of Leadership: The essence of leading well

In the blog post titled, “How and where will you focus your effort,” I suggested that leadership can be distilled down to two concepts, without which you cannot lead: influence and relationship.  Of the many books I have read on leadership the one that addressed my conviction about influence and relationship the best was Relational Leadership by Walter Wright (2000).  Wright, executive director of the outstanding Max De Pree Center for Leadership (http://depree.org/), defines leadership as “A relationship in which one person seeks to influence the thoughts, behaviors, beliefs or values of another person.” (p. 2) Even though this definition implies intentionality, influence frequently happens without clear intention, but hopefully for good.

The origin of the word influence goes back to the 14th century word influere—to flow in—from in + fluere (to flow).  I like this picture of flowing into another, perhaps like wind in a sail or a musical instrument or the Holy Spirit flowing into the disciples at Pentecost.  It can be very pleasant when the content of the flow is good, but very unpleasant when the content is bad.

Of the various ways to influence for good, one must be considered above all others.  It would not take too much effort to build the case that the best influence one can flow into another is through prayer.  As much as we would like to think that our motives for influence are good, even our best efforts have flaws (see 1 Cor 4:4).  God is able to apply our prayers through His filter of what is genuinely good influence.  The prophet Samuel understood the priority of prayer and exercised it as a major part of his leadership influence (1 Sam 12:23).  How are you doing in your influence through prayer?  Just add up the time you invest in prayer for those you lead.

We exert influence in two ways: through our position and our person. Our position, when understood as a privilege, can bless, guide, resource, protect and much more.  However, when we are spread too thin, overcommitted, lacking sleep and unhealthy we can often miss influencing for good.  What signs (yellow light) have you developed to indicate that your good positional influence is slipping?  Our influence as a person has everything to do about the next word, relationship.

Relationship is the other essential for leading well.  We normally think about leadership as a relationship with those we supervise.  These are the people entrusted to our responsibility.  We rightly focus on relating to these people by cultivating trust and confidence.  One’s character and credibility are in direct proportion with relational influence.

Along with relating to those we lead, more and more I see the need for relating to those who lead us.  This “leading up” requires a different relational skill set.  It is not uncommon to have a supervisor who does not fully understand your arena of responsibility or the opportunities for growth.  Intentionally building trust to influence your supervisor is both appropriate and necessary for the good of the organization.  Where and how are you able to influence your supervisor so she or he can better lead you?  Is prayer part of the way you are intentionally influencing the development of your supervisor?

To lead well one must grow in ability to relate well.  Don’t minimize the importance of relational influence!

Next Blog: Leading from strength and protecting weakness.

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