Category Archives: leadership

The leadership secret sauce no one talks about.

Leaders have many great qualities but there is one secret sauce that makes few list but is evident in the truly trans-generational, transformative leaders.

Leadership Secret Sauce

Today’s confessional: I hate being laughed at. Or at least I used to. I mean, cringe inside, feel sick about it for days, don’t-sleep-at-night-dislike being laughed at. I’ve talked with a counselor and identified some triggers from my past and dealt with them. But I am still not there.

Maybe because I always felt a little awkward growing up. Awkward around the cute girls, hey, all girls. Awkward around those who had more money than me. I think I covered it well, but I hated to be embarrassed.

Except I have the ability to say the wrong thing,

… at the right time,

… frequently.

I think I cover it well, with self-deprecating humor and jokes at my own expense. No one can laugh at you if they are laughing with you, right? But foot in mouth disease? I have it.

But the Christian scriptures are pretty clear about one thing. Pride leads to all sorts of real evil. And humility is the answer.  Humility. Being laughed at is a problem to my pride.

Why doesn’t leadership teaching revolve around humility? The ancients were frequent commenters on the topic. (Maybe because if we teach on it, we might be accountable to it?)

Ethnic pride or Racial pride is always ugly when we see it in others. The problem is that we can’t see it in the mirror.  The US is going through a rough reckoning at this time because of this issue. And as the pendulum swings, both sides see the other, and the images in the mirror are difficult to discern when they are broken with bricks.

In leadership, our heroes are the go getters, the mountain climbers, the conquerors. Characteristics of leadership rarely lead with humble. The humble are rarely touted, maybe because the humble have figured out how NOT to be in the limelight, how NOT to be recognized, how NOT to get credit.  And in an era of intellectual property rights, of followers, likes and shares, humility is being relegated to invisibility. This would appear to be the worst possible scenario in today’s world.

Yet look at the history of world impact leaders.

Joseph, 22 years between dreams and world leadership. Invisible.

Moses: 40 years in the desert. Forgotten.

David: 13 years between the giant and the crown. Failure.

Paul: those strange years in the desert, the two years in jail at the height of his ministry.

Jesus: 33 years at least from angelic proclamation to Jerusalem welcome. Hidden.

But look beyond the years and you will see

The humbling of slavery

The humbling of banishment

The humbling of hiding

The  humbling of being wrong

The humbling of being human

God opposes the proud but give GRACE to the humble.

Great, I believe you. Now what, or so what? How do we become humble?

I don’t know. I have some ideas for leaders though. How do I humble myself.

  1. Humble Leaders intentionally and consistently place themselves in positions where they are not the most powerful person in the room. Ignorance is humility pill that taken with a swig of grace can be a powerful antidote to pride.
  2. Humble Leaders practice the art of not having the last word.
  3. Humble Leaders practice the art of always giving credit to others.
  4. Humble Leaders listen long and speak little. This is the hardest thing for me.
  5. Humble leaders chose to serve those who can not reward them.
  6. Humble leaders admit when they were wrong, and share where they have changed.
  7. Humble leaders genuinely believe that others are better than them. Yes, you heard that. They genuinely believe it. They are very aware of serendipity and grace and timing.
  8. Humble leaders can handle the spotlight specifically because they are ok without it. Their interior light shines brighter than the spotlight.

In a world that being known and being famous have now become aspirations, truly great leaders will only be famous to a few.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

 

4 Low Cost Gifts Any Father Would Love

Father’s Day. A day to celebrate dad’s. But unlike Mother’s Day, gifts are much more difficult. Favorite foods maybe, but flowers and a card don’t usually work. Dad toys tend to cost a whole lot of money. Go big or go home, right? Well, if a new jet-ski, boat, or truck isn’t in the budget, here are a few ideas that anyone can give their father.

Honor

My daughters current favorite TV binge is a show called “Leverage.” Last night’s  episode featured an old man who passed up on millions of dollars for a chance to get the one thing he wanted. Respect. In the old days, branding a man a coward was to destroy him. I don’t understand the psychology behind the need, And not that the honor and respect need isn’t common to us all, but seems to be particularly strong among men.
“What should be done for the man whom the King delights to honor?” Ahasuerus asks Haman in the book of Esther, chapter 6. The King understands that the highest compliment and the greatest gift to a man isn’t  money or power but honor. Yet culture and media seem to portray the dad as the buffoon, the emotionally unintelligent, mentally slightly inferior, well intentioned but deficient man. This is as far from honor as you can get.
Honor your father and mother is the first commandment with a promise. Jesus takes the Pharisees to task over their maneuvering out of honoring.
How do you honor?
Speak highly of. Recognize contributions and work. Affirm identity.
But we also honor our fathers by stewarding their reputation. We represent our family. We reflect on our fathers well when we do well in life, leading an upright, Godly life.  Our lives honor or dishonor the reputation of those who raised up. For better or worse, a man is judged by his off spring. Yeah, i get the crazy kid thing and all that, we are responsible for our own choices. But there is no greater way to honor your Father than live a life worthy of honor.

Grace

Man do I feel like a strew up. I mess up all the time. And having worked with young adults for a couple decade now, I know there are no deeper wounds that can happen to a child that can be inflicted by a father. A man’s anger can be fierce, his tongue sharp, his physical presence felt.
In every man there is an battle. But even the most arrogant among us approaches fatherhood with trepidation.
Grace is unmerited favor. It’s forgiveness and understanding and gentleness towards. Every father I know needs an extra measure. Our expectation is that Superman never messes up, but Superman occasionally doesn’t get there on time, drops the ball and can’t dodge the bullet. He isn’t from krypton and bullets don’t bounce off his chest. Our fathers carry their own scars but their humanity and frailty is scary to us. So i know what I do. I hide it.
Grace says “I accept that you aren’t perfect and I forgive you in spite of my unmet expectations. “

But even the most arrogant among us approaches fatherhood with trepidation.

Seeing

What is the gift of seeing Your father? Fathers fill many roles. Provider. Protector, driver, coach, disciplinarian.
If you called your father by his first name, how well could you describe him? There is a temptation to see our dads as a role rather than a person. Giving someone the gift of seeing them is recognizing them as an individual, a person uniquely created in the image of God, with all the complexity and beauty that is built into that.

Belief

There is something powerful when you believe in your kids. Something incredible happens when we look our kids in the eyes and let them know we truly believe in them.
Fathers still have dreams. Affirmation and encouragement go a long way in a man’s world. “Out there” it is a “prove it, show me, I’ll believe it when I see it, you gotta believe in yourself (because nobody else will)” world. Many men have locked up dreams, but unlike the kid who dreams of being the fireman or starting a business, the Father’s in our lives often see their dreams at worst maligned, at best ignored by those around them.
The thing with all these gifts is their only cost is thoughtfulness and action. but they are worth more than gold.
I realize that not everyone had the same privilege I had, of growing up in a loving, nurturing environment where it’s easy to honor my father. If that’s you, remember this. Every person is created in the image of God. Without exception. There is something in them you can honor, there is certainly areas you can give grace, and there is alway room someone who sees you as you wish you were and believes with God all things are possible, even seeing dad change.
So to all the dads out there who are mess ups like me, who fail but get back up, who swallow hard and try to be a better man than before, who recognize your failures and brokenness but still keep trying, I honor you today.
And to all you out there, tell me how you are going to implement these ideas today? I’d love to hear practical applications. Please add your thoughts to the comments below.

How to know if you are adulting

I had never heard of “adulting” until recently. The phraseology is interesting, and I was to take it one more step.

As an immature teenager, I drove my sister crazy, annoying her about who was more mature. Proving, in hindsight, that I was less mature than my younger sibling. Maybe. That’s still up for debate.

Having spent the last 25 years “growing up,” becoming a father, and working with young adults, here is how I would answer my 16 year old self.

OK, so you think you are mature. I think if you can answer these questions with a yes, you are on your way to adulting in a healthy way.

  1. Do you Do without being asked?

My kids have chores. It’s a constant uphill battle to get dishes put away, the table cleared and the carpets vacuumed. They will do them. One now does without being asked. The other fights it Every. Single. Day.

I remember once trying to do an exercise with my staff around this idea. I asked them to look around the room and tell me what they sae. Confused, they mentioned the obvious: large furniture items, the lights, simple things. None of them mentioned the little pieces of paper I saw on the floor that needs to be picked up, the carpet that was askew, and a whole list of things I saw that needed to be done to make the room ready to receive guests. Admittedly, I had not prepared them for the task, so the results were not what they might have been.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of immaturity. Having to be told how to help constantly is. The mature see and do without being asked.

  1. Do you act in the face of injustice?

Dar Es Salaam Tanzania used to have this great little ice cream shop at a place called the Slipway. Lines were always long. One day, my wife was calmly standing in line behind a number of African ladies, when a woman from another ethnicity that sometimes looks down on locals, arrogantly cut in line. The African ladies were used to this, but my wife was having none of it. Posting on facebook, wearing a shirt, doing a run, those are great. But faced with injustice, my wife let this lady know in no uncertain terms that her arrogance and superior attitude was not acceptable.  When I heard of it, my conflict avoidance personality cringed. The more I think about it, the more proud I am of her. She didn’t post about it on facebook, she confronted the lady. sadly, the store owner didn’t stand with her. The other women in line though, I hope they maybe felt a little more dignity that day.

The mature don’t make excuses for injustice. They act. Racism doesn’t go away with good wishes. Mysogyny, bigotry, and the other ills of society must be engaged and confronted.

  1. Do you do for rewards or do you do from responsibility?

For a brief time, I did this thing called “Daddy Bucks” with my kids. It was a reward system where I paid them for doing tasks I wanted done. Picking up dog poop, vacuuming the stairs. Soon, nothing got done without a request for “Daddy bucks” or the question of “how much will you pay me?” My wife wisely shut the system down.

The mature don’t do things for rewards. They see their responsibility in the greater picture, either of a family, towards society, or many other different areas. And they respond. Rewards are nice but not necessary. No one would work for no money, so don’t take this the wrong way. (Work without reward is slavery and that’s evil.) But helping with chores around the house is not work, it’s part of being in a family.

Maturity receives generosity without shame

This what what my grandfather received for serving, for being injured in WWII. He did not do it for the reward.

My grandfather fought in WWII. My father has his flag in his office, a reminder of the lifelong cost he paid when he was injured by a landmine. The soldiers who went and died, fought not because they would be rewarded but because they felt a responsibility to their nation and to the future of their children. The mature respond out of responsibility, not rewards.

  1. Do you pay, or look for others to pay?

In 2004, I served under a friend at a University work in Nairobi Kenya. Several years later, I spent a little time in town. One of the young men who worked for the organization, making a starting salary, asked if he could take me to breakfast. We sat at Java house beside the United Nations complex and talked about life. To my surprise, Eric insisted on paying. At that point, I knew Eric was going to do well in life. He valued our time together enough to pay.

I love buying breakfast or lunch for young people and investing in them. That’s not my point. The point is that some things are worth investing your money into. 

maturity engages generosity as well as responsibility. 

I know 40 year olds who try to angle to get their parents to pay for small stuff. Listen, I’m as cheap as the next guy, but when I can, I want to pay. Maybe it’s a pride thing.

I have to say this too. I’ve had many seasons in life where I couldn’t pay and others did for me. Once, a friend paid for my broken transmission. Another time, a friend paid for my fishing trip. I’ve had more than one vehicle given to me over the years by generous friends. Needing help is not a reason to feel shame. Maturity receives generosity without shame. Maturity also engages generosity and responsibility.

That’s my quick list. What are some of the things you see as true signs of Healthy Adulting?

46 lessons I learned this past year

This blog started with 40 life lessons I learned before the age of 40. Those blogs became the basis for the book.

Yearly, I spend some time reflecting on lessons learned. Some of these are obvious, others may require explanation. A few are derivatives from other leadership lessons.  And because we need graphics, i’ve thrown in some animal pictures to enjoy.

But without further explanation, here they are.

1 Accept people as they are, not as they were.

2 Empathy is not feeling what someone else feels but being with a friend and allowing them to feel deeply while remaining completely present in the moment.

3 The attitudes we pick up accidentally are frequently the most destructive. We took the wrong lesson away from the experience.

4 Memory is a malleable putty, shaped by access and our attitude when accessing it.

Taking a break by Charles Porter on 500px.com

5 “Stuck” is another way of describing trauma.

6 Growth is disjointed. My daughters physical growth has been explosive, her emotional growth- steady. Don’t expect consistent growth in all areas.

7 God answers specific of prayers. I asked for a specific kind of car and I ask for a certain person to come pray for me. Both happened and were clear answers to prayer.

8 People who say “I just can’t do this anymore“ usually figure out a way to.

9 Having multi generational friendships is sweet.

10 I used to not know what I did not know. I’m increasingly realizing I don’t know what I do know that’s useful to others. Investing in others is figuring out what you do know and transferring that knowledge.

11 Self disclosure does not equal trust.

12 Grace is the balm that prevents the infection of unforgiveness.

13 Adults need to ask others to be their friend. If it works in preschool, it works in your 40s.

14 Tell your friends that you love them.

15 Tell your friends you’re proud of them.

16 Codependency only requires one person.

17 Being the dumbest person in the room should be a rich learning experience, not an intimidating one. 

18. Being the smartest person in the room (consistently) is dangerous to the soul and the path the arrogance.

19 Lose weight. Find it again. Lose it again. Important thing is to not give up.

20 Invest in your future, not your fears.

21 The first story is rarely the whole story.

Lion straight on by Charles Porter on 500px.com

22 Don’t see the silver lining in the clouds. Ignore the clouds and see silver in the sky.

23 If you’re losing it might not be you. It might be how you were playing the game.

24 Even a 15-year-old referee has the power to issue a technical foul.

25 If “you fail, try, try and try again” is bad advice. If you fail “train, train, then try again.

26 Anticipating negative dynamics can often diffuse them.

27 Confidence comes from competence, (not false verbal affirmations.)

28 If anonymity your problem, humility is your answer.

29 influence is the new drug of society.

30 Excellence without maintenance fails.

31 Forgiveness only requires one person. Reconciliation requires two people, a process, and evidence of change.

32 If you want people to remember what you say write a song. If you want them remember what you did, kill Giants.

33 Our greatest moments are connections with mystery not solutions. Data is interesting, mystery is enlivening.

34 Crowd source wisdom for simple solutions. Data mine Elders for deep complex problems.

35 To preserve your legacy, insure the future, don’t enshrine the past.

36 Leaders don’t say “yeah I know.”  They say “tell me more.”

37 Ask for help. You might be amazed by those who feel honored to be asked.

38 Memories are not accurate mental records of our experiences. Memories are emotional pictures heavily filtered through interpretations of our experiences.

39 If you can’t figure out what to do, think back to last time you knew with certainty what to do, then start doing that again.

40 No one is too old for encouragement and affirmation.

41 The distance between who you are and what you say is your integrity gap. Closing that gap is the leader’s most important task.

42 Success does not cure insecurity.

43 A failure in one area of life doesn’t mean a teaching in another is wrong.

44 Anxiety is rooted in a lack of trust.

45 Learn what awful-izing is. Then don’t do it.

46 I didn’t think losing my hair would bother me. It does. 🙂

If you enjoyed these, as always the highest compliment to an author is to share with someone else.

The unseen partner of break through leaders

The Point of the Spear. The place of change. Leadership and the market loves change makers. The disrupters. Those who see the sea change and anticipate the new direction. Looking past the surface success of these “Point of Attack” leadership, often you will find a strange duality between the Spear Leader and the Shield leader. These come in pairs.  (yeah, for Star Wars fans, I hear the quote in my head)

Leadership needs both Spear and Shield

In 2008 we launched an experiment in Dar es Salaam. Could we do church differently in Africa? Could we take a hodgepodge of the best practices emerging in high impact churches in urban areas around the world, introduce them to Dar Es Salaam, while maximizing the local creativity and genius?

The answer was yes, we could. “The Ocean” grew rapidly, for so many reasons. We embraced creativity. We did a fashion show. Young people wrote theater. We took a tea/coffee break in the middle of our service. We did away with “title fixation” for those in leadership. Racial, cultural and financial divisions were minimized and a beautiful multi-cultural, culture-creating community of faith in Jesus emerged.  Many amazing people have been of the Ocean’s story.

That’s the official story. That story is true. The story doesn’t sum up the hours of volunteer labor, the stress, the failures, and the 3 deaths and no attendance of the first year. We were the point of the spear in attempting something new. It was exhilarating and fun, and to this day, those years were the highlight of my professional life.

The story that is less known is the backside. Anytime creators begin, detractors emerge. A large part of the success of the Ocean sits in the lap of an unexpected ally. Magnus Mhiche was the assistant General Superintendent and my direct report in the church structure during those years. We met once yearly and I gave a report of what we were doing.  He never tried to change or altar what we were doing.

What I learned later was that we had more detractors than I perhaps imagined. Rumors about me, and about the new thing we were doing, swirled in church circles. At that time, I didn’t realize why these never came my way. If you’ve ever done something different, you know how much energy can be sucked out of your efforts by having to deal with attacks, many of them from friendly fire.

Magnus was the shield to our spear. He was never going to go the direction of the Ocean. A great leader, he understood that his core people would not connect with our new style of ministry. He himself had served as the Point of the Spear in leading the Tanzania Assemblies of God  into a different understanding of reaching out to unreached areas of Tanzania.

In my life and the life of the Ocean, Magnus shifted from a spear to a shield. He shielded us. He provided the covering for us to innovate and create and be crazy. I am sure he heard it more than once from a pastor who heard a skewed report of something crazy we had done.

Leadership credit is often given to the Spear. Those who innovate and change the conversation are made famous. My sense is though, that for every spear that remained effective, there was an older, wiser leader who provided the shield, the covering, for that new endeavor. Many spears have shattered on the wall of traditional and protectionism.

If you are a spear, understand this….

Holding my metaphor here, as the spearhead for a new kind of ministry outreach in urban Dar es Salaam, it was imperative that we understood our unique role. Our target was never the traditional church. Our target was never to attack those who had gone before us. Our role was to engage in new, untapped communities with the message we had.

Here are some principles

Spears are focused.

Our focus was urban youth and internationals living in Dar es Salaam. We didn’t have to worry about the broader issues of church governance, engaging with legal entities, endorsing and certifying ministers and ministries. We could be focused on only this one new thing we were attacking.

Spears push forward but have a hard time holding ground.

When not burdened with maintaining a system, even a healthy one, a spear can push forward and not worry too much about the larger picture.  The flip side is that rapid gains can be rapidly lost if structures are not built.

Spears must be sharp.

We had strong opinions. I had strong opinions. I still do. But the nuance that comes with dealing with a bigger picture wasn’t my concern. We created a new culture because we started something new. Most leaders don’t work in the culture creation space. They work in the culture change or culture protection space.  And a spear must  actually have solutions, not just identify problems.

If you are a spear, be sharp. Be focused. Push forward.  Don’t attack the old, engage the new.

If you are a shield, understand this.

Shields are broader

You may have the desire to innovate and challenge and change, but recognize the value in the broader scope of the work you do. Protection and coverage is not as celebrated. When was the last time we celebrated a denominational structure for building pathways  for people to be trained in ministry?  Shield Leaders are the mature women and men who know that the influence they have built up over years is now strategic leverage to accomplish change that they themselves can not and do not want to undertake.

Shields are heavier

The weight of leadership for those who cover others is heavy. You have to understand more, carry more, bear more. There is a burden to the privilege that comes with leadership.  Your decisions, what you cover and what you expose has much larger repercussions.

Shields bear the brunt of most attacks

The weight of leadership is having a bigger picture that many times others don’t see and can’t see. I had several situations where I knew things that others didn’t know, and couldn’t know to maintain our integrity in dealing with conflict. Because of that broader knowledge, Shield leaves will have to make decisions that are unpopular. In one specific situation, I was criticized by people who used to be key leaders in our space. I had information they did not have access to and for the sake of integrity, I could not give them.

Shields secure territory

Whether it’s a wall or a smaller shield, gains need to be shielded. Systems and processes and structures that seem onerous to the spear secure gains.

C M Ward, an old US radio preacher, was quoted as saying “We have too many singers who want to be preachers, and too many preachers who want to be singers.”

In leadership, we could say we have too many shields who want to be spears (and think they are) and too may spears who want to be shields.

Understand your role. If you are a spear, but under authority. Stay under cover. Understand the benefit of lazer focus and limited scope of responsibility.

If you are a shield, understand that the most painful blows you receive will often be from those you feel are friendlies. If you protect a spear, it will come at a cost.  Be ok with being a Shield.

Thanks to the shield work of Magnus Mhiche, there is a dynamic church in Dar Es Salaam today, years after I turned over the leadership to others more capable than myself. The community is stronger and larger now than ever before.

If you resonate with this Shield and Spear Leadership metaphor, come back tomorrow for a follow up post. And let me know what you think in the comments.

Growing versus grafting

New Years resolutions! New Years failures. The aspiration to change meets the reality of pain.
Welcome to the world of personal growth as an adult.

Nature has much to teach us about growth. Take trees for example.
Now I’m not a horticulturalist. Until recently, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a maple and an Oak leaf. (I do know the Oak trees had a very strange year last year. That’s for the another post.)

But today let’s focus on growth. Trees grow to a certain point. Most trees don’t experience Redwood or Giant Sequoia heights. They reach a place where their trunk can support the weight of the branches. Any addition that point happens outwards. A tree that can no longer support its own weight have branches that fall off during storms.

I’m coming to believe that the issue of personal growth is not one of growing upwards, but growing outwards and making sure that our trunk can support the weight of the fruit that out lives are supposed to produce. Stay with me here…

What if we all have a natural place, a comfort level if you will, where our upwards growth stops. We want to be Redwoods but we’re only Maples.

My question is “what’s wrong with a Maple Tree?”

Where would we get maple syrup? Where would we get the beautiful colors of fall without the contribution of the Maple tree.

And the challenge faced by most Maples (yes, I know I’m stretching my metaphor, but hold with me just a leaf drop longer) is that all the conferences, all the trainings, all the aspirational literature is not to find your comfort place where you are most productive, but to keep growing like a Redwood. Do you see the problem?

I do. and I’m working on that this year. Be me. I’m a tumbleweed. That’s my favorite bush or tree. What about you? Tired of trying to be a Redwood?

What is your space?

If you can’t grow, maybe you need to graft.

Grafting in the plant world is when a branch is taken fro another place and sliced into an existing tree. The new branch brings new DNA, new life, and new vigor. The old stems hold the foundation and the strength.

As you consider your growth pattern this year, maybe you need to stop trying to grow and start looking at grafting into your life some new.

New experiences.

New people.

New skills.

Not to enable you to grow into something you are not, but rather, to inject fresh life into what you already are.

 

 

Please stop empowering Africans. And pretty much every else as well.

Lets have a conversation about power. Who has it and who doesn’t?

 as long as I’m the one giving away the power, the power actually still is mine.

Empowerment as a concept is so ingrained in the leadership literature that to dare question is to invite scorn and reprisal.

But first a story.

As the leader of a multinational church in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I was privileged to work with brilliant people from all over the globe on a daily basis.

And then it happened. A problem was brought to my attention.

“The Tanzanians are saying that the Kenyans are getting favorable treatment in regards to leadership positions. You need to raise up the Tanzanians.”

This kind of accusation had the potential to undermine all the effort we had put into creating this amazing community. This was emotional, hitting at some of my deep fears, of being a white man leading a church made of predominantly of Africans. And certainly, an extremely diverse group. My gut told me to jump in with typical empowerment language in leadership.

“What can we do?”

“How can we empower more Tanzanians in leadership?”

Here’s the accidental solution that forever turned the conversation in our community. My response?

“How can I raise up someone who is my equal?”

The eyes around the room woke up. The dynamic in the room immediately changed. The conversation moved from accusations of ethnic favoritism to solution based ideas about why more Kenyans were finding our leadership paths than Tanzanians. Partnership, not power differentials.

How can I raise up my equal?

The language of empowerment is based on upon one dangerous subtle problem with empowerment. Empowerment is based on power differentials. Someone who has more power gives some of that power to someone who has less of it. That’s empowerment.Think Nuclear generator gives power to substation, gives power to transformer, gives power to your house, gives power to your cell phone. Where does the power truly come from? The battery on your phone? No, it comes from the reactor, dolling out bits and pieces of its power to dependent devices. 

 Partners all bring their power to the table. 

But the Tanzanians I knew were powerful people. In our community, they were often more educated than me. Engineers and MBAs, statesmen and women, and UN representatives. Lawyers and Doctors and lecturers populated our community. But entrepreneurs and street survival PhDs as well. To make it in the dense urban jungle of Dar es Salaam, you had to be powerful.

By abandoning the language of empowerment, with myself as the one in power, to be given to those “under” me, I accidentally stumbled on the greatest leadership lesson I know. We were PARTNERS in this venture to create a new kind of community. And partners all bring their power to the table.

The language of partnership is one of equals coming to a common table. Sure, there are junior partners and senior partners at times, but the power dynamics and differentials take on an entirely different dynamic through this lens.  We don’t empower women and people of various ethnicities because as long as I’m the one giving away the power, the power actually still is mine. But when we partner together, as equals working towards a common goal, I don’t have to minimize myself to help others succeed. And they don’t have to bring a subservient mindset to the table because they received this gift of “power” from me.

To my community, I brought my creativity and positivity. I brought technical skills and years of living internationally. I brought my full self.  To our partnership, my Tanzanians friends brought insight, and funds, and education and knowledge that I didn’t have. My Kenyan friends, my Zambian and Dutch and British friends brought their uniqueness and insight and beauty and genius. Together, as equals, we worked towards a common goal.  As partners.

Empowerment then comes in the form of junior members of the team being given opportunity. Those less experienced in leadership were shown pathways that allowed for the learning and growing that needs to happen for all of us.  True leaders recognize the dignity and power pre-existing, and simply partner with partners to see growth and development.

Because here’s the thing. The Africans and internationals I served empowered me. They gave me their love and care and attention and friendship and loyalty. As a leader, what greater gift can you receive?

Unintended Consequences: There’s an app for that

Unintended consequences: There’s no app for that.

In the smartphone, uber connected world in which we live, every problem can seemingly be solved by an app.

Don’t do accounting? No worries, there’s an app for that.

Don’t do scheduling? No problem. There’s an app for that.

Apps for staying in touch with family and friends that aren’t facebook? Check.

Apps for solving complex math problems? Check.

Apps to entertain 2 year olds: check.

And now with voice activation, Alexa and Siri will take care of all that with your voice.

Apps for introverts wanting to meet introverts but afraid to come out and play? Don’t know, but I’m assuming ithey’re out there.

And while these apps are wonderful and useful, something subtle is happening to us. We no longer know how to solve problems. The Handyman is gone. The struggle is gone. The guy or gal who knows how to do a little of everything. The biggest problem of this is that when we solve all our problems with apps, we are stuck in an increasingly deeper rut of “one solution”: There’s an app for that. But we never know the satisfaction of having to struggle through and overcome our problems. Because someone already solved that problem. There’s an app for that.

And yet loneliness is increasing. Depression is increasing. Anger and outrage are all over the place. More information, less knowledge.  There’s no app for that. Some research even strongly connects “that” with the apps.

 Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Because it’s the PROCESS that grounds the learning. The PROCESS that moves growth. The Process that takes learning in one area and applies it in another. A process that must people. Someone wrote that app. Someone had that problem that was solved by that all.

Sure, there’s an app for that.But

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

You can learn a language using an app. But you can only speak a language by interacting with another person.

You can learn music on youtube, but you can only enchant by playing music. By yourself in your room, or better yet, for an audience who loves you.

You can find a date online, but you go on a date with a person.

You can find a house online, but you only find a home by personally being present.

I’m always on the lookout for easier ways to do things. Maybe, just maybe though, sometimes the easy way out isn’t the best way, and the hard way is more fulfilling and personally satisfying.

Leadership and the rubber band effect.

On any desired leadership traits questionnaire, invariably those being lead want their leaders to be flexible. Adaptable.

And while I agree 100% with this desire, there is a current reality faced by most leaders that is destroying flexibility.

Demands on leaders across the board have increased. Do more with less. Stretch yourself. Live in the tension.

Rubber bands are perhaps the perfect example of flexibility. The strange circular strings can adapt their shape to the need. They can grow and then shrink back on demand. Except…

Except when you put a rubber band under constant tension for an extended amount to time.  Then we all know what happens. They lose their flexibility and easily break. Extended seasons of tension take the flexibility, take advantage of it, and you end up with something that is certainly not as durable as other forms of string, and very often far more fragile.

The Ancient Jewish system of Sabbath became an abused religious duty. Yet the understanding behind it is light years away from the greatest leaders of yesterday and today.

Sabbath was rest. Not because life didn’t go 24/7 then. Nomadic herdsmen with thousands of cattle and sheep to look after. Tents that needed repairing. Food that must be prepared daily. Because of limited storage, you are one harvest away from starvation. Raiders, invaders, being called up to fight in the army at any time. Life certainly had constant tensions.  A day off made no sense, unless it makes complete sense.

The idea was that once a week, the tension comes off. There is an acceptance that “today, I can’t do anything to change my situation. Today, I must let it go and rest.” Sabbath was a forced rest. Jesus called it a gift to mankind.

No one can be under constant pressure forever and not lose flexibility. If you find yourself not able to bounce back, not able to be flexible, perhaps ask yourself these questions.

  1. Where is the constant pressure in my life?
  2. Have a stretched myself too thin?
  3. Do I believe the myth that “If I don’t, no one will?”
  4. Am I afraid of losing control?

Leave a comment on Facebook or twitter.

 

Stop offering to help others..

 

Because you know you can’t, and if they call, you gotta answer.

NBC has this new medical drama called New Amsterdam.

Based loosely on a true story, the hero is a doctor who wants to get the hospital back to caring about patients. Multiple times per show, Dr. Max will ask someone “how can I help?”

This line, “how can I help?” is a common leadership teaching. But like so many leadership maxims before, nuance is key to credibility.  Because Max is offering to help everyone, while he is losing his marriage and can’t tell his wife that he has cancer.  The tale is classic, the driven male ego face to face with losing his family. At work, he’s this great guy. With his family, not so much. He can’t give his wife and unborn child the help they need because he is so busy helping other. The viewer can’t help but see this contradiction.

The idea of “How can I help?” is essentially the heart of leadership. Servant Leadership, as defined by GreenLeaf, is ““The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…” (Greenleaf, 1970)

Servant leaders want to help so they offer to help. The genuine desire is not for influence or power, but a desire to help. To Serve. Here is where the problem begins.

I worked for a leader once who often used this kind of terminology. One day, I called in the offered help. I felt I needed help. But her perspective on my request was that I would have to figure it out myself. And I did.

A couple weeks later, I tried again. Again the same response. And at this point, a trust barrier was put into place. The refusal was well within her role as my supervisor. I could, and did again manage the task by myself. My take away though was that my leader had been well coached in leadership parlance, but that the truth was “how can I help if I think you need help? How can I help if it doesn’t interfere with my plans and goals.

The sentiment may be true but critically, the offer of help must be legitimate, not just a leadership gimmick. Even if you as the leader don’t always agree. Coaching can come later.

Both requests for help were not end of the world requests. At the time though, there was considerable emotion attached to the request. Both tasks I managed to figure out an alternative way. The experiences grew my independence as a leader. And honestly, at other times, she was a helpful leader. My concern for those who want to lead is this.

Offer what you can genuinely contribute. If you can’t help, don’t offer a blanket statement . I have a feeling Dr. Max is going to run into problems with hiring more nurses and not having the budget to do so.

Maybe …

“If I could help, what would it look like?”