Archive for January, 2011

Creative Organizations Through Leadership and Innovation

29 Jan

People around the world have become increasingly perceptive and have been offered much more choice in recent decades.1 Concurrently, we are experiencing unprecedented change, huge uncertainty, unparalleled connectivity, and the birth of the global village, all courtesy of the internet. This fast-moving uncertain environment demands fast-moving creative organizations. The challenge then is towards effective people management – enhancing, releasing, and harnessing their creativity.2

Is creativity important in your organization? Your church? If your answer is yes, and I trust it is, imagine the effects leaders and the design of the organization can have on creativity. And, there are barriers to creativity we have established that need removing to increase the level of creativity and innovation, thus improving our organizational success, its ability to accomplish its mission and vision.

The beginning of a new decade is a great time to look forward with optimism, reflect on the past, and determine what shift is needed in our organizations.3 There are three key issues we will discuss as we address this topic. These key issues are creativity, leadership, and innovation.


Creativity is, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.4 Simply, creativity is about ideas. It can be thinking about familiar issues in a different way or coming up with absolutely new ideas.5 It is also an act of courage because it may require making connections that are, by definition, out of the ordinary and expose the organization to potential ridicule and to above-average levels of risk. Although ridicule is an inherent response we experience because of our Christ-centered message, we may be reluctant to be risk-takers in many areas once we have some “success.”

However, as we review our mission (Matthew 28:19-20) and determine how our message is designed and delivered, creativity must be applied throughout the entire strategy process – beginning with the formulation of the vision. As such, truly creative organizations must break down the barriers that hinder the continuous creative process. Some of these barriers include; organizations that are hierarchical, judgmental, highly prescriptive, risk-averse, poor listeners, controlling, and status conscious.6 Other barriers include  punishing employees for thinking creatively,7 a culture where – right or wrong – the boss is always right,8 and organizational environments where there is a lack of challenge, lack of trust, lack of resources, lack of freedom, and lack of motivation.9

We must recognize that “creativity flourishes when there is a free flow of ideas around the organization; where ideas are valued because of their intrinsic worth, rather than the status of their sponsors; where people are encouraged to connect up their thinking with others . . .”10 As Christ-followers, more than anyone else, we need to foster environments of creativity in our churches and organizations. And, the type of organization most likely to be creative have fewer organizational levels, high leadership trust, an active flow of ideas, effective idea management processes, leaders who challenge, a balanced view of risk-takers, leaders who delegate, and leaders who actively involve others.11 We must foster an environment where ideas can freely flow, recognize all ideas have some merit but realize, and clearly communicate that some are more doable than others.


Leadership is about the ability to lead. It is about creating a shared vision that inspires confidence, creativity, and initiative at the same time that it inspires traditional values of pride and loyalty.12 It is about creating structures, systems, trust, and clarity that inspires people to achieve the organization’s strategy and apply their creativity to the things they do in their work. It is about involving people in planning and implementing actions required to fulfill the organization’s vision. This necessitates inspiring individuals to contribute creatively to the common goal and align their personal values to those of the organization.13 Remember, good ideas can come from anyone, and everyone should have opportunity to participate in activities that engender the creative processes.

Leadership is about building bridges between the work lives and personal lives of people. This interaction reinforces commitment and coherence and strengthens respect and trust.14 This bridge building must be genuine and not a self-serving opportunity for the leader to prompt some secondary gain from the relationship.

Furthermore, leaders need to support risk-taking. Do people bring ideas to you? If they do, it probably means that you are a good listener, among other things. Listening is about suspending judgment long enough to hear the other person’s point of view. It is a key component of creativity and of leadership.15

One of the most significant issues related to leadership is that we need to discover our most natural and appropriate leadership style or styles in order to be effective. (Although this article will not discuss different leadership styles, I encourage you to study them, understand what strengths and weaknesses you have, and learn which styles are most effective for particular situations.) We also need to understand those we lead in order to match an appropriate style of leadership to their needs and that not all leaders can be truly effective in every situation. Let me remind us of the myth of the 60s and 70s that declared, “a good leader can lead any organization effectively.”16


Researchers and practitioners alike have long argued that different situations require different types of leaders,17 and leadership opportunities are available for those with the creativity to conceive, the courage to make changes, and the confidence to involve others.18 However, creativity by itself and leadership by itself is not as important as creativity (and leadership) in combination with innovation. Furthermore, the success of an organization cannot be realized by investing in either creativity or innovation alone. Success (accomplishing its mission and vision) can be realized only by investing in the two together.19

It is critical that we realize we do not live simply in a world of possibilities, those grand creative ideas. Those ideas must be transformed into reality, a service or product. In combination, creativity and innovation are central to effective leadership because together they form a process of generating ideas and possibilities and transforming them into reality. This combination creates the future.20

It has generally been the young and imaginative that tend not to separate these components – leadership, creativity, and innovation. Examples of this in the world of technology are Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, and Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computers. Although each approached the world of computers with vision and passion, they took different paths concerning innovation. Jobs inspired people to develop some of the most iconic hardware and novel software, while Dell saw early on that a direct channel to his customers was the way to go for mass-market computers and inspired his team to constantly improve the company’s operations.

In our area of service, Loren Cunningham founded Youth with a Mission after being rejected by main-line denominations with his idea to engage youth in world mission’s outreach. YWAM now sends teams to more than 1,000 locations in over 149 countries.21 Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, grew the church’s ministry attendance from 6,000 to over 25,000, and leads a ministry that reaches to over 100 nations of the world following.22 And Pat Robertson combined leadership, creativity, and innovation to establish the Christian Broadcasting Network, The 700 Club, Regent University, the American Center for Law and Justice, and other Christian based organizations.23

Some Final Thoughts

I wonder if sometimes we are so entrenched in tradition and routine we forget whose we are. Consider the one who created the universe. None is more creative than God and he has created us in his own image (Gen. 1:26-7).

Our creativity is a gift from the Creator. Our responsibility is to help develop and articulate a clear vision that inspires confidence, creativity, and initiative in others, to remove the barriers to creativity in our organizations, to encourage creativity and the sharing of new ideas, and to enable the transformation of creative ideas into reality through innovation.

Simply stated, life is “trying things to see if they work”24 and “creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”25

End Notes
1Van Gelder, Socco 2005; The New Imperatives for Global Branding: Strategy, Creativity, and Leadership. Brand Management, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 395-404.
2Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41-46.
4, accessed September 2008.
5Van Gelder, Socco 2005; The New Imperatives for Global Branding: Strategy, Creativity, and Leadership. Brand Management, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 395-404.
6Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41-46.
7Lombardo, Richard 1988; Breaking the Barriers to Corporate Creativity. Training & Development Journal, Vol. 42, No. 8, p. 63-66.
8Klein, Arthur R 1990; Organizational Barriers to Creativity and How to Knock them Down. Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 65-66.
9Wadey, Claire 2006; Breaking down creativity barriers. New Zeeland Business, Vol. 20, No.11, p20.
10Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41.
12Walton, Thomas 2006; Leadership, Creativity, Teamwork. Design Management Review, Summer, p. 6-9.
13Van Gelder, Socco 2005; The New Imperatives for Global Branding: Strategy, Creativity, and Leadership. Brand Management, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 395-404.
14Walton, Thomas 2006; Leadership, Creativity, Teamwork. Design Management Review, Summer, p. 6-9.
15Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41.
16Black, Robert Alan 1990; Facts, Creativity, Teamwork and Rules; Understanding Leadership Styles. IM, Sept/Oct, p. 17-21.
17Ollila, Susanne 2000; Creativity and Innovativeness through Reflective Project Leadership. Reflective Project Leadership, Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 195-200.
18Caroselli, Marlene 2000; Leadership Ingredients: Creativity, Courage, and Confidence. OfficePRO, January, p. 20-21.
19Nissley, Nick 2007; Good Leadership Demands a Combination of the Two. Leadership in Action, Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 21-22.
21, accessed September 2008.
22, accessed September 2008.
23, accessed September 2008.
24Bradbury, Ray;, accessed September 2008.
25Fromm, Eric;, accessed September 2008.

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

the success ladder

25 Jan

where success often speaks of prestige, acceptance, and/or additional compensation, the ‘you can be anything you want to be’ mantra often drives us to seek positions or attempt career paths where ‘success’ or ‘competency’ may never be achieved.

unfortunately, even in most organizations, the structure is such that if one wants additional income, ‘status’ or significance, or even more responsibility, we are often forced to reach for much different roles than those that match our talents and abilities. many fall into this trap. although successful in our prior position, we fail in this new ‘sought after’ roles because we did not have the abilities necessary for success.

our talents and abilities may enable us to be a great corporate leader or a motivational speaker who influences millions . . . or . . . they may lead us to be the best ‘ditch-digger’ that ever lived. the role, title, or even the compensation should not be the driving factor. maybe the mantra should actually be ‘you cannot be anything you want to be but you can be the best at who you already are.’


No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Leader-Follower Alignment

24 Jan

Let me tell you a quick story to start us off.

A few thousand years ago, the land of Egypt had a bunch of slaves. In fact, there were over 600,000 men, not including women and children. One day, a guy named Moses, walked into the presence of the Pharaoh and demanded that he, the Pharaoh, release the slaves so they could leave Egypt and find somewhere to live freely. Believe it or not, after some incredible events – that included the death of the Pharaoh’s oldest son – this murderer, shepherd, fugitive, slave-born stepson of Pharaoh’s daughter became the leader of these slaves and one of the most celebrated leaders of all time.

So what enabled this non-descript son-of-a-slave to generate the leader-follower alignment needed to get a nation of well over one-million people released from slavery and get them to follow him to a new home-land?

Before we address this question and apply it today, let me ask, “Is it really that important to have alignment between the leadership and the followers?” And, just as importantly, “Why?”

Let’s start by defining a couple of terms. First, we need to understand alignment. It is a state, condition or position of agreement or cooperation among persons or groups or nations, etc., with a common cause or viewpoint.”

With that term clearly understood, we need to have a definition for a leader. There are a number of definitions used by academes and others to describe leadership, but for our purpose today, we’ll employ the one used by Peter Northouse (2004) from his book Leadership Theory and Practice. He says, “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 3).

First, leadership is a process, which means it is not a trait or characteristic inherent in an individual but a transactional event that occurs between the leader and his/her followers. It implies that the leader affects and is affected by followers. It further emphasizes that leadership is an interactive event; it isn’t a linear, one-way occurrence.

Second, leadership involves influence; without it, leadership does not exist. It is the sine qua non of leadership; it is the main thing.

Third, leadership does not happen in a vacuum; it occurs in groups. This is the context in which leadership takes place and it involves influencing a group of individuals who have a common purpose.

Finally, leadership includes attention to goals – outcome. This simply means leaders focus their energies on directing a group of individuals towards achieving a common task or goal (Northouse, 2004). There must be vision.  Hackett and company (1998) call it the ‘vision thing.’

As the definition states, there is an interaction that occurs between the leaders and the followers that is necessary for accomplishing the goals, the vision of the organization. Without people working with you – the leaders – towards a common purpose, your organization will not accomplish its purposes. As such, you can understand that leadership is clearly a process that is centered on the interactions that take place between leaders and followers.

In leadership study, there is a theory that describes this relationship; it is known as the Leader-Member Exchange Theory. This theory makes the dyadic relationship (simply meaning a relationship between a group of two) between leaders and followers the focal point of the leadership process (Northouse, 2004).

In this theory, the leader forms an individualized, special working relationship with each of his/her subordinates. Besides providing followers the opportunity to take on new roles and responsibilities that enhance the ability of the organization to attain its goals, the leader should nurture high-quality exchanges with the followers. Instead of looking for and focusing on any differences, this model suggests that the leader should look for ways to build trust and respect with all followers, even with those individuals/followers from a different work unit within the organization (Northouse, 2004).

Reading the first four books of the New Testament, we see how Jesus implemented this special dyadic relationship with the Twelve. Although Jesus had many disciples, the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) specifically delineate the difference between Jesus disciples (all who followed his teachings) and the twelve he chose to follow him. For example, Matthew 26:14, Mark 14:43 and Luke 22:47 describe Judas (the one who betrayed Jesus) as one of the Twelve. John, however, in chapter 18, does not make this distinction.

There was clearly a special relationship Jesus intentionally created and worked at maintaining with The Twelve. And, even within these, Jesus formed yet another level of relationship with three – Peter, James and John – as evidenced in Matthew 17 and other instances where Jesus spent specific time with these three. We also see Jesus spending special time with Peter, i.e. during Peter’s denial of Jesus and specifically when Jesus challenged Peter to “feed my sheep . . . feed my lambs” in John 21. Furthermore, we see evidence of this special dyadic relationship resulting in the formation of the first-century Christian church following Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost.

In a study conducted on follower effectiveness, Miller and company (2003) looked at Fiedler’s contingency model and extended the model to include the prediction of follower effectiveness and leader-follower alignment. First, let me explain a little about the contingency model. Fiedler postulated, “Leader effectiveness is determined by the interaction of the leader’s motivational disposition with the situational favorability for leader influence. The model suggest that task-oriented leaders perform more effectively in situations classified as very favorable or very unfavorable, while relations-oriented leaders perform more effectively in situations of moderate favorability” (p. 363).

When Miller and company conducted their research, which again extended Fiedler’s model to include the prediction of follower effectiveness and leader-follower alignment, they concluded, “relations-oriented subordinates will perform better than task-oriented subordinates in situations in which they are either experienced or enjoy good leader-member relations” (p. 363).  This study also confirmed other research that found that the most powerful determinant of situational favorability is leader-member relations. This concept of relationship and alignment between leadership and followership is again emphasized.

Understanding the importance of relationship and alignment between leaders and followers is essential. The necessity of this has been established. How is this accomplished?

Communication, conversation, and dialogue have often been seen as tools for announcing and explaining issues to people and preparing them for eventual change, positive or negative (April, 1999). We tend to use communication as a one-way vehicle for disseminating information to others. Conversation and dialogue, however, allow for the interchange of honest exchanges of thought, ideas, questions and answers. It is during these exchanges that relationships are developed and alignment is reached between leader and follower. There is also a level of trust that is formed – the component vital to successful leadership.

So, back to Moses. Although identified as one of the most celebrated leaders of all time, he had his share of problems; he had to get rid of the army of a persistent Pharaoh, watched his sister be stricken with leprosy for challenging his choice of a wife and his leadership position, watched scores of Israelites die after being bitten by poisonous snakes and by being swallowed up by the earth because of their rebellion, and watched a whole generation die in the wilderness because of their lack of faith and their disobedience.

Did he communicate clearly the goal God set for his people? Yes. Did he have alignment, for the most part? Yes. Did he lead the people to the goal? Yes. Had there been alignment with the followers 100% of the time would the journey have taken less time and the goal attained with less difficulty? Yes. But he did lead the people to the Promised Land!

Remember when you were a kid; did you ever play the game follow the leader (Dalton et. al., 2005)? Your friends and other neighbor kids would all line up toe-to-heal and follow the leader everywhere he/she went; over fences, through bushes, around houses, and through barns and sheds. Everyone had a great time because they all were aligned in their purpose – follow the kid in the front wherever he/she led.

What happened if you were the one in the front of the line and no one followed you? Simply speaking, you weren’t a leader. The same is true in the real life. If a leader has no follows, he really isn’t leading, and thus, isn’t really a leader.

There must be congruent alignment between leaders and followers for the organization to accomplish its purposes. Furthermore, if the leader doesn’t know where he/she is taking the organization, they all will “fall into a pit” as Jesus described in Matthew.

Remember, the most powerful determinant is leader-follower relations and these relations generate leadership-followership alignment. It is this alignment that will enable you and your organization to accomplish its goals.


April, Kurt A. (1999); Leading through Communication, Conversation and Dialogue, The Leadership and Organization Development Journal. Vol. 20, No. 5, pp. 231-241.
Daft, Richard L. Organization Theory and Design, Ninth Edition, Mason; Thomson Corporation, 2007.
Dalton, Catherine M. and Dalton, Dan R. (2005); Corporate Governance: Follow the Leader, Journal of Business Strategy. Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 8-9.
Ford, J.D. and Ford, L.W. (1995); The Role of Conversations in Producing Intentional Change in Organizations, Academy of Management Review. Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 541-570.
Krishnan, Venkat R. (2004); Impact of Transformational Leadership on Followers’ Influence Strategies, The Leadership and Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 58-72.
Miller, R.L., Butler, J. and Cosentino, C.J. (2004); Followership Effectiveness: An Extension of Fiedler’s Contingency Model, The Leadership and Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 362-368.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership Theory and Practice, Third Edition, Thousand Oaks; SAGE Publications, Inc., 2004.
Spinks, Nelda and Wells, Barron 1995; Quality Communication: A Key to Quality Leadership. Training for Quality. Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 14-19.

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.


02 Jan

leaders build trust with their team and the organization. central in this discourse is the idea that whether or not we trust god depends on our untestable faith; however, whether or not we trust human beings and can be trusted depends on our testable beliefs. consequently, trust takes us to the realm of postmodern ethics, which demands from us responsibility for our choices and accountability for all of the consequences of our actions, including the unintended but predictable ones.[1]

STOP . . . i encourage you to re-read the previous sentence. this issue of trust is paramount; it demands responsibility from leaders for choices made and accountability for all the consequences of our actions . . . including the unintended but predictable ones. our actions may have truly been unintended but predictable because of carelessness, unpreparedness, lack of vigilance, etc. whatever the reason, this breach will have devastating consequences. once trust is broken, it may take years for a leader to regain it from his or her followers, if it is ever regained.

for the organization, leaders build trust by clearly articulating direction and then consistently implementing strategies and processes needed even through there may be a high degree of uncertainty concerning the vision. bennis and nanus discovered that, “when leaders established trust in an organization, it gave the organization a sense of integrity analogous to a healthy identity.”[2] this is an interesting dynamic we must embrace.

please do not treat this lightly. if we cannot be trusted, if we fail to walk with integrity and godly character, the very gospel we proclaim will be rejected or made suspect because of our failure to live what we teach.

(from my book titled for the sake of the house)

[1] Strassberg, Barbara A. 2005; Fortieth Anniversary Symposium: science, religion, and secularity in a technological society. Zygon, Vol. 40, No. 2, p. 307-322.
[2] Bennis, Warren G. and Nanus, Burt. Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York, NY, Harper and Row, 1985, p. 48.


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