Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Truth or Consequences?

08 Dec

Do you remember the television show Truth or Consequences? On the show, people had to answer an off-the-wall question that no one would be able to answer correctly (or respond to a bad joke), and had about two seconds to do so before Beulah the Buzzer was sounded. If the contestant could not complete the truth portion, there would be consequences, usually involving having to do a zany or embarrassing stunt.

We deal with this issue every day . . . speak truth (or not) and encore the consequences. It would seem obvious that if we speak truth, people will respond with appreciation and, if change is needed, respond appropriately. Conversely, if we speak something that is not truth, there should be accompanying negative consequences.

However, have you ever said something that was truth and had the receivers just ignore you? How about having truth rejected? Then there are those who know what has been spoken is truth but reject you and are ready to do whatever it takes to remove you from the equation.

There are typically four responses we receive when we speak truth to others. People:

  • accept truth,
  • ignore truth,
  • reject truth, or
  • want to kill the messenger.

 

I wonder if how we speak would help the situation? The authors of Crucial Conversations contend we can navigate through most conversations effectively if we have certain skills.

Is this possible?

Jesus knew how to communicate truth in every situation yet he was ignored, rejected, and eventually killed for speaking truth.

The prophet Jeremiah faced a similar situation. Before he turned twenty years old he was called by God to speak truth to a nation. For almost fifty years he warned the people to turn from their evil ways, yet he watches as they reject truth and the result is destruction – the people of Israel are sent into exile at the hands of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah lamented over a dying nation. His call to prophetic ministry was a lonely life. Not only was he called to remain unmarried, both he and his message to his nation were rejected . . . no positive response, no change in the lives of the people.

Although he kept professing (truth) and giving warnings, his message was disdained – right up to the time the nation went into exile. The men of the nation, including prophets and priests, went about committing vile acts . . . trooping to the house of prostitutes and even lusting after their neighbor’s wife, rejecting the warnings of Jeremiah.

When challenged by God to find one man who lived justly (so he could spare the nation), Jeremiah found no one. And, even though the prophets and priests knew all the right things to say, their lives were far from godly and truth was not in them.

Isn’t it interesting how one can use the right clichés and still be a liar? These were the habits of the priests and prophets.

From the least to the greatest, the people of Israel were greedy for gain. They would go about saying ‘peace . . . peace,’ but there was no peace. They came out with reassuring remarks but they were not true. And, when Jeremiah confronted them with truth, they wanted to kill him.

Yet the day Babylon conquered Judah, and while the king was watching his sons being killed, do you think he remembered the words of Jeremiah? After they gouged out his eyes and led him into captivity, do you think he remember Jeremiah’s warnings? While the people were being carried off into exile, do you think they reflected on what Jeremiah said for almost five decades?

WARNING: if you stand for truth, you will be the object of scorn.

Remarkable what people do when faced with truth. If you are the truth teller, you will be viewed as the weirdo on the team, the prophet of doom, the one who won’t get in step. You will be ridiculed and called names. Those who do not want to hear the truth will do all they can to discredit you, even try to permanently ‘shut you up.’

Are we any different today? We believe we can spend what we do not have and escape the consequences of bankruptcy. We believe we can live in debauchery and not reap the consequences in our families and our own bodies. We believe we can remove truth from our schools, our government, our churches, and our lives and not reap the consequences of a society that has lost its moral compass.

 

Truth or Consequences?

 

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The HARD Questions

09 Jun

Yes, there are ‘hard questions’ we prefer to avoid. In fact, if we are in a position of leadership, being asked these by ‘subordinates’ can illicit all types of emotions; anger, fear, even envy. It doesn’t matter whether we are ‘the lead’ pastor, CEO, or serve in any other leadership or management capacity. We just get uncomfortable with questions we prefer to avoid.

The elephant-in-the-room syndrome is often too prevalent and we would just as soon be in charge.

So, here are a couple you may be avoiding – certainly not an exhaustive list:

  • When was the last time someone in your organization was rewarded for raising difficult questions about the organization’s current policies rather than for just solving urgent problems?
  • When was the last time someone challenged your leadership and/or management decisions and was not regaled – either privately or publicly – for challenging ‘your authority?’

W. Edwards Deming, quality management guru, said (and I will take liberties and expand his quote), Our prevailing system of management (and leadership) has destroyed our people, largely by squashing their curiosity and joy of learning (and opportunity to actively engage in the processes of decision-making).

Is it time to foster a healthier dynamic within organizations that engage all members in the process of systems thinking? Or, are we retisent in our ways and only concerned with measuring compliance, outcomes, which can foster unhealthy competitiveness and distrust?

Please do not think I am pointing fingers here. I purposefully use the pronoun ‘we’ because I must include myself in this mix. I must ask myself how I respond when being challenged about my leadership approaches and decisions.

So . . . what would you suggest? How do you respond when confronted with questions that make you ‘uncomfortable?’

 

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Leadership Model for the 21st Century

23 Jun

Authentic Transformational Servant Leadership

You may be asking yourself . . . “What is this? I’ve heard of transformational leadership and I’ve heard of servant leadership; but what is this, a combination of both? And, why?”

Let’s start from the beginning and try to make sense of this . . .

As you have been navigating through the theories and styles of leadership, you have learned that the Servant Leadership style was re-introduced by Robert Greenleaf in the mid-1970s and the Transformational Leadership style introduced in the mid-1980s. Both have similar attributes but there are some emphases that require closer attention and review.

Greenleaf’s re-introduction began a resurgence of interest and debate of the applicability of the notion that the leader also serves from a servant perspective. Furthermore, the attributes of the servant leader are specific, not-negotiable, and integral to this model, subsequently enabling the leader to empower followers through the leader’s service to them. Again, this service to followers is not out of a sense of obligation, but out of a sense of leadership.

The leadership model I developed and introduced, takes the attributes of a servant leader and combines them with those of a transformational leader. There are some critical differences, however, that are necessary for this century’s faced-paced, ever-changing environment which dramatically affect organizational dynamics.

Below is the model of authentic transformational servant leadership. In addition to the pillars necessary for servant leadership (leader’s agapao, humility, altruism, vision, and trust), inherent in this model is the necessity of authenticity (as opposed to being pseudo-transformational – change for self-aggrandizement or to serve self), a strong foundation of ethics/morals (implied in the servant leadership model), and a shift in the emphasis on vision. Furthermore, since a transformational leader is, by definition, an agent of change, this component is incorporated as an outflow – along with service.

ATranServLdrship

Let me explain this further . . .

In the servant leadership model, vision relates to the vision of the followers; the servant leader is more concerned with enabling the follower to achieve his or her personal vision than for the organization to achieve its vision/goal. In the authentic transformational servant leadership model, although the attributes of the servant leader are readily apparent (and critical), the leader – through a foundation of humility, authenticity, altruism, and ethics/morals – engenders trust with positive influence. He or she then helps followers achieve personal vision as they embrace the organization’s vision, thus adopting it as part of their own personal goal. Through empowerment, followers are compelled to be transformed in their hearts and minds and thus serve in a manner that enables them to accomplish more than they believed they could previously. Service refers not only to the leader’s position in relationship to the followers but the posture followers take within the organization in response to the leader’s example.

It is essential to reiterate that, by definition, a transformational leader is an agent of change. Inherent in this model is the necessity to proactively anticipate uncertainty and prepare the organization for change. Because of the volatility of change being experienced in today’s world and the anticipation it will only escalate in the future, leaders must constantly gather feedback and other internal and external information, re-evaluate current and future positioning, adjust the organization’s vision and goals, and ensure their authentic transformational servant leadership behavior is consistent.

 

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Leadership and Trust

01 May

Central to the discourse regarding leadership is the idea that whether or not we trust God depends on our unstable 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.

Stop for a moment and re-read the last sentence.

This issue of trust is paramount; it demands responsibility from truly authentic 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 at all.

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. Leadership authors Bennis and Nanus discovered that “when leaders establish trust in an organization, it gave the organization a sense of integrity analogous to a healthy identity.” This in an interesting dynamic we must embrace.

Do not treat this lightly. If we cannot be trusted – if we fail to walk with integrity and character and trustworthiness – the very message we proclaim will be rejected or made suspect because of our failure to live what we espouse.

 

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Follow the Leader

14 Feb

When I was a kid, my friends and I would periodically play Follow the Leader. One person would get out front and lead the rest through a number of tasks and those following would attempt to mimic exactly what he or she was doing.

This is an example of true leadership!

Leaders lead by example, not by telling others what to do. If you are following someone who is unwilling to be out in front leading the way, find another leader.

 

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Sprinklerhead Leadership

11 Feb

A number of years ago, my son and I installed a lawn irrigation system. When I brought the rough sketch to the company who was helping design the system, they provided us a completed blueprint and a caution; “Make sure the sprinklers’ reach overlap so water gets distributed where each sprinkler head is located. If you don’t, the grass closest to the water source will die.”

Because of the way most sprinkler heads are designed, it distributes water out from itself but does not water the lawn a few feet around its location.

Leaders are like this sometimes. We provide support, encouragement, guidance, empathy, etc. to those at arm’s length but fail to extend this to those closest to us. The persons down the hall or in the next building may perceive us as a ‘great leader’ while those on our own team feel abandoned.

This behavior is both disingenuous and deceptive; certainly not behavior indicative of a great leader . . . or even a good leader for that matter. It breeds discontent. It destroys relationships; it destroys teams; it destroys organizations.

Consider the attributes you exhibit. Are they attributes of honesty, trust, humility, and encouragement . . . even agapao love? Are they directed towards those closest to you?

 

 

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Change and its Impact on the Workforce

11 Apr

We recognize that the 21st Century is characterized by rapid change and continual uncertainty. As such, what we are experiencing, and are yet to experience, continues to impact the dynamics in the global labor market and the nature and skills required of employees. This on-going real-life scenario is causing both instability and opportunity.

While many labor trends have been stable for long periods of time, the further we move into this century, the greater the change we see occurring. Shaping Tomorrow identifies six major trends they believe will have the greatest impact on every organization, regardless of size, location, or industry in the coming years.

  1. Globalization of the workforce along with changes in the global labor market; no longer is it a foregone conclusion jobs should be moved to developing economies to gain cost advantages.
  2. The demand for skilled labor has been increasing at the same time as large pools of unskilled labor look for work. Increasingly, we see rising rates of unemployment at the same time employers report the inability to fill positions.
  3. Generational and cultural diversity in the workforce is increasing, creating challenges for organizations, management, and individuals.
  4. Job insecurity and high demand for skilled labor are changing the employer/worker relationship and resulting in changing attitudes and values about the nature of work for many.
  5. The demand for skilled labor is increasing faster than the supply of skilled labor is growing, indicating future skills shortages.
  6. Coordinated efforts between government and industry could positively impact the future workforce.

 

They further state that the ability of an organization to understand the long-term trends impacting it is “one of the keys to reducing uncertainty and helping create robust strategies and resilient organizations.”

As leaders, ensuring our organizations have the best-qualified workers available may be the most critical challenge we face. The rapid increase of an under-qualified and/or unqualified labor force may cripple the on-going sustainability of our organizations.

We must reconsider and change our current strategies used for long-term planning. The discipline of strategic foresight (projecting out 20, 30, 40 years or more) must be used to help us improve the quality of strategic thinking and bring new insight into the current planning and budgeting processes. Understanding the future impact of current trends (small or great) that have long-term impact and monitoring the indicators is critical to the process of planning an optimal future.

For workers, opportunity abounds (review trends 2 and 5 above). However, attaining the specific skills associated with the needs of the future is paramount. This includes completing an undergraduate degree from an accredited university/college, as this is rapidly becoming a base requirement for first-level consideration with many perspective employers. Yes, there will always be work for those without a degree, but the opportunity for economic stability and advancement will become increasingly narrow.

Although uncertainty and change have always been part of the human existence, the intensity and speed now being experienced is unmatched. How we respond is critical. Strategic preparation and continued adaptation, not fear, will enable individuals and organizations to survive and succeed in the years to come.

 

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Dealing with Uncertainty

14 Mar

(Portions of the following are taken from the book For the Sake of the House . . .)

The United States is heading rapidly towards the ‘fiscal cliff,’ as our deficit and un-balanced federal budget continue unchecked. As a result of this and the influence of individuals who are opposed to religious organizations, there is increased talk about eliminating the tax-free status of religious organizations and other non-profit charitable organizations, and removing the charitable giving deduction  for individuals who contribute to these organizations. The impact on federal revenue is estimated to be over $74 billion. The impact on these non-profit organizations and those they serve is uncalculable.

The questions: If this occurs, have we considered how this will affect local congregations? How we gather? How we support facilities? How we support vocational ministers? Will people still give if the charitable deduction is removed?

How do we prepare if this happens? Are there disciplines, resources, and/or tools available to help us strategize for a preferred future?

In 2008, a colleague and I presented a futures scenario (strategic foresight) workshop for a local church congregation. In futures studies and scenario planning, an event is used as a change agent to consider how the organization’s future could be impacted and what strategies must be put into place now to prepare for a preferred future. The change event we presented: the government eliminates the tax-free status of religious organization (including the charitable donation deduction). Remember, this is in 2008, before all the rhetoric about eliminating the charitable giving deduction.

This discipline is not looking into a crystal ball or coming up with generalized views of feared or desired futures, or predictions. Scenarios are clear descriptions, or stories, of significant plausible alternative futures. They are specific ‘decision-focused’ views of the future resulting from insightful analysis and predictions. As Ralston and Wilson state, they are “frameworks for structuring leaders’ predictions about alternative future environments in which decisions might be played out.”[1]

Scenario planning has a number of benefits for organizations. It helps develop an integrated approach to thinking about our environment (internal and external), moves us towards a clearer understanding of the dynamics of change we must deal with, and helps us rehearse the future. One additional benefit scenario planning has that is vitally important is that it helps reduce our vulnerability to surprises by helping us to envision a variety of possible futures and think through their implications. This is the element of strategy essential to anticipatory leadership.

Although we cannot know what this century will mean for the Church, we certainly want to intentionally engage in planning and strategizing for a preferred future. This activity will not guarantee events will unfold as planned, God remains sovereign, however, as he directed the leaders of the tribe of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we are to “understand the temper of the times and know (knew) the best course . . . to take.”

Let me break this down with an example from a futures workshop Dr. Stephen Brimmer and I did for a local church. Consider the following:

We know the church has a glorious past. Since its inception, it has been a bastion of faith and hope. It survived immediate intense persecution, the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, the Holy Wars, but still experienced great revival and growth.

However, what about its future . . . what about the 21st century? Will its current institutions and structures still exist in twenty, thirty, or fifty years? Will its large congregations dissolve into smaller groups reminiscent of the apostolic age and meet in homes? Will these congregations go virtual?

Dr. James Canton, a renowned futurist and author, makes an unsettling statement when listing his top ten threats that could kill America’s future. Number one on his list is “religious fundamentalism that is intolerant and restricts personal freedoms.”[2]Does this ‘threat’ include Christians who disagree with certain lifestyles, the taking of innocent human life, or caution against genetic and biometric engineering that alters the human species? If this moves forward and there is a backlash against Christian principles, would we be prepared to alter the way we are structured, the way we worship, associate, and evangelize?

Just imagine for a moment; what if the federal government passed legislation eliminating the tax-free benefit to religious organizations? Would church buildings close because of the tax burden? Would contributions decrease since there is no longer a charitable giving deduction provided? What if youth visually receive the internet feed via their corneas? What would happen to those engaged in the emerging cyber-church? Would the millions Christian pollster and sociologist George Barna predicted would never travel physically to church but instead roam the Internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences,[3] suddenly dissolve into cyberspace?

There are a number of benefits that come from this exercise. They:

    • develop in us an integrated approach to thinking about our environment;
    • move us toward a clearer understanding of the dynamics of change we must deal with; and
    • help us rehearse the future – evaluate the “what ifs.”

An unexpected benefit is that, in the course of making the scenarios (stories), conversations can occur that otherwise would never come up in the everyday life of a congregation. The emergence of these unmentionables allows difficult issues to surface in non-threatening contexts. In essence, the participants understand that the scenarios are fiction, not action plans or visions for the future that any particular group is promoting. What is interesting is that they can have non-fictional outcomes because new possibilities emerge. However, the primary benefit of scenario planning it to reduce our vulnerability to surprises by forcing us to envision a variety of possible futures and thing through their implications.

As illustrated in Figure 6.3, the interrelationships between linear and non-linear systems, which compose

Figure 6.3: Alternative Possible Futures[4]

Uncertaintly

 

 

 

 

 

 

reality, generate uncertainty. Trends and their impacts are crashing into each other at all times and this creates turbulence and change. These are the things we typically are uncomfortable with and try to avoid at all cost. But it also generates never before seen combinations of social impacts, of technologies, of ideas. This collision generates an intersection; a perfect environment for creativity.[5]


[1] Ralston, Bill and Wilson, Ian; The Scenario Planning Handbook: Developing Strategies in Uncertain Times. Crawfordsville, IN; Thompson, 2006, p.16.
[2] Canton, James; The Extreme Future. New York; Dutton, 2006, p.337.

[3] Careaga, Andrew 1999; Embracing the Cyperchurch. Next-wave.org. Accessed at: http://next-wave.org/ Dec99/embracing­_ the_cyperchurch.htm.

[4] Schultz, Wendy L. 2002; Infinite Futures. Accessed at: http://www.infinitefutures.com.

[5] Brimmer, Stephen E. and Raimo, Steve W. 2008; Futures Planning Workshop: LifePoint Church Vancouver WA, Virginia Beach, VA. Regent University, School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship.
 

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Masters and Servants

25 Feb

In 1802, Bowdoin College President Joseph McKeen made this exhortation:

“It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions (colleges/universities) are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be able to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society. If it be true no man should live for himself alone, we may safely assert that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good.”

His belief, and the belief of all educators of that time, was that learned men were both masters and servants of society. All colleges in early nineteenth-century America were committed to social needs rather than to individual preference and self-indulgence. It was not society’s obligation to the students but the students’ obligation to society that took precedence.

As such, as early as the turn of the nineteenth century, masters (or leaders) were exhorted to be servant leaders, though the leadership model was not introduces until much later. Unfortunately, this sense of social obligation was lost to a narcissistic individualism of self-gratification, greed, and pursuit of celebrity.

Not until the 1960’s was this obligation re-birthed during President J.F. Kennedy’s exhortation to Americans when he said, “Ask not what your countrycan do for you but what you can do for your country.” This call ignited youth by the thousands to join service organizations, such as the Peace Corps, in order to bring much needed service to millions.

And, in the mid 1970’s, Robert Greenleaf reintroduced the concept of servant leadership. This birthed the notion that those called to lead are first called to serve. This style/theory of leadership should be expressed at every level of every organization whether situational leadership is employed. Thus, leading by serving requires these attributes: agapao love, humility, altruism, and trust. Service towards others engenders empowerment and an exponential outflow of benefit.

The ideology of the master – worker relationship emulated by most throughout the industrial age (and even today) will never produce the ‘good’ to society that is achieved by leading through service.

 

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Leadership and Fiscal Responsibility

15 Feb

For years, the rhetoric has been flying back and forth in local, state, and federal governments about the excessive tax and spending policies being implemented. Not only has the rhetoric included policies involving the size and influence of ‘government,’ but it has included the irresponsible overspending practices that have resulted in government agencies being billions, if not trillions, of dollars in debt; a result of spending far more money than taxes and other revenues can generate.

We who lead organizations understand this overspending practice will end in the collapse of the organization. For individuals, overspending can result in the loss of personal properties, bankruptcy, and even result in homeless and the loss of family. If the failure is serious enough, criminal charges could be filed and we could end up ‘behind bars.’

Our responsibility is to lead our organization (and families) in a way that enables sustainability (and hopefully growth), positively affects its employees, other stakeholders, and the recipients of our goods and services. This requires a clear continual articulation of a compelling vision, holding the organization to its mission, and keeping the organization fiscally responsible.

Fiscal responsibility? Yes, fiscal responsibility IS a critical component of leadership.

So, how could all this affect you and me? How could this affect the organizations we lead? . . . our local churches? . . . other charitable organizations?

In 2008, I led a strategic foresight presentation for a local church congregation. The major change event presented to the leadership group was this: How will the government’s action of eliminating the charitable giving deduction from federal and state tax returns affect this non-profit? The church’s leaders were asked how this could affect contributions, the dedication to the church’s mission and vision, the ability to maintain the facilities, the ability to pay vocational ministers and supporting staff, the ability to meet as they currently meet?

The exercise was intended to heighten awareness of how change events can positively and negatively affect an organization. It is also intended to help the organization leaders consider strategies needed to ensure a preferred future for the organization.

During the exercise, the congregation leaders considered the serious implications of such a ‘change event’ and what strategies would be necessary to keep the congregation working to achieve its mission and vision. They believed this event was possible but that it would not occur for quite some time, possibly decades, far after they were involved in leading the congregation.

Today, I listened to a report that our federal government is seriously considering eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction. The government’s primary concern seemed to be for the potential $34 billion in additional federal tax revenue this action would generate. It did not appear they were adequately considering the negative affect this action could have on thousands of charitable organizations that are the first point of help for millions of Americans, directly or indirectly.

If such a law passes, how will this affect your church congregation? How will it affect other local charitable organizations that provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and other life-sustaining goods and services to the millions in our country and around the world who receive those goods and services? How will it affect organizations who use these contributions for medical research and treatment?

Will contributions decline? . . . Will they stop all together?

Will your organization loose its current building/s, properties?

Will your organization cease to exist as it currently does or will it cease to exist all together?

 Will the vision and mission of your organization continue?

I believe many organizations who rely on charitable contributions will close. This will not only negatively affect those who work for these organization but will negatively affect the thousands, if not millions, who received benefit from these organization. This will affect medical research and treatment, support for the poor and disenfranchised. The negative impact this will have on individuals, families, and the American society as a whole, will be incalculable.

However, for us who are ‘the Church,’ the organizational structures and designs we currently embrace will indeed be affected. How we organize, how we gather to worship, and how we work to further the mission and vision of Jesus Christ may look different, but IT WILL GO ON!

 

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