Three universal leadership principles

I recall having a conversation with a twenty-something leader a few years ago. He had an opinion on almost everything and felt a strong compulsion to express those opinions. I was thinking (and I may have told him but don’t recall) that at such a young age he should be learning and growing and not forming strong opinions on most everything--at least not at his young age.  He should be saying things like, “This is where I am currently standing on such and such an issue, but I am open to hearing other ideas and am also open to the possibility of being wrong.”

Well, suffice it to say, I’m a bit older than twenty-something and am still growing and learning new things all the time. Along the way, I have also learned what I would call "Universal Principles;" and, after years of experience, have come to believe that they are true in most contexts which is why I would call them universal.

Here Are Three That I Am Currently Thinking About:

1. There is a significant difference between being concerned about something and being responsible for it.

Because I am finite, I can only be responsible for so much. However I can have concerns about a lot of things. It takes a lot of wisdom and grace from the Lord to know the difference. Concerns may lead me to pray, but not to act.

2. The cumulative effect of small things over an extended period of time. 

This works in almost any area of life--both positively and negatively. In finances, in eating, in reading and in relationships (with the Lord and others).

3. The needs will almost always exceed the resources.

Number three is closely related to number one.

In my 49 years of vocational Christian ministry, I have never seen this not be true--that the needs will almost always exceed the resources.

There are more needs than there is money, time and people to address those needs. Invariably when you start out trying to meet a need, you will run out of resources before the need is fully and genuinely met.

There are more hurting people than there are resources to help them. There are more leadership positions to fill than there are leaders to fill them.  There are more pressing financial needs than there are finances to meet them. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. For me this means at least two things:

  • Because there is a need doesn’t necessarily mean I am the one to meet it. Oswald Chambers said, “The need is not the call.” Over the years I have come to deeply believe that this is true.
  • I need to pray about the limited finances, time and gifts I have and make wise decisions as to where they are invested.

Saying yes to one set of needs obviously means saying no to other needs. We need to make critical choices in what we say yes and no to. We will never be able to meet all the needs that we are aware of or that come our way, because, the needs will pretty much always exceed the resources…always!

We will want to have increasing clarity as to our purpose, values and vision in order to make such decisions: who are we in Jesus, and what he has called and gifted us to be able to do. We need to be careful, for the good can become the enemy of the best.

Our goal is not to keep everybody happy by saying yes to every request and every needy person, but to be true to our gifts, calling and passion.

My favorite quote in recent months is by Eric Geiger,

"If your goal in life is to keep everybody happy, don't become a leader, sell ice cream."

We will have to get comfortable and not feel guilty in saying no. Saying yes all the time, will soon lead to exhaustion, burnout and even physical illness and then we will be in no shape to meet any legitimate needs.


Learning from Amazon on what NOT to do

Our work pace and work habits are killing us.

What can we learn, or unlearn, from the culture of Amazon. Michael Hyatt teaches us some valuable lessons so we can keep work in balance with everything else in our lives.

Originally posted by Michael Hyatt

I love Amazon, but like many I was disturbed by what I read in the New York Times’ recent exposé. Still, I was actually more disturbed by what came next.

I read defenses of Amazon from entrepreneurs, leaders, tech writers, and others. Some were easy to agree with. It’s a free country, after all. People can work where they want—even high-intensity, always-on companies like Amazon.

That wasn’t the problem.

What bothered me was the widely held assumption that this kind of environment is necessary for profitable, competitive companies—as if entrepreneur were just another word for workaholic. Or that free market is code for kiss nights and weekends goodbye.

Can we just label this what it is? Self-destructive and stupid. I know because I’ve proven it personally.

Winning at Work and Succeeding at Life

Anyone who knows me, reads this blog, or listens to my podcast knows I’ve always been a high-achiever. As an up-and-coming executive, business owner, corporate CEO, solopreneur, I’ve always had big goals.

I’ve also made a lot of sacrifices at the expense of my family and health over the years. I’m convinced the tradeoff wasn’t worth it—not only for my personal life, but also for my professional life.

Now my mission is to help people win at work and succeed at life. What I missed for years, and what Amazon seems to miss right now, is that these goals are only achieved in tandem. If we try doing one at the expense of the other, we eventually fail at both.

Actions Reveal Our Values

The Amazon story jumped out for me because I was planning a strategic retreat for my company to look at the past year and set goals for the next several years. We also planned to review our values.

Two of those values—fast action and consistent growth—would be recognizable to Amazon. But based on the exposé, another two would be less recognizable—significant margin and prioritizing our team.

This is a struggle in our business. We’ve had plenty of times on launches or major projects where the team has had to put in excessive hours. But none of us is proud of that. Instead, we’re actively improving our processes to preserve the team’s time even in the middle of high-stakes initiatives.

Why? Because we know our team members and their margin matter for our ultimate success.

Three Reasons Amazon Should Rethink its Culture

Jeff Bezos is known as a data guy. Me too. And with that in mind, here are three reasons Amazon’s leadership should seriously reconsider the culture they’re building.

1.  Rested employees are better employees. 

One person in the NYT story claimed she skipped sleep for four straight days. That’s not heroic. That’s dumb. And it’s terrible for the business.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of sleep and margin. What the research tells us is simple. When we cheat our sleep and recreation, we’re less effective employees. Our productivity dive bombs along with our creativity, judgment, and everything else.

Amazon and its customers would be better served if employees tucked in by ten and didn’t check their email over the weekend.

2.  You can’t easily separate work life and home life. 

Technology has erased the divide between work life and home life. Our phones and portable devices mean we’re always on—as much as seventy hours a week or more. That’s not all happening at the office. It bleeds into nights and weekends, which leaves little to no room for family.

And this goes both ways. When our personal lives are out of kilter, it wrecks our professional performance. We eat up family time, and our family suffers. Then we drag that stress into the office. I can’t think of one person I’ve worked with in forty years who’s productivity improved while their marriage ended or their kids were going off a cliff.Bottom line: A culture that encourages employees to work all hours will damage the support structure at home that makes those employees good at their jobs in the first place.

3.  Burnout breeds cynicism. 

There’s no way around this. Not only does burnout hurt the employee’s professional and personal life, it breeds the kind of cynicism that kills offices and hinders customer relations. Why? Because employees get the message they don’t matter.

When employees think the company only wins when they lose, it’s easy to get bitter and spread that attitude through the organization. It even hurts customer relations because the customer becomes the reason Dad missed his daughter’s soccer game, or Mom missed her son’s band performance.

And what for? Thanks to lower productivity, it’s not like these employees are even making any real gains for their sacrifices. It’s all about getting along in a wrongheaded office environment.

A Failure of Imagination

I love making money as much as the next guy—probably more. That’s exactly why I’m not only committed to consistent growth, but also instilling rest in my company culture. I want a business with increasing financial margin and personal margin for my whole team.

Our always-on culture is not only unnecessary, it’s also counterproductive. If Amazon is truly interested in serving customers—which it lists as its primary value—doesn’t it want employees serving those customers at peak performance, not sleep deprived, emotionally depleted, and drained of energy?

It’s never too late to steer the ship another direction. Amazon has done wonders since its inception. Imagine what could happen if it were actually operating at full capacity instead of the mirage of it?

An overbusy life is not an economic necessity; it’s a failure of imagination.MICHAEL HYATT

An overbusy life is not an economic necessity; it’s a failure of imagination. Constraints spur creativity. What if we determined that we would not work certain hours and instead got smarter and more creative with the time we have?

Instead of grinding that found time back into the business, we could truly help our teams and our businesses by resting, playing, spending time with our families, or—something Amazon knows a lot about—reading a good novel.

It would do wonders for Amazon. It would do wonders for us all.




The best of leadership in one amazing and simple verse

As many of you know, I try to memorize a new verse or short passage each month. I select the verse(s) from my journaling in my daily time in Scripture. My verse for July is Judges 5:2:

“Israel’s leaders took charge (“took the lead” ESV) and the people gladly followed. Praise the Lord.” NLT.

I love it when there are so many basic principles and ideas about leadership in a single verse. I will be meditating and praying over this verse daily for the next ten months, seeking to understand, apply and then share with others what I learned.

Here are two passages of Scriptures on this order of 1) Understand, 2) Personally apply and then 3) Pass it along.

 “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra 7:10 (ESV)

 Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” Ezekiel 3:10,11 (NLT)

 So, at the moment here are some of my initial observations from Judges 5:2

 1.  There are two distinct parts to good leadership.  A) Leaders lead and  B) People follow

 2.  When leaders actually lead rather than just manage and keep busy, people are more likely to want to follow. “Most organizations are over-managed and under-led” ~ Warren Bennis

 3.  When leaders lead and people follow, there is good reason to praise the Lord

 4.  There is a difference between people following and people gladly following.

 5.  People can follow because they have to; are bribed, paid, threatened or coerced, or they can follow from a glad and willing heart.

 6.  As a leader I want to lead and to lead well so that people are willing to follow  and follow well with gladness

 7.  If people are not willing to gladly follow, could it be due to leaders not leading well rather than the problem being with the followers for not following well?

 8. All leading and all following is so that God would be praised, honored and glorified.  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” ~Westminster Shorter Catechism

I’m so enjoying praying over Judges 5:2 for myself and other leaders with whom I’m involved.










 No one that I know of sets out with a goal to become a bad leder or bad communicator, but sadly many eventually do so. Here are ten descriptors of bad teachers/bad leaders from Chuck Lawless

Originally posted by By Chuck Lawless

Several times in my teaching career, I’ve asked graduate students to give me descriptions of the worst teachers they’ve had. During those same years, I’ve watched leaders, discussed leadership, and read leadership books to learn characteristics of good and bad leaders. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve seen that some of the characteristics of bad teachers and bad leaders are the same.

 1.  They don’t communicate well. Sometimes they just don’t communicate; they expect others to read their mind and meet their unstated expectations. At other times, they are simply boring when they do try to communicate.

2.  They make others feel dumb. They don’t miss many opportunities to point out when others are wrong. Nor do they miss a chance to show others how much they know. Eventually, no one speaks up around them – and the worst teachers and leaders are too unaware to recognize they are often the problem.

3.  They’re disorganized. Maybe they’re just so busy that it’s hard to stay on top of everything, or maybe they’re just plain disorganized. Either way, they usually can’t figure out why others struggle with following their unclear – and often changing – directions.

4.  They’re disconnected. Many are the students and staff members who are frustrated by teachers and leaders who are nowhere to be found. When the teacher or leader fails to build relationships, those he teaches or leads become means to an end – not people created in the image of God.

5.  They’re lazy. It’s clear from their lack of passion that they lost their focus and energy years ago. They know nothing new, and their teaching/leading has not changed in decades. They may think others don’t realize they’re just “going through the motions,” but they’re kidding no one.

6.  They are arrogant. You know what this trait looks like, even in Christian organizations. These teachers and leaders always talk about themselves. Any sense of humility seems to be forced; in fact, others see it as only another way to point out how good they are.

7.  They’re critical. Not only do they criticize others, but even more importantly, they almost never praise others. The only time you hear from them is when they want to correct something.

8.  They don’t know what they’re talking about. Some teachers don’t know their material well, and some leaders don’t know their field well. In some cases, both have been given their positions for some reason other than their know-how – and it’s obvious.

9.  They don’t enjoy their work. People who spend time with them learn quickly that they have no joy in their day-to-day tasks. Their smiles are forced and their laughter is infrequent.

10.  Their Christian walk is debatable. That is, some who know them best question the depth of their walk with God – primarily because the leaders they are in public are not always the people they are in private. Needless to say, this problem is, among all these listed here, the most serious one for Christian teachers and leaders.

Recognizing that all of us probably show some of these characteristics at times, what other characteristics would you add to this list?



Loyalty gone amok

A few years ago I read a very insightful and extremely helpful book which sits on my bookshelf among a handful of books (about 10) that I call “Must Reads” for leaders.

The book is titled “The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders,” by Ira Chaleff.

There is a Book Note for this book on my blog site: Check it out and, if you like it, purchase the book.

Here is a snippet from the book to whet your appetite:

“Courageous followers value organizational harmony and their relationship with the leader, but not at the expense of the common purpose and their integrity. We work together with mutual respect and honesty to achieve our common purpose. Followers and leaders both orbit around the purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader. A central dichotomy of courageous followership is the need to energetically perform two opposite roles: implementer and challenger of the leader’s ideas.”

Chaleff is really onto something with this book which can significantly hurt any group, church or organization when loyalty to the leader is a must at all costs.

Some leaders are so insecure that any form of disloyalty to their ideas or desires is seen as disrespect and grounds for removal from the team or organization. You don’t have to be brilliant to see where this can lead, and has led, in some churches and Christian organizations over the years. I speak from personal experience.

Following is a quote from Devlin Barrett, a reporter in Washington, D.C. that we have all heard or read about, which demonstrates the problems which can ensue when loyalty is expected and demanded at any price and there is a price to pay.

 “Fired FBI director James B. Comey said President Trump told him at the White House “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” during their private dinner conversation in January, according to written remarks from Comey offering a vivid preview of his testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“In seven remarkable pages of prepared testimony, Comey describes a president obsessed with loyalty and publicly clearing his name amid an FBI investigation of his associates, and the FBI director’s growing unease with the nature of the demands being made of him in their private conversations.”

Underlining is mine.

My point in sharing this is not to defend or accuse our president nor speak of his innocence or guilt in all of this, but to simply illustrate how demanding loyalty can get us in a heap of trouble which, in this case, it has!

There is a time for being loyal and a time for being disloyal when something of greater value is at stake

Loyalty to the leader’s wishes takes a back seat in Christian leadership when loyalty to the following would need to be comprised or disregarded:

  • The gospel of Jesus Christ
  • The clear and undeniable teaching of the Bible
  • The organization’s stated and agreed-upon Purpose
  • The organization’s stated and agreed-upon Values
  • The organization’s stated and agreed-upon Vision
  • The organization’s stated and agreed-upon culture and philosophy

For Christian leaders, loyalty to the Bible, the gospel and the purpose, values and vision of the organization in which we serve is more important than loyalty to an individual leader.

When the leader is in step with what we absolutely need to be loyal to, we stand up for that leader. When the leader is not, we need to be courageous followers and stand up to that leader and advocate for a greater value. 

This obviously requires lots of courage, grace and wisdom to know when to stand up for or stand up to the leader. May the Lord of heaven and earth grant us that wisdom so we can honor him!