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Wednesday
Apr122017

The Reluctant Leader

There are a fair amount of leaders who are functioning in a leadership role without a clear call to leaderhsip and/or not possessing the gift of leadership.

On the other hand, there are gifted and called leaders who are reluctant for a variety of reasons and are not leading at all. Guest writer Scott Kauffmann for Steve Graves unpacks this for us; great read that will truly get you thinking!

Originally posted by Steve Graves

Four random times this year I am asking a friend to guest write on my blog. I asked them because I think they are great thinkers as well as great writers. They will write an original article connected to my three guiding themes of Strategy | Leadership | Impact.

Today Scott Kauffmann is our guest. 

Scott is a Partner and Content Lead for Praxis, a venture group for faith-motivated entrepreneurs. He served for eight years as a VP with Redeemer City to City, a leadership development agency for church planters, where he served as Tim Keller’s lead editor and content strategist. Scott began his career with 18 years at Accenture. He lives with his wife and two teenagers in Manhattan.

Contributed by Scott Kauffmann

What if you don’t think you’re a leader … but it turns out you are?

I remember that at some point during my teen years, my mom told me she thought I was going to make a good leader.

I thought: Maybe she’s being kind. Maybe this is a preemptive strike on my dad’s behalf. Maybe she learned with my three older brothers that she’s supposed to say this to sons.

Two things I did not think: She might be right.

And: Is it OK if she’s not?

Who is considered a leader? 

In contemporary Western culture, we’ve assembled a vast ecosystem around the topic of leadership. Uncountable millions of words have been written and hours spent to define, identify, recruit, parse, exhort, convert, and develop good leaders.

The first question, of course, is: Who’s a leader, anyway? Is leadership primarily defined by a position, a type of person, a set of behaviors, a self-image? Or something else?

Some define the leader class very inclusively. This approach supposes that anyone in a role with influence on others is a leader — a parent, a volunteer leader, a highly engaged student, a teacher, a manager or supervisor, even a charismatic and conscientious peer at work. Seniority qualifies: if you’ve developed some competence or life experience that makes you valuable in a civic, social, church, or work environment, you’re a leader. Influence qualifies: if you don’t have positional leadership but people listen to you, you’re a leader. Early promise qualifies: the letter-writing / student government perennial / club-starting high schooler is a leader. Even aspiration qualifies: if you think you are destined to be a leader one day, join the club.

This inclusive definition runs on a pragmatic “leaders are more made than born” mindset. And people lean toward the inclusive definition when they want to sell something to leaders or talk about their offering’s market size or impact.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a very exclusive definition, which is more about special gifts, elite status, and significant positional responsibility for large organizations or movements or schools of thought.

This exclusive definition runs on a heroic “leaders are more born than made” storyline. People lean into this one when they have something fancy to say or expensive to sell.

I’ve actively worked within both paradigms. Over my three-plus decades in the workforce, I’ve been part of many product and service initiatives that were designed, positioned, and messaged explicitly for leaders. I’ve seen the circle drawn very tightly — to C-level executives at Fortune 500 companies, for example — and at other times, very loosely. I’ve run the numbers, read the articles and books, written the copy, sat in the boardrooms, spoken at the seminars, built the training courses, rubbed elbows with the stars. I’ve spent a lot of time in this “who’s a leader, and why, and how” conversation.

And there’s only one constant: wherever the cut line is drawn at the bottom of the leader class, whether practically everybody’s a leader or practically nobody is, one thing’s for sure: you need to be above that line. If you’re not there, you need to be working to get there.

Because who doesn’t want to be a leader?

More people than you’d think, actually.

The reluctant leader

What interests me is not where the cut line is drawn, but the people who are the last ones to discover that they’re above the line.

I’m fascinated by that curious kind of person with no particular aspiration to positions of leadership. It’s the high performer who thinks of himself primarily as an expert, a craftsman, a specialist, an enthusiast. The charismatic influencer who thinks of herself primarily as a team player, a colleague, even a follower or servant. They’re willing to accept themselves within the inclusive definition of leadership — at some point, it just comes to you by default — but they don’t aspire to clear any more exclusive bar.

I’m not talking about people with that particular kind of humility, like the Level 5 Leaders in Jim Collins’s Good to Great, who are really saying in their hearts, “I’m a leader, but there’s nothing particularly special about me.” Nor even about false humility, which thinks, “I’m a leader, but I’d like you to convince me anyway.”

I’m not talking about those leaders who don’t make a strong first impression but who burn inside with belief: “I’m a leader, no matter what you think, and watch me prove it.”

I’m not talking about what happens when leaders inevitably experience failure and come to doubt their ability or decisions. Nor about Impostor Syndrome, which is when high-performing people can’t acknowledge their accomplishments and fear they will be exposed as frauds. The former is trying to accept failure, and the latter is trying to explain away success, but both are saying, “I’m a leader, but what if I’m not?”

No, the people I’m talking about find themselves one day saying, “I’m not a leader, and I’m fine with that, but what if I am?”

I think most people see reluctance to seek out leadership opportunities as some sort of faulty gene that works itself out of the population over time. And in that view, the only way a self-respecting talented person can solve the problem of reluctance is to strap on more ambition.

The wisdom of our age is that leadership is a function of ability + ambition + destiny. Whatever ability you might have, if for some reason you don’t have the ambition to be a leader — if you don’t want it — then you have to want to want it. You can’t wind up below that cut line.

In thinking of several reluctant leaders and entrepreneurs I’ve known, I don’t think this approach helps. It’s really difficult — perhaps futile — to make yourself want something you don’t want, solely under the power of what you and your community expect for you. It’s basically a form of self-deception, but most of us are too smart to believe ourselves. Instead, we get stuck inside our own limitations, self-absorption seeps into our imagination, our confidence drops. It’s a death spiral.

One friend, an insanely talented founder, put it this way: “For years I’ve simultaneously been obsessed with self-loathing for under-achievement and afraid of risking to achieve.” He sees no way out of the dilemma, and he certainly doesn’t get any help from the leadership literature.

Except that he knows Christianity is true. That’s the only way out.

Destiny vs. vocation 

This is one of those myriad places where the Christian gospel offers a unique and counterintuitive resource, a game-changing way forward. Because we view the equation of leadership not as ambition + ability + destiny, but as ambition + ability + vocation.

As Christians we believe God gives us the gifts for leadership (that’s ability); He gives us the desire for leadership (ambition); and He activates those gifts and desire with a personal, loving, specific call (vocation).

Vocation is different from destiny in at least two ways. First, destiny is impersonal. It doesn’t love you or want the best for you. It just bids you kneel and either rests its sword on your shoulders or hangs it over your head. You can’t reason with destiny or be in a relationship with it. It can’t be trusted, only obeyed.

Believing in destiny is better than believing in yourself, whom you can neither trust nor obey. But it’s nowhere near as good as believing in God, who deserves both your trust and obedience. That is the only place a leader can safely be.

The other big difference is that destiny requires you to succeed. But vocation doesn’t.

A cherished leader once told me I could be sure God was calling me to take a certain career step … but that I couldn’t know up front whether God was calling me to succeed or fail.

It was the most encouraging thing I could have heard at that moment.

The idea that God might be calling me to fail was a life-changing and life-giving insight. If God could be calling me to fail, even if I were to do everything in my power to succeed, it would hurt; it might make me feel worse about myself; and it certainly would make me feel I had let people down, which would be particularly crushing for me. But if I knew and could remember that this is what God was asking me to do for His purposes (granted, a big “if”), I could face that outcome with joy.

All that, plus God might actually be calling me to succeed instead! Which would be great, and it would give me peace in the opposite direction, because I’d know my success came from Him rather than from me. Either way, things went—success or failure—my ultimate identity wouldn’t rest on the outcome.

There’s another wrinkle to the way the Christian formula for leadership (ability + ambition + vocation) works out in the lives of reluctant leaders. This one has to do with sequence.

Usually, we experience the elements in the order of the formula: we demonstrate innate leadership ability from an early age, a natural inclination and desire to lead grows in us, then we sense God’s call to pursue, and be granted, a series of opportunities to lead people, movements, organizations. Ability, then ambition, then vocation.

But for reluctant leaders, our awareness of vocation often predates our ambition. That’s when we experience the moment I mentioned earlier: “I’m not a leader, and I’m fine with that, but what if I am?”

“Please send someone else.” 

 In the account of the life of Moses, we are given a compelling picture of the reluctant leader. In Exodus 2, Moses’ life is miraculously preserved in a way that points to his vocation; yet his catastrophic first attempt at using his influence takes him out of the “leadership pipeline” for forty years. At the site of the burning bush, when God calls him to leadership, it’s an all-vocation, no-ambition moment for Moses (Exodus 3–4).

From his first words (“Here I am”), Moses is willing to be in a relationship with God but has no interest in God’s call to leadership. Five evasive questions into the conversation, Moses’ reluctance has hardened into defiance, at which God becomes angry. Moses finally accepts God’s vocation and goes on to become a fearless leader whom God calls to success (and failure!) over the next forty years.

For Moses, a reluctant leader, ambition comes after vocation. When I read this, I have a sense that Moses’ ambition comes from a place of greater integrity. It’s a gift God gives him for his obedience.

What’s challenging about the story of Moses is to see that his reluctance takes the shape of false and sinful humility. Every objection seems humble and reasonable, but read carefully and you see that Moses is preoccupied only with himself. Moses asks questions about Moses, and God gives answers about God.

 

Monday
Apr102017

Why are potential leaders in your church not stepping up? Here are some possible reasons.

The harvest is great, but the laborers (leaders) are few. Things haven’t changed much since Jesus said this more than two thousand years ago in Matthew 9:36-38. Bobby Clinton in his seminal book titled, “The Making of a Leader” said the following about this passage,

“When he saw the leaders, He was filled with dismay, because so many quit, so many were set aside, and so many were plateaued and directionless. They had lost their zest for leading. They had no clear philosophy or direction in their leadership. They were leaderless leaders. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the leaders with clear direction are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth knowledgeable, discerning, and direction-oriented leader-laborers into his harvest.”

There are potential leaders who, with some coaching, training and encouragement, could step up and be impactful leaders in His church but they are reluctant for a number of reasons.

Here are five reasons (adapted from “The Painful Side of Leadership” by Jeff Iorg and expanded on by me) why some leaders remain on the sidelines rather than get into the game and make a difference for the kingdom:

1.  They have seen (or experienced) abusive, autocratic or arrogant leaders and have had their understanding of good leadership distorted and disgraced. They have perhaps assumed that this is what Christian leadership looks like and want no part of it.

2.  They have a false sense of humility. They think that desiring to be a leader is unbiblical and smacks of pride. They overlook I Timothy 3:1 telling us that aspiring (desiring) to be a leader is admirable and a noble thing to do. Yes, it can morph into the wrong thing and become prideful; but wanting to lead when God is moving you in that direction is a good thing. If you have a calling and a gift that others see in you, it is not pride but honesty that would encourage you to step into what God has in mind for you.

3.  They see the abuse some veteran leaders are receiving. Being a leader is not a piece of cake and will involve hardship, misunderstanding, criticism and suffering.  Just look at the leaders in the Bible. Additionally, people will be downright mean and abusive to some in leadership. Lead anyway. You are in good company--with all of the leaders in the Bible. The pain goes with the territory, but it’s worth it to hear well done good and faithful servant at the end of your race.

4.  They possess a genuine sense of inadequacy. Except for Jesus many, if not most, of the leaders in the Bible felt inadequate. His power shows up best in weak people (I Corinthians 12:9): Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, along with numerous other leaders, felt in over their heads and unworthy to lead.

5.  They have an aversion to public scrutiny. James 3:1 reminds us that, as teachers or people in places of prominence, we will be scrutinized by both God and people. When we sin, which we will, and when we screw up, which we will, and when it becomes clear that we are not perfect and do not make perfect decisions, live perfect lives and have perfect families, we can lean into his grace and trust him with our reputations, our fears and our inadequacies.

Are you possibly holding back from stepping up and stepping into some leadership role or responsibility or perhaps are ready to quit for any of the above five mentioned reasons? Please take it before the Lord of the harvest and trust him with your future.

Do you know of a reluctant, but potential, leader? Share this post with him or her.

Saturday
Apr082017

Eleven random but keenly insightful leadership observations.

Some short, insightful and powerful random thoughts on leadership from Brad Lomenick.

Originally posted by Brad Lomenick

1. Work environments and team structures going forward will look more like Hollywood film crews. They come together for a project but don't work together full time. 

2. The future (and now) of being a leader is more the role of aggregator and facilitator, compared to the role of manager and boss.

3. The rise of the entrepreneur is upon us, but also the rise of the intrapreneur is upon us. The leader within (intra) an organization who leads with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

4. Power is in the community. No longer does the top down hierarchical leader now have all the power and control.

5. In general, the new "conference" is small, niche focused, and practical, compared to the past model of large, generic, and inspiring. 

6. Storytelling must be part of your influence strategy, marketing plan, and overall brand building plan. Without it you're just another commodity fighting for attention. 

7. The Gig economy is upon us. Free agency is not just a sports term, it's a business and cultural mainstay.

8. No one is born world class. It takes hard work to get there. 

9. Leaders words weigh 1,000 pounds. You have the power to lift up or pull down others with your words.

10. Many leaders quit right before the breakthrough. Stick with it. The messy middle of discipline and perseverance paves the way for potential upside and success. 

11. We need to be reminded just as often as instructed. Leadership is about repetition as much as revelation. 

 

Friday
Apr072017

What is ETR and why it's so important to understand

It seems like the weather in the midwest and on the east coast so far this year gets crazier by the day; heavy snow storms, hail, flooded rivers, a multiplicity of tornados, significant power outages, etc. The weather has had a financial, emotional and physical price tag attached.

Families have lost their homes and major parts of some cities have been devastated and destroyed. How long will it be before things can be returned to some sense of normality again? What is the:

“Expected Time of Restoration.”

How long will it be before the electricity will be back on? How long will it be before we receive some funding from the insurance company or the federal government? How long will it be before some people can return to their homes?

People are trying to estimate the length of waiting time. There were a number of factors to take into account to answer the question.

As I reflected on ETR, my mind switched gears to the spiritual/relational realm. How long will it take for complete restoration to take place after a person sins, hits bottom, encounters a serious setback in their life, has significant marriage issues, or screws up big-time in their leadership?

Related to leadership, when I’m on a team dealing with a leader who has grievously sinned, we all ask the same question: how long, if ever, before this person will step back into leadership…be completely restored? You can err on either end of bringing them back too soon or keeping them out too long! We unquestionably need the wisdom promised in James 1:5.

Don’t you just hate it when you ask what you think is a simple question of someone whom you assume has a simple answer and you hear, “Well, it all depends.”

Well, the answer to the ETR is one of those “Well, it-all-depends” responses.

1.  When a marriage is in trouble…

2.  When a leader sins big-time…

3.  When a person slips into an unhealthy habit or destructive life-style…

4.  When a teenager enters rehab…

5.  When a spouse confesses adultery…

What is the expected time of restoration?

It all depends:

1.  Has true repentance been expressed, as opposed to just a sorry-I got-caught attitude?

2.  Is the person able to experience the forgiveness God freely offers. It’s clear in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess, God forgives; but some find that harder to accept than others. It’s one thing to know you are forgiven by God and quite another to forgive yourself.

3.  How were sin and difficulties viewed and dealt with in the family of origin the individual grew up in? Specifically, how was, and is, their relationship with their earthly father; or did they grow up without a father or father figure? Was it pretty much a shame-based family culture?

4.  How many times in the past has the person dealt with the same or similar difficult situations, and were they able to learn from the past?

5.  Does the person have a healthy community around them or are they trying to go it alone?

6.  How strong is their intimacy with the Lord? Do they only run to Him when the pain is high and unbearable, or are they used to keeping the relationship vibrant, warm and up-to-date through scripture, prayer, worship, confession and repentance?

7.  What is their working understanding of what God is like? Is he a heavenly Father or a heavenly police officer? Most problems we experience are due to a wrong concept of God. We tend to focus on one concept of God rather than the totality of who scripture declares him to be.

We would all like to see people restored sooner rather than later. 

When we see a gifted and anointed leader “fall,” we would like to see that leader restored as soon as possible.

When we see couples we know struggle with serious issues in their marriage, we trust and pray for them to get it figured out quickly before it gets worse and moves toward a potential divorce.

When our teen goes off the deep end, our hearts cry out for a quick turnaround.

But the ETR really does depend on a number of factors.

Now, there are some things we have no control over--such as our family of origin, our genetic make up, the hard wiring our children are born with, or the choices our teens or young adults may make.

But there are other things where we do have control. How I will respond to my sin--hide it or confess it? How will I chose to relate, with His grace, to life’s curve balls? Will I extend forgiveness to those in my world (family) or hold grudges?

Are you in one of those down/difficult times, or do you have someone close to you who is? How long will it take?  What is the ETR?  Well, it all depends!

 

 

Wednesday
Apr052017

According to Fortune magazine, here is the greatest leader in the world!

As Christians we believe that Jesus is the World’s greatest leader, but according to Fortune magazine, the world’s greatest leader is Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago cubs.

Read below as to why this my be true.

Originally posted by Eric Geiger

Three Things the “World’s Greatest Leader” Knows About Leadership

Fortune magazine recently named Theo Epstein the greatest leader in the world. Epstein is the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs and is known as the architect behind their first World Series championship in over 100 years. He performed the same way for the Boston Red Sox before taking the assignment in Chicago. So most would agree that Epstein is an incredible leader. But his response, when discovering the news, shows he is an even better leader than I imagined. Here is how he responded to the news in a text message to ESPN’s Buster Olney:

“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house,” Epstein [said]. “That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It’s baseball—a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I’m not even the best leader in our organization; our players are.”

Besides revealing humor and humility, that quote is awesome for several reasons and shows Theo Epstein embraces and understands these three realities about leadership:

1. You are the hardest person you will lead.

Epstein jokes about being unable to prevent his dog from peeing in his house. Though joking, it does show Epstein is aware of the relationship to leading oneself and leading others. Plato stated, “The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself.”

2. Leadership is about the team more than the leader.

Epstein knows that without the commitment and performance of the team, he would be doomed to failure. He declares the players to be the best leaders in the organization. While the leader impacts the team, in many ways the team makes the leader. A group can choose to doom the leader’s leadership by not following, by not rallying around a shared vision, by not committing.

3. Leadership is frail.

Leaders are not leaders forever. The assignment is temporary. Epstein understands that a few plays turning out differently and he is not celebrated as a hero. Success is frail and fleeting. Understanding our fragility helps us walk in humility and focus on what matters most.

Thank you, Theo Epstein, for a hilarious quote that also has some meat to it.