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If you start losing teeth at fifty-five it's a crisis. If you start losing them at five it’s progress. What makes a crisis a crisis depends in part on the context. But there are life crises which irrespective of context are universally understood. I find it absolutely remarkable that so much in King David's life and leadership is so easily applicable to my own. He lived three-thousand years ago. An Iron Age warrior, an outlaw, a poet, a musician and a king. None of these, especially the musician part, have any remote similarity to my life, yet every time I study David, I identify.
I suppose David's life could be accurately described as one unceasing crisis. Many might think of their own lives that way, but there are actually long periods in even the most tumultuous life which are lived in relative calm. We just don't memorialize those. Likewise, the writer of the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles surely felt no need to say, "For the next five years everything was pretty much ok."
Having said all that, I have identified three specific crises in the life of this desert warrior which are profoundly relevant to the modern family and leader.
The teenager who wants to borrow her mother's car needs to learn not to ask in the moments just following her mom's long and harrowing commute home from work. The employee who wants a raise should never ask right after the boss has announced that the company is in a cash flow crunch and everyone needs to tighten their belts. Timing may not be everything but it ranks right up there.
The Leader's Notebook wants to give you some questions to ask yourself on timing that may help your appeal, request or proposal enjoy a greater likelihood of success. None of these are fool proof and even if your answers are right on all of them, you may still hit a wall, but at least you will know it probably wasn't because your timing was bad.
A TV sportscaster was interviewing a retired Olympic runner just before one race at a big track and field event. One runner they were discussing was the favorite but evidently a strong competitor was in the lane beside him.
“What do you think he needs to do to win today?” the interviewer asked.
“He just needs to run his own race,” was his answer.
Frankly that seemed a bit on the obvious side. How could he run anyone else’s race? The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more taken I find myself with this advice. At first glance it may seem a consummate example of overstating the obvious, but it is more nuanced than one might think. It is also good advice for life and leadership.
Paul said “I have finished my course,” II Timothy 4:6.
How an organization thinks about itself is largely a function of senior leadership. Self-concept is critical to success at varying periods of the organization's history. This truth is easily observable in sports. Furthermore, it is commonly observable. One team, the unanimous underdog comes onto the field with a wild passion, an almost crazed determination. Their opponents, the prohibitive favorites, seem stuck in low gear. They just cannot seem to find the inner fire for which they have in the past been famous. What happens? Why does a team that is so much "better" suddenly lose to a team they ought to have beaten easily, and which if they played a series might predictably defeat nine out of ten times?
There are all kinds of factors, of course, and no one explanation is sufficient, but I believe the number one answer lies in an organizational communication failure between the coach and the team. Somehow the coaching staff failed to impart the correct self-concept. Many coaches and leaders think this is done by convincing the team they are winners.
I was in the tenth grade and learning life from those who had gone ahead. A sophomore watches the seniors. From them he gains both good and bad. As a newcomer on the basketball team I was eager to learn from the "big boys." How to stand, how to dress, how to swagger as an athlete aught; these were the important lessons I sought. One day an older boy, not intentionally, by the way, taught me an unforgettable lesson about positive focus versus negative fixation. Now I do not for one moment suggest that Butch (not his real name) saw what happened as an example of that leadership principle. Likewise, even today, were ol' Butch and I to reminisce about that memorable moment, I doubt that he would see, as I do, that it afforded me a splendid teaching moment. I also want to state for the record that my understanding of the meaning of the incident did not come to me until years later. In the moment I just thought it was sweet poetic justice, the kind which involved a smallish sophomore's delight to see an older and frightening idiot get his comeuppance.
For what reason I never discovered, Butch, afoot, was chasing an eighth grader attempting to flee on a bicycle. Unable to get the bike up to speed, the terrified boy dismounted and fled on foot, leaving the bike by the road. Unable to catch and damage the little guy himself, Butch decided to damage his bicycle instead. I watched as Butch stomped on the boy's spokes. Unable to inflict the desired damage that way, Butch stepped back into the roadway to take a running leap, intending obviously to land with both feet on the offending bike.
This plan went wonderfully awry, however, when Butch stepped directly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle, the driver of which was a dangerous hulk named Darrel, one of the very few boys of whom Butch himself was afraid. Really afraid. The motorcycle veered wildly avoiding Butch and coming a screeching halt, Darrel dismounted walked coolly over to Butch and, without a word of warning, knocked him flat on his back. It was magnificent. It was a scene of glorious karmic retribution and one which I never forgot.
Reflecting on the disastrous final presentation at the 2017 Academy Awards, I immediately remembered Butch semi-conscious in the dust while I, a prudently hiding tenth-grader, laughed my head off. To this day I can remember the salacious thrill of watching Darrel, that unlikeliest instrument of God, administer punishment so well deserved.
Now from the vantage point of a half century of leadership I can see the real point.
Beyond the issue of poetic justice, there is a wonderful lesson for life and leadership.
Here, then, are some observations on the 2017 Academy Awards, compliments of Butch the bully.
Leaders in this contemporary world must brace themselves for a tsunami of ground noise. Whether in academia, business, politics or any other filed of endeavor, when a leader steps to the plate the chorus from the peanut gallery cranks up. The boos and the cat calls and screamed insults rain down. This unrelenting tidal wave of criticism can be discouraging to say the least and potentially crippling.
Leaders, after being scalded and scalded again and again by this acid rain, can lose their energy, their vision and, at least, their desire to lead. What some call burnout is less often fatigue from over-work, and more often combat fatigue.
The redemptive grace of loyalty is so powerful it can literally fill any situation with healing and miraculous blessings. Any force that powerful, however, cannot be violated without dire consequences. There are few viruses in the kingdom more honored by God than loyalty. Absalom’s doom was sealed by his disloyalty to David, but David’s loyalty to an unworthy Saul confirmed his destiny for the throne.
Ronald Reagan once said, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” Likewise, the power of influence is virtually inexhaustible for as long as it remains silent. In the Book of Esther, three people at one time or another find favor in Xerxes’ eyes and influence his decision. At the end of the story, one is beloved, one is promoted and one is executed. The one executed was he who squandered his influence on self-promotion.
First of all, I'm not opposed to mission statements. There. I've said that. However, having said it, I hasten to add there is little energy in a mission statement.
"Loving God, Loving People"
"Empowering People To Serve People"
"Worshipping A Caring God In A Caring Community"
Nothing wrong with those or a million others like them. VERY like them. The problem with such mission statements is their absolute lack of energy. Mission statements keep a church from jumping the track. Vision drives the train. Vision is the engine. Absent vision, the greatest mission statement in the world will gradually devolve into hardly more than a plaque on the wall or a banner hanging in the church auditorium.
In the light of Hurricane Matthew I want to offer some thoughts on: Leadership in a Storm
The seas of human life, so lashed as they are by storms of crisis and controversy, are where real leaders do their duty. Happily-ever-aftering only happens in the movies. Real life, and therefore real leadership, is actually one storm after another punctuated by brief and very welcome periods of calm. Once a leader finds the maturity and experience to face that honestly, the stormy seasons become immensely less stressful.
Until then, every storm feels like the "big one," the once in a lifetime, storm of the century that just has to be lived over and after which "normality" will return. Inexperienced leaders spend useless energy trying to figure out why this particular storm has come. The bottom line is storms happen. Winds blow, and they toss good boats and bad the same.
Some storms are self-inflicted and they are the hardest to endure. I’ve caused some of those storms myself. Others are just part of living in a fallen universe. Things break, fall apart, go south and prove more fragile than we imagined. That is life, real life, and real life is not always smooth sailing. The night before the annual July Fourth city-wide celebration in your auditorium, the air conditioning goes out. Does God hate you? Of course not. Perhaps He just doesn't like patriotic music and indoor fireworks. Again, of course not. Air conditioners just sometimes break. It's that simple. It always seems that they break at the worst of times. On the other hand, when would it be convenient?
Here are some thoughts on leadership in a storm.
When, after a long recess in missions, I came back to pastor again in America, I was asked not infrequently if I was ever afraid in Africa. My answer was always, “Not so desperately or so often as I am now.” If you want to be really afraid, pastor an American megachurch. In Africa, all the witches wear feathers. It is in church where you can’t tell the players without a program.
Imagine if it rained not cats and dogs but catfish. Imagine that you are walking in Philadelphia when suddenly a wet, slimy blow to the side of your face and neck knocks you to the ground. Now try to imagine realizing that the unexpected knock down was delivered not by a fist but by a falling fish, a catfish to be precise, a foot-long, five-pound catfish. Unlikely, you say. I could not agree more. Yet that is exactly what happened to Lisa Loree. She was out for a morning stroll in the park when a catfish fell from the sky and hit her hard enough to knock her down. A five-pound weight, fish or fowl, dropped from any height at all is likely to deliver a wallop. Just ask Lisa Loree.
The assumption is that a bird, perhaps an eagle, accidentally dropped the fish. That is the most likely explanation. In fact, I cannot think of another. That the catfish had somehow taken flight stretches one's imagination. On the other hand, if the fish had thus taken flight, what would cause it to suddenly lose altitude and so dramatically abort the mission?
Here is the leadership question: What to do when it rains fish?
There are words which can be, and frequently are, used as a manipulative fulcrum and lever device to gain the upper hand in a relationship, company or a ministry. It is a commonly employed linguistic device which left unaddressed will bring unrelenting pressure to bear. The problem is that such words seem totally innocent, yet they camouflage a cruelly manipulative power play.
"More," is one. "Enough," is another. But these are just two examples. The issue is an open-ended "complaint" or "need" for which there is no specific answer, no real resolution. Such words are manipulative because they dig a bottomless pit. There is not, in all the world, enough efficient management, salary, love, affection, sympathy or whatever to fill it. Hence digging such a verbal and emotional pit keeps the other party constantly on the defensive, ever striving to meet an unmeetable need. That is manipulative.
Here is how it works and what to do about it.
Patton pins the Silver Star on Private Ernest A. Jenkins, a soldier under his command, in October 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)
On The Leader's Notebook this week I am featuring a guest post. I may not do this often but every now and again, I may find something (or someone) I want to introduce to the Notebook's readers.
This week's guest is not only a business/leadership/marketing/management expert; he is also a personal friend and former colleague. Dr. Steve Greene has extensive experience in business and in business education. Dr. Greene was the dean of the college of business at ORU while I was the president of that university. Before his highly successful years at ORU, he provided excellent leadership at a multi-million dollar television company and a major restaurant chain. Today he is a blogger, publisher, speaker and a business consultant with an extensive clientele. Dr. Greene is also a member of the Board of Directors of Global Servants Inc.
Don't Tell People How to Do Things - Really?
Guest blog by Dr. Steve Greene
I read Bill O'Reilly's latest book, Killing Patton. Bad reviews aside, the book reminded me of a classic quote from General George Patton ...
"Don't tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with results."
Well, the good general has one thing right in his thinking: There is a surprise coming.
For some years now I have included that "law" in a lecture at The National Institute of Christian Leadership. I have also lectured on its balancing reality, called "outrunning your market," but that is for another column. There are two questions you should be asking yourself right about now. What does the law mean, and how does it relate to me and my leadership?
It means that cornering the market on some product or service is not a business advantage if that market is disappearing.
Imagine the Acme Scroll company's 1445 board meeting. What I know about entrenched thinking makes me believe that the largest scroll manufacturing company in Europe read about Gutenberg's invention and the stir it was causing and said, “Well, they may sell a few, or even a lot of these printing machines, but there always be a need for scrolls.” Then some years later, the president proudly announced to the board that in the previous year every scroll sold in the all of Europe was an Acme scroll. The next year, Acme went out of business.
Kodak serves as a cautionary non-fictional example. When they were the last film company standing, were they gloating or were they terrified? I was not in the board room, but one must ask, did the disappearance of film catch Kodak's executives by surprise? Was the board prepared and fore-warned or were they shocked and dismayed?
One wants to believe visionaries at Kodak saw it coming from way back and had a plan in place. However, when I recently drove past the vast but nearly empty Kodak plant in Rochester, NY, I saw very little sign of a plan B.
A shift is what causes a market to change or even disappear. There may be many such shifts. Here are three to which leaders must pay attention.
In the vast sea of contemporary communication pitfalls, the habit of emotional listening is perhaps the most damaging. Last night when Donald J. Trump was nominated for the presidency of the United States, I tweeted a few simple words. Here they are... WAIT.... first please let me ask you to just read the words. Try to resist the impulse to read anything into the words. Just read the words.
I was not really all that surprised by some of the responses. Some felt the words were praise for Trump. They were not happy that I did not say it was a "horrible" event or an "embarrassing" event or a "disgusting" event, and because I did not use those words I was presumably campaigning for Trump. Others saw the words as an attack on Trump. How could I call such an "inspiring" and "thrilling" moment astonishing? And why couldn't I get on the Trump train?
In just a few days, for the first time in history a woman will be nominated for the presidency. Do you know what I will tweet?
Some years ago, while serving as a university president, I attended a conference for college administrators. I heard one president tell another, "I hate it when my vice presidents can't agree. Sometimes when I'm trying to get what ought to be a pretty quick consensus on some issue, everybody in the room seems to think their point of view is the right on. I get so sick of bad group dynamics."
Of course, I did not say a single word but I walked away thinking plenty of words. What that president had, and which, from his own words, I must assume he did not like, was not bad at all, but good. Even if his team dynamics were bad, the health or toxicity of a group's dynamics are the responsibility of leadership. I don't suppose any leader enjoys presiding over team conflict but it is unavoidable and will be until the age of robots evolves a bit further. Absent of mindless automatons, there will be differing opinions in every team. The better the team, the higher octane the members, the more conflict there will be. Hire weak-kneed sycophants and you'll have very few differences of opinion in the room. All your associates will spend most of their energy trying to figure out your opinion and whatever is left they will spend competing to be first on the bandwagon. On the other hand, hire strong-minded professionals with diverse knowledge sets, expertise, experience and backgrounds and they are hardly likely to be shrinking violets unwilling to speak their minds.
The "bad" thing about thoroughbreds is that they want to run. They don't want to just sit in the barn and be hand fed sugar. On the other hand, the good thing about thoroughbreds is that they win races. If you want to win, surround yourself with winners.
Here are essentials for managing winners.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of short-term wins in the process of leading any team or organization through the rocky rapids of change. If you take over a team that went 2-13 the last four years, do NOT schedule Alabama for your home opener, believing God for a gridiron miracle. That not faith. It's magical thinking. Instead, schedule Slippery Rock for your first home game and win big. Roll up the score. In other words, a small win is an infinitely better strategy than a showy loss.
In negotiating the headwinds of change remember that you will have resisters all along the route. Not may have. WILL HAVE. Some may rise up and fight you. They are not the problem. Those are the easiest to deal with. The silent resisters, the underground opposition are your real problem. Nothing shifts the tide in your favor like wins. A stream of small wins early is a great momentum builder. Plan them. Set up easy targets and hit them.
Here are six important ways to turn short-term wins into long-term leadership gains. This is leadership alchemy and is the key to turning the ship in the face of contrary winds. Each small win is a step to big success if you:
In some quarters there is an idea being touted that if we could just understand why terrorists are hurting, we could meet their needs and they, now “healed” as they would be, would stop their killing. Trying to understand the grievances of terrorists is not just futile. It's dangerous. It's dangerous because it presupposes that the complaints of the terrorists are real and that at some point their thoughts and feelings about those wounds are what we would call "normal." Any such effort to impose rational thought on terrorists only plays into the terrorists' hands. Their life and world view, their goals and their “values," are in another realm from ours, a realm so evil that trying to "understand their wound," as some suggest, is actually counter-productive.
Here are five insights into terrorism that must be understood and absolutely must inform the response.
This week saw the 72nd anniversary of Operation Overlord, which is known to most by its more famous name -- D-DAY.
On June 6, 1944, the Allies launched their long-anticipated assault on Nazi-occupied Europe. Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious landing in history. More than 150,000 troops supported by nearly 25,000 paratroopers, waded ashore on five beaches on the French coast of Normandy.
The massive attack was not without its setbacks. Short term goals were not all met. Everything took longer than expected. The weather was no help at all and the cost in blood was horrific. The Allies lost more than 4,000 soldiers, and another 6,000 were wounded, while Germany lost 1,000. Yet it was the beginning of the end for Nazis. From that tiny toehold, the Allied forces began the steady march toward Berlin and the end of Europe's nightmare of enslavement by Hitler's Third Reich.
Having said all that, this column is really about leadership rather than history. I believe one could design an entire leadership course based solely on this one great battle, but in lieu of just such a course here are three important leadership lessons from D-Day.