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.
I read someplace that upon completing the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said that writing it had been the worst struggle of his career. There are statements like that which one blithely reads, makes casual not of, and promptly ignores, only to realize later that they were pregnant with caution.
Writing this book has been a terrifying experience. In order to catch a bear, hunters say one must think like a bear. I grossly underestimated how wrenching it is to intentionally think like hell. That is not to say that my mind is unaccustomed to hellish thoughts. Quite the contrary. But I am now convinced that even the most devilish thoughts can parade through our minds quite without analysis. That is to say, we may think them but refuse to look at them for what they are, refuse to recognize the clear stamp of Satan upon them. To deliberately descend into the abyss is quite another thing altogether.
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.
There are equal and opposite errors with respect to the Valley of Baca. On the one hand are those particularly irritating “faith” preachers, so called, who claim that a true saint has no business in the Valley of Baca. They are not only boorish but shallow and superficial. David saw it differently.
“Blessed is the man whose strength its in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley Baca …” (Ps. 84:5-6)
David wrote that a person who passes through the Valley of Tears is blessed! That remarkable idea flies in the face of modern, comfort obsessed cultural religion, but it is definitely a New Testament view.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” ( 1 Pt 1:6-7)
No modern Christian has more graphically demonstrated a faith purified by fire than Corrie ten Boom. Can anyone imagine a valley of tears more horrifying than the Ranvensbruck concentration camp? To the Nazis she lost all her possessions, her dignity, and her entire family. Was it lack faith that put her in Ravensbruck? What an absurd thought! Or perhaps sin? Nonsense. The sins of others? To be sure. But why did she have to suffer? Why do any of us?
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?
The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America defends her citizens from a governmental restriction on the freedom of religion, free speech and a free press, among others. It needs to be remembered that the constitution does not even claim to grant Americans these rights. The Constitution says these rights are ours already by God's grace. The Bill of Rights rather prohibits the government from infringing on them.
We are currently seeing a dark and frightening place where a blatant new wave of racism and anti-Semitism intersects with these very rights; speech, religion and the press. We are at a sad place when racist and anti-Semitic speech, protected by the constitution, is not reported, called what it is and denounced in the strongest possible terms by a free press, a press which is likewise protected by the constitution.
A tragic percentage of the main line news organizations, while claiming not to be anti-Semitic, are so limp in reporting anti-Jewish, anti-Israel speech as to be complicit. I know that is a strong accusation, but it needs to be made.
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.
Nothing is more important to a turnaround than rolling up small, quick victories that build positive momentum and give everybody the feeling that things are indeed looking up. That change in attitude lays the foundation for bigger victories later on.
Financial advisers, when helping their clients get out of debt, often encourage them to start by aggressively attacking the smallest debt, paying only the minimum on the larger debts, even if the smallest debt has a lower interest rate than some of the large debts. Now from a strictly mathematical, financial perspective, you should always start with the debt that has the highest interest rate. In terms of pure finance, paying off a high-interest credit card balance is more important than paying off a twelve-month same-as-cash television purchase. But we don’t live as strictly mathematical or financial beings. We are also driven by emotional and psychological forces, and there is something very motivating about making that last payment on the television and applying that payment to the next-biggest debt, and snowballing up from there. A similar psychological momentum is important in organizational change as well.
In a seminary in Peru I saw a terrifying poster. A nun in a traditional habit wore a bandoleer of bullets from which dangled several hand grenades. In a holster on her hip was a massive .44 Magnum. With one arm she cradled an Uzi and in the other gripped a 9mm automatic. Underneath, in Spanish, the words said, “A new theology for a new world.”
It is not a new theology, of course. The words are couched in terms of the popular Latin heresy of Marxist liberation theology, but the lie is as old as Adam. If God will not give us power, we will seize it. If He will not redeem institutions with His power, we will do it with ours.
There is no difference between a Marxist guerrilla with a Molotov cocktail in her hand and a church rebel with a phone in hers. Refusing to wait on God and denying His sovereignty - both act to rally the troops, foment rebellion, oust authority, and seize control. A nun with a hand grenade and a church member rounding up votes and spreading gossip to remove the pastor are Siamese twins sharing a twisted soul. Both use religious terminology to cover their grab for control. Both believe themselves to be right. Both are demoniacally dangerous. Both are witches, and neither of them knows it. Hallelujahs and hand grenades are a witch brew.
After the Resurrection, Jesus promised his followers power. He also promised them peace. In the temporal domain, in the realm ruled by time, the followers of Jesus have had precious little of peace or power. The reason, of course, is that Jesus was speaking of an entirely different kind of peace and power.
God is always I AM, always who He is. Still the question remains, is He a moral God? In other words, if holiness means to be consistent in nature, could a holy God by consistently bad? It may seem like a silly question to many, but, in fact, the question would make a great deal of sense to some non-Christians.
Consider these two philosophical propositions:
Both contain not only the same number of words, but exactly the same eight words, only slightly rearranged. Can such a minor reordering really change the meaning all that much? Into the narrow gap between these two statements, all human hope, can plunge into the bottomless pit.
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.
Most people have a merciless expectation of themselves; they vow never to do or say anything outrageously stupid. Most of us learn the hard way that this is absolutely impossible - at least this has always been impossible for me.
I ran into an acquaintance I had not seen for some time and after a few seconds of greetings, I asked, “Well, how’s your wife?”
“Wonderful, I suspect,” he replied softly. “She’s in heaven where she has been for six months.”
What does one do at such a moment? Suicide is an option, of course. Just drop to your knees right in front of the offended party and open your veins. Keep repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry,” as he watches you go on to be with his wife, where presumably you can spend eternity apologizing to her.
Or you can just add yet another memory to the ever growing file of things you’ve done to make yourself feel like a donkey. Everyone has such a list. We try to forget the list. Suppression works in spurts, but sooner or later one of these painful memories will force itself onto the screen of our mental computer, reminding us of how utterly, abysmally, unforgivably stupid we are. That one incident (and remember, there’s a file full) was sufficient to prove it.
There’s only one cure: cultivate the ability to laugh at yourself. This is the mercy of mirth. Those who do not learn to laugh at themselves are doomed to merciless self-condemnation. A sense of humor insulates us against the blows of life. And a sense of humor is not knowing what’s funny, it’s knowing what’s funny about you.
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:
God’s geography is not our own. With Him, the shortest distance between any two points may not be a straight line but a meandering trail that seems to lead in the wrong direction or in no direction at all. The delay, common to dreamers, from dream to fulfillment can be absolutely excruciating. No spiritual discipline is as taxing or, for that matter, so close to the heart of holiness as waiting, but that does not mean it is a pleasant experience.
That very season of delay, which we find so distasteful, may, however, be crucial to the plan and purpose of God. Such delays give God time to prepare us for the opportunity and the opportunity for us. While we wait, God is removing obstacles before us, which, if allowed to remain, would hinder or limit the dream.
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.
The Portland Public School Board recently voted to ban from all its schools any book, magazine, pamphlet or other material that expresses any doubt about climate change. Students at DePaul University invaded a speech by conservative speaker, Milo Yiannopolous, threatened violence and shut the event down, claiming that they simply should not be subjected to such outlandish ideas as his nor should he be allowed to speak on the campus.
When I think of American neo-fascists, I envision semi-literate, camo-clad thugs at secret forest camps training toddlers to shoot uzis. Certainly they do exist. Nutcase skin heads are certainly out there and they are dangerous. I do not deny that. However, as sad as they are, they are hardly surprising.
The real shocker, is finding fascists in respectable colleges, in libraries and on boards of education. I rather expect neo-fascists to be jack-booted neanderthals who cannot spell. I am surprised to discover that in modern America they are more likely to be 19-year-old sophomores studying the humanities at some of America's most liberal universities. I am hardly shocked when I read of neo-fascists who are bearded ex-cons toting automatic weapons around clandestine guerrilla training camps. I am amazed to behold the modern phenomenon of professorial fascists toting Ph. D's around Ivy League campuses.