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.
Many miss the greater truth of courage by thinking of it solely in terms of bravery. Though bravery may be admirable, courage is far more than valor in the face of danger. Courage and heroism are not exactly the same. Acts of heroism may or may not be proof of true courage.
The New York City Human Rights Commission has just ruled that bars can no longer refuse to serve alcohol to obviously pregnant women. It is worth noting here that the mayor of this same New York City, Bill De Blasio, tried to limit the size of a soft drink one could buy, pregnant or not. This intrusive effort was thankfully frustrated by a reasonable court. De Blasio is a radical liberal who would like to use the regulatory powers of government at every level to run the most personal parts of our lives. He and his ilk do not believe we the people have the good judgment to make our own decisions about anything, even what we eat and drink. Drinking a big gulp may be bad for me, but I am loathe to surrender the right to make decisions that are bad for me.
Having said all that, the point of this post is not really about civil liberties. It is rather about values. The paradox in these two stories is obvious and worth noting. One area of a city government, in order to prevent obesity and diabetes, wants to tell me how much soda pop I am allowed to consume, while another, in the same city, will not let bartenders attempt to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.
"It's my ball and I will take it and go home if I can't play quarterback."
In a certain less-than-prosperous neighborhood in which I lived during junior high school, that was the profoundly irritating mantra of the only boy who actually owned a good football. We had other balls, but mostly they were ragged or too soft or had become waterlogged to the point where they were like throwing bricks. His family was the most prosperous, his house and yard the biggest and best to play in, and his football said “Official NCAA” right on it in big white letters. You just can't ignore words like “Official NCAA.” We wanted to play at his house and use his football. The problem, of course, was that George, for that was his name, was far and away the worst player among us. Especially he was the worst quarterback among us, perhaps in the entire world as far we were concerned.
He was irritating, harshly critical of teammates far better than he and, worst of all, frequently intercepted. George never
I don’t know why, but I have always struggled more with receiving than giving. A friend of mine said it is a form of pride. With friends like that who needs enemies? Be that as it may, I just find it awkward to receive gifts from others. I love to give them. Generosity is actually a blessing to me. It’s in getting where I freeze up. Sometimes, especially if the gift is exceptionally generous, I have a hard time coming up with the right words. I have even had to go back later and try to give a better thank you and an apology.
Many years ago when times were very hard in Ghana, I preached at a poor village far in the north. It was summer and the heat of the Sahara was making itself felt in a terrible way. Still the people stood without a murmur for a lengthy service. Their response to the sermon was moving to say the least, and afterward several village elders made speeches thanking me for coming. The last man to the platform said the village wanted to bless me. At that, a woman came
I once visited a pastor who had sawed the legs off the visitor’s chair in his study. He said that intimidated those who sat there, made them feel small, peering over the edge of the desk like insignificant children. This same man told me that when he met a business leader for lunch, he was always a bit late. His reasoning was that the less important person always waits of the greater. What folly! What prideful, manipulative, silly games! Is it any wonder that later some of those businessmen over which he had towered and whom he had made to wait voted him out in a major church revolt?
On April 18, a terrorist bomb exploded in a bus in South Jerusalem wounding 21 Israeli citizens, some quite seriously. Delighted to see civilians wounded and maimed, Hamas was quick to praise the attack and promised more. A spokesman for the terror organization said it was "the first of many" such attacks to be perpetrated in the future.
That must be troubling and galling for Israelis to hear, but it was hardly the unkindest cut of all. That stab in the back came from US Vice President, Joe Biden who rushed into the post attack trauma with the comforting pronouncement that Palestinian murderers are not entirely to blame for their atrocities. It seems Biden has come to the mind boggling conclusion that blame for Palestinian murder lies at the door of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his policies.
No man is an island. Good alliances in life can be a source of empowerment and resources for advancement. But bad alliances can be a destructive source of great pain. There are many things that can make for bad “partnerships,” and I use the term loosely to mean top staff, high-level employees, and business partners.
Partners with vastly different values and visions, partners with bad morals and bad marriages, and partners whose work ethic are at odds with yours make for long, drought-stricken campaigns. Even partners whose personalities are irritating, despite their helpfulness or even spirituality, can dry up the water in a valley faster than you think.
I always advise engaged or nearly engaged couples to think on these same things. Look past his curly hair; that will fall out one day. Look past her cute little figure. Four babies in eight years can cause that to disappear like flowers in a magic show.
Look past those things and see that mildly bothersome, tiny little habit that just barely makes you wince to notice it on a date today. In a dry and barren valley, years from now, when the curly hair and cute figure are gone with the wind, that habit, that irritating, monstrous huge habit will remain, looming like Mount St. Helens ready to erupt and blow the top of off the whole thing. Take the partner, take the habit too. Both may be in your life for a long time.
Honesty is correct relationship with the highest level of reality. God Himself is ultimate reality. Truth is sacred because departure from truth is departure from God. The issue of truth is crucial to what we believe to be true about God and life.
Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Those who operate in right relationship to ultimate truth live in right relationship to who God is. They reflect on the character of their Father. Those who deal in deception reveal who their true father is. Satan is the father of and the center of all deception on this earth.
There are two kinds of dishonest communication. The first is simulation; the second is dissimulation. Simulation is to seem to be what we are not. Dissimulation is to seem not to be what we are.
I love basketball, but March Madness doesn't usually affect me, or should I say INFECT me, all that much. I like the intensity of basketball. I especially enjoy it if one of the teams has some particular meaning to me. I served as the president of two universities where basketball fever was pretty intense. I certainly got intense. Referees! What can I say? But that's for another column. Even so, I do not get all that revved up over bracketology. I seldom watch very many of the NCAA tournament games because I almost never have an emotional investment in any of the teams. However, I do occasionally find myself ensconced in my Archie Bunker recliner with a night off, plenty of not very healthy snacks and the relaxed mindset to just enjoy a game that's not likely to give me a heart attack, horrible refereeing notwithstanding.
I recently enjoyed just such an evening when North Carolina played Notre Dame. North Carolina won and won pretty handily but that is not what got my attention. Both teams were wonderfully talented. I suspect several future NBA players were on the court that night. At least one player could probably play there right now. Yet neither was that what really engaged me. Great players. Excellent coaches. A terrific game. Yet I was enthralled with something else.
Perhaps, even probably, you have never connected meekness and success. In fact, you only really need meekness when you are successful and powerful. Meekness is the virtue of the victor, not the defeated. Misunderstood by many, meekness is often thought to be only for weaklings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meekness is the supreme virtue of leadership without which power becomes oppression. Meekness is power under control. Christianity itself is a contradiction that turns topside down the world’s understanding of what it means to be successful.
Now in all virtues there is what might be called the conviction of virtue. That is what we believe to be true about it. Then there is its theater of operation. That is, some circumstance is necessary to put the virtue in action. Fear, for example, must be present or courage cannot be called into action. In the same way, the rise to power calls for the virtue of meekness.
"Bodies at rest remain at rest. Bodies in motion remain in motion."
Sound familiar? I am quite certain you have heard and quoted Newton's First Law of Motion many times. Nowadays it is most often quoted in respect to exercise, which, since I am disinclined to do myself, I find irritating. Yet, it is actually one of the most important laws of physics.
This law explains, among other things, why seat belts are important. In a moving vehicle, your body is also moving. Hence, if the vehicle stops your body wants to keep moving ---- right out through the windshield!
Newton's Second Law of Motion is not so oft-quoted, but you know it by common sense or at least by observation.
"An object at rest will not begin to move without the application of an unbalanced force, and neither will a body in motion change speed or direction without just such an unbalanced force."
Ok. So what? And how, exactly does any of that apply to leadership?