Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Last Day

Have you ever noticed the emotional impact of "The Last...?" It can be "The last class before graduation -- yaaay!" It might be "The last kiss before we part -- tears."

In our family...drum roll's the last day of Zoodle's first year.

So I'm taking the day off from writing.

Oh. Yeah. I always do that on Saturdays anyway!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Leadership Pain

I'm closing this week's topic with a reminder that leadership can be a painful exercise.

It was painful to realize that sometimes a leader can be too kind. Many years ago, one of our staff members made a huge mistake. I should have exposed the mistake to our core leaders...but I didn't. I should have removed him when he refused to completely follow through with his assigned discipline...but I didn't. I should have recognized the coming destruction when he started attempting to push us in a direction I knew wasn't right...but I didn't. I should have strongly warned those close to him that they were making a mistake to follow him out to start his own church...but I didn't.

After the damage was done, my painful feelings of failure were brought into focus by a frustrated friend. He jabbed his finger at me and said, "Sam, you are wise, but wisdom does not a leader make!" Many in the room with him that night came to my defense. He came back a few days later and apologized.

It still hurt.

Fast forward a few years and a few thousand leadership decisions later...

I still love working with people. I am full of joy in my role as a leader. I am also different because of that pain...

If the mistake is big, I expose it and seek input. If someone is unwilling to submit to those helping them restore, I will remove them. I am always cautious about the difference between those who bring fresh ideas to the table and those who try to bend the rest of us to their agenda -- the former is highly welcomed while the latter is unacceptable. Finally, if I see someone running blindly toward a cliff, I warn them, tell them I love them no matter what they do and invite them back should they choose to leave anyway. (Those who return are some of the most loyal people I know.)

Those are heavy lessons for a Friday, but they leave me grateful for the pain.

What pain are you grateful for?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leadership In The Trenches

"I'll be Kerlin and you be Licus!"

"No! I'll be Kerlin and you be Licus!"

"No, Sissy. I was Licus last time. It's your turn to be Licus and my turn to be Kerlin."

"Okay, but next time I'm Kerlin!"
Two peas in a pod? Not quite. We were never sure where the names "Kerlin" and "Licus" (pronounced "like-us") came from. Nor why they both always wanted to be "Kerlin." Nor why, if they didn't like "Licus", they didn't just choose another name. Nor how to spell the names -- this was preschool days for our daughters.

We just know that this was the way C. Beth and beckiwithani learned to lead through negotiation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Leader Of The Pack

I love a story that John Maxwell told back when he was a pastor in the San Diego area. They had hired Dan Reiland to be on their staff. One morning Dan walked into the church office and John was standing there talking to a couple of their church leaders. Dan walked by without saying anything, went into his office and shut the door. Excusing himself, John followed Dan, sat down and began this conversation...

"Dan, you just walked right by us without acknowledging that we were even there. What's up?"

"I have a lot to do. I needed to come in here and get to work."

"I need you to understand something, Dan. That was your work standing out there and you walked right past it!"

Dan learned and developed his people skills. Attitude skills, organization skills and people skills are essential tools for any effective leader. Dan Reiland went on to become a world class leader. He has helped train other leaders all over the world and been a blessing to all sorts of local churches. I know. He consulted with us a number of years ago. His people skills were impeccable.

One of the Bible verses I long ago highlighted was, "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox." (Proverbs 14:4 NASB) In the margin, I wrote, "Where no people are, there are no problems."

Having grown up on a little farm where my chores included helping milk cows, I can tell you something about the difference between a clean and a dirty manger. Mangers are feeding troughs. Ours included a rather large one for hay and a small one for grain right next to it.

Our practice was to put grain into a smaller trough when milking. If the cow finished the grain before we completed milking her, she might get ornery and turn around backwards. It wasn't all than unusual for one to "do her business" right into her manger. You get the picture.

We grew up with fresh milk, fresh butter and some of the most tender beef you could have found anywhere on the planet. No exaggeration. We constantly ate homemade ice cream in the summer to use up some of the over abundance of fresh cream.

But we had to keep the manger clean. It's part of good cow skills.

I'm certain the connection is clear.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Leadership Lackings

He had one of those personalities that tended to instantly attract most people. He attained his first church staff job because he was comfortable in front of people. It was as if he never met a stranger.

It was the downside of his personality that held him back. He was in many ways the opposite of Sheila from yesterday. She was a perfectionist; he was too laid back. She was a complainer; he got along with everyone.


When some of his team members complained that he didn't do enough, he was hurt. But he quickly moved past it. It was the day that a key leader confronted him that stopped him in his tracks. The lady was a friend who had always supported him. What she couldn't support was his failure to do a simple task he had promised to complete. She was a wife who helped in her husband's business, a mom of three and the lay leader of a major ministry. She regularly took assignments and completed them. Why couldn't this staff member do the work he had promised to do?

Fortunately, he took her passionate confrontation to heart. Sadly lacking in organizational skills, be began to slowly learn them. Many years later he learned that the ability to organize is one of the core competencies of good leaders. Leaders don't have to be administrative geniuses but they do have to know how to take a task and "git 'er done."

I'll always remember that moment of painful change.

I am that leader.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Leadership Poison

Sheila (not her real name) is a hard-working, faithful leader who loves the people she leads. Her supervisor commented to me about Sheila's effectiveness.

"I keep hearing about another side of Sheila," I said. "I don't know exactly why, but evidence is mounting that she is very critical of the people she works with."

"I thought it was just me," said the supervisor. "I know that Sheila has a problem with me, but I figured it was just a personality clash. I let it go because she seems so well-liked by the group she is responsible for."

We continued our conversation and the supervisor acknowledged that Sheila, while she has some great skills, has regularly repelled co-workers. She has had some very good team members at her side, but they keep leaving. Why? Sheila is a perfectionist complainer.

She is good at what she does and holds herself to a very high standard. That makes it easy for her supervisors to ignore her dark side. Her perfectionism and her frequent complaints about other people gradually cause her coworkers to lose heart and quit. The problem: they don't say why they're leaving. Sheila is so polished in her work that they don't dare speak ill of her. They may not even be aware of why it's so difficult to continue serving with her.

Perfectionism makes Sheila blind to her own weakness. Consequently, she isn't very "coachable." It doesn't seem likely that she will change because she genuinely thinks the rapid loss of team members is from their lack of commitment. If she doesn't change, she becomes too much of a liability and must be asked to step down.

Leadership author John Maxwell says that "Attitude Skills" are essential for good leaders. When someone fails to maintain a positive attitude, they are "Leadership Poison."

What is your experience with "perfectionist complainers?"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Guy In Seat D

The desert heat from that June morning rose in ripples above the miles of pavement. I looked ahead of me in the line of passengers about to board a Southwest Airlines 737. Nice jetways would come later. For now, we all had to leave the air conditioned terminal and stand outside before we climbed the stairs into that large, winged cylinder.

I noticed the man and his wife and recognized them instantly. I knew at the same moment that we were headed to the same destination. I had been a "Senior Pastor" for all of 18 months. The church I led was neither small nor large. The pastor farther up in line was shepherd to thousands. They had built a gigantic campus on a major corner near the heart of the business district. They had grown to become one of the largest churches in America. Now, we were both headed to the national meeting of our denomination.

Our momentary eye contact in that boarding line told me that the other pastor recognized me, but couldn't quite determine how or when. I helped him out by stopping to re-introduce myself (we had met very briefly in the past) as I walked down the aisle seeking a seat. He immediately introduced me to his wife and asked if I was sitting with anyone. Southwest has no assigned seating and I was alone so I accepted his invitation to slip past her and into the window seat.

We briefly caught up on people we both knew and I asked him a question. "How do you pastor such a big church and prioritize time for your family?" He told me a story. Then another. Then another.

We sat on that plane for about four hours and he literally poured himself into me. He helped me understand things about pastoring and leading that I still employ over a quarter of a century later. (In fact, at least one of his stories has appeared in this blog.)
Every time I saw that pastor after that, he did or said something to help and encourage me. I just kept learning from him.

I even learned from what, I'm sure, was one of the most painful lessons in his life. He pastored that church for 25 years. Their Sunday attendance of about 400 grew to over 6,000 during that time. God used his ministry and the work of that church to raise up leaders, pastors and missionaries who continue to have an impact all over the world.

The issue that ended up hurting their effectiveness was, I believe, a matter of leadership style. He had come along in a golden age of CEO-type leaders in every sector of life. It was common for pastors like him to have a designated parking space closest to the church building. He reached consensus on decisions on the strength of his forceful personality. He told other strong leaders the "right" thing to do and they did it because he was leading the charge.

Then a subtle, but powerful, shift began to affect every part of our culture. It was the rise of the "Baby Boomer." Unlike their parents, Baby Boomers wanted -- expected -- a voice at the decision-making table. They were reshaping everything into their picture of how the world should work and "top-down" leadership wouldn't cut it.

My friend seemed bewildered by all this. He couldn't understand the force and nature of the change in time to stop a huge exodus of some of his finest, up-and-coming leaders. Before it was over, a few thousand had left and he felt it best to depart, too.

This week, let's talk about leadership. Things we have learned. People who have taught us. Struggles along the way.

Whoever you are, you almost surely lead someone. It may be your preschooler(s), your students, your workgroup or your unit. Leading keeps you on your toes. Leading makes you appreciate those who have led before you and taught you from their experiences.

Who would one of those people be? Why?