September 2009


Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

How does a leader maintain perspective in chaos and crisis? With everyone’s eyes on her, the leader has to keep her calm and her optimism. We expect it of our leaders. They are our barometer and our plumline. Leaders cannot panic, and they cannot show their despair. So what does she do if she fears the same things that panic her followers? She has a choice to either fake quiet confidence or find some bedrock of her own.

I want to suggest three ways to do that, inspired by Paul’s words above. I’ll cover the first one here and follow with the others. The most important thing is that a leader has to know where to find hope for herself. David penned Psalm 121 for pilgrims climbing the long, steep, dry mountainous road toward Jerusalem. He recognizes that his hope doesn’t come from the strength of mountains or the literal and figurative strength of the city Jerusalem.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber…

“Our confident hope” means that the leader takes confidence in nothing but the faithfulness of God and the work of Christ. God is the one who doesn’t change, the great Creator who never sleeps. Christ is the one who took the foolish things of this world and appointed them over the wise. There’s no reason any of us should be leaders except for the fact that Jesus redeemed us from our brokenness and gave us hope.

Starting from that point means a leader can strengthen her inner core, find confidence and even rejoice in spite of chaos and crisis around her. Circumstances don’t sway someone who has a strong foundation. And setbacks don’t derail someone with a strong vision that goes beyond their organization or even their tenure in office. And a leader who doesn’t lose hope inspires those whose eyes are watching her.

Moses was one of those kinds of leaders. His foundation was firmly set on a personal relationship with God and his eyes fixed on the vision of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Over and over, Moses’ response to adversity was to go to God for help. He spent hours with God and was transformed by the experience. He dumped his complaints before God and urged Him to defend His name. In return, God was his avenger, speaking on his behalf and even striking down some who publicly spoke against him. Moses’ help came from the Maker of heaven and earth.

I’ve just finished reading Leading With a Limp, by Dan Allender. He says hope comes most out of situations of despair and disillusionment, when a leader’s optimism and idealism “suffer a mortal injury.” When the leader realizes that she can’t do everything or that she can’t solve this one problem, she hits the wall and her own limitations become clear. That’s where the God whose “strength is made perfect in weakness” can do His best work. God alone is our hope, and we realize it most when all of our other idols are exposed. That’s the best position to lead from.

As my friend Paul Edwards said once, “We gaze at Christ and glance at the waves around us.”

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9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other….

13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality….

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

My intern did a survey this summer of a lot of leaders in our office. One of the questions he asked was what they considered their leadership strengths. While a number named characteristics traditionally thought of as “strong and bold” — visionary, decisive and strategic thinking, for instance — I was happy with the number of times some “alternative” characteristics came up: listening, serving, understanding context and caring for their team. I’m not sure how many business schools or leadership courses emphasize that last one.

I think there are two problematic areas in leadership today related to this topic. First, the “old school” line of thought is that leaders should distance themselves from their teams. It’s built on the idea that you can’t uphold the discipline necessary in the manager-subordinate relationship if you let your co-workers become your friends. I get it. I know I’m making it more difficult for myself, but I just can’t keep that distance. For one, it compartmentalizes my life too much. I pour a good portion of my life into my teams. And two, I think the problems outweigh the benefits. For a team to be successful, Patrick Lencioni says in 3 Signs of a Miserable Job, the manager needs to know each team member. If this is true in a for-profit context, how much more should it be true in a Christian ministry context? Managers should know when their staff members are weeping inside and when they’re jumping up and down at home. Managers should know when they’re in need.

The other major problem is that managers fake care for their teams. The trend right now is to offer all kinds of flex time and benefits for employees, making the corporation feel more socially conscious and family-oriented. Managers are encouraged to empower their teams and give them voice. Former Yahoo exec Tim Sanders has build a speaking tour on the principle of love being the “Killer App.” But greater benefits, social consciousness, family orientation and empowerment don’t necessarily equate with love. How many managers really love their staff members? What does that look like?

Loving your team means all your actions honor the people you work with. It means you’re a developer of people. It means you hold them to high standards. For instance, you don’t tolerate cutting corners, and you don’t allow gossip to undermine the team. And it means when you fire someone — because you love them too much to let them underperform or break the rules — or have to lay someone off, you bend over backwards to care for them and make sure they land on their feet.

It means taking delight in honoring your team. The starting point is that in success, you’re a window, pointing to the team’s contribution and in failure, you’re a mirror, taking credit for your own part in the mistakes. It goes to awards, too. I read recently in The 52nd Floor how every time an award is given, half of your team are thinking of another team member who deserved it more, and the other half think they’re that person. The only people that feel good about an award are the boss and the recipient, and both are often happy for sinful reasons!

I think to delight in honoring someone has to include individualization. Every person on your team has a different way of feeling appreciated. When you notice a person’s “love language” and show appreciation in the language that speaks to them — which might not include public praise — I think they feel known, and they feel honored. When you ask them their favorite food for a party and then use that to celebrate a milestone, they feel known and honored.

Loving your team means you set up a system to identify needs, because most people are too proud to tell you, and then a system to help meet those needs. A lot of people are struggling right now, but they put on a face of professionalism when they come to work. Most colleagues will never know the pain they’re in. So, how can we allow people to share their need? How can we allow an intermediate to tactfully alert others to our needs? And how can a manager participate in meeting those needs?

Loving your team means you practice hospitality. Instead of keeping the distance, invite them into your life and into your home. Hospitality is actually one of the qualifications of a church elder (1 Timothy 3:2). I think it should be a mark for any ministry leader.

And I think that’s the point here. Ministries should be able to become more professional without having to copy the cutthroat measures of the corporate world. Love should be the mark of any leader in a ministry setting. And I think Tim Sanders has one thing right: the business world would be a better place if they copied the ministry world a little more. I suspect they’d even find that love is profitable.

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning… (NLT)

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you… (NIV)

Two versions of the same verse cast slightly different light on the subject of authority. In my July post on authority, I named two kinds of non-positional authority. Paul refers to both here. There’s a reason Paul can speak into the lives of the Church in Rome — because he has spiritual and moral authority in their lives. I think it’s noteworthy that he doesn’t say, “Because of my position as apostle…” There are a couple of times when Paul took a lot of space in his epistles defending his role as an apostle. Apparently, there was some question as to his position since he did not spend any time with Jesus himself. But here he’s not referring to any positional kind of power.

Paul has authority because of two reasons. First, because of his investment in the Roman church, they have given him moral authority in their lives. Second, because God has given authority to him. It’s by God’s grace — what Christ did to pull him out of the life he was in — that he has the privilege and authority of influencing this group. He can therefore teach, encourage, cajole and rebuke the Church in the most powerful city in the world.

Mind you, Paul didn’t necessarily shy away from titles. He regularly identifed himself as “bond slave of Christ” and “chief of sinners.” A position of genuine humility can go a long way to building authority.

Jeff Jagodzinski was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday. For those who haven’t heard of him, let me fill you in. “Coach Jags” spent two years coaching Boston College and did so well that NFL head coaching positions seemed attainable. That was clearly his ambition, and the timing must have felt right.

The problem was that Boston College thought it violated his contract, so they warned him that if he even interviewed with the New York Jets, he would be fired. Jags took a gamble that they were bluffing… and ended up looking for a new job. He ended up with neither. But it still worked out for him: in January, he was hired as an assistant coach in the NFL. He made it to the upper levels, just not his dream job.

Now Jagodzinski has been fired from two jobs in 10 months. That’s gotta hurt the resume.

What can we learn from him? Ambition can be a blessing and a curse. That drive for achievement has to be tempered with wisdom, council and patience. It’s always better to be asked to take a position than to ask for it. See Luke 14, especially verse 11:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

I hope Jagodzinski learns from George O’Leary, coach of the UCF Golden Knights. O’Leary had a similar moment: a chance to jump to his dream job at Notre Dame. When that dream came crashing down after two days because of an error in judgment early in his career (stacking his resume), UCF eventually gave him a chance. He’s now diligently working his way back. He hasn’t had a lot of bigger schools calling, but he doesn’t seem discontent where he is. He’s pouring himself into his job and his student-athletes, and I think his reputation is recovering. Jags looks younger than O’Leary. I hope he can follow the same route. Perhaps the right opportunity will come around again someday… if he just has patience.

That’s the view from the back row, as football season begins — the most wonderful season of all.

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

It happens every year. A young lady shows up on American Idol, sings her heart out… and the judges cringe. When someone informs her that she’s bad, she appears genuinely shocked.* Why? Because her entire life, she’s been told that she can sing. She has never received honest feedback until Simon Cowell.

* Go with me here. I know it’s all rigged.

Do you have a Simon Cowell in your life? Okay, bad example. Do you have someone in your life who has the privilege and authority in your life to tell you the truth? Paul had the ability to say this to the Roman church because of his role as spiritual father and apostle. Perhaps for you it’s a pastor or mentor or Proverbs-worthy friend, but you need people to give you an honest assessment, particularly as you move up in leadership.

What if you’re not really as good a leader as you think you are? This is a tough question, so take a minute to think about it.

I’ve read many times that when a superstar executive is plucked from a team by headhunters to fill a new leadership position in another company, they can’t reach the same success in the new setting. Why? It’s the drumbeat I’ve been saying for some time now: leadership is contextual. You are likely only as good as the team you’re surrounded by and the ideal match of your abilities to the challenges and opportunities you’re facing. Before you take credit for things that God has given you, read Daniel 4 as a warning from King Nebuchadnezzar.

I believe self-management is the first requirement of leadership. The Bible is clear that if you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead others. The first step, then, is to know yourself. Know what you’re good at and what you’re not. Leaders have as few blindspots as possible and know their weaknesses well so they can lead to their strengths and staff to their weaknesses. But it’s true that the higher you move up in leadership, the more difficult it is to keep from living in a coccoon. There’s no one to tell you the truth, and it’s difficult to stop believing your own press.

The sticking point in these verses to me is that line, “measuring yourself by the faith God has given us.” What does that mean? For starters, if faith is the assurance of things unseen, then our plum line is not anything readily apparent to us. It’s not the media or our kiss-up friends. Our plum line is how God sees us. He’s the one who can see our insecurities and our coping mechanisms. He’s the one who sees past our false bravado. He’s the one who sees how our “courageous decision” was really just a guess, and this time it worked. He knows all that… and more.

Yet he also knows our full operating potential, because he’s the manufacturer. I think God believes in us. When we consider others better than ourselves and are quick to give credit to others for the success we enjoy, I think we’ll uncover a lot of the potential he built in.

Matthew Henry has a great admonition to sum up my last two posts (and this is a nice counterpoint to my recent posts on ambition):

We must not say, I am nothing, therefore I will sit still, and do nothing; but, I am nothing in myself, and therefore I will lay out myself to the utmost, in the strength of the grace of Christ.