November 2009


I remember a design project at Georgia State where I participated in a team responsible for marketing a lightbulb company. Our ad campaign pretty much got trashed by the judges as unoriginal, but we hit on one thing that I think is worth remembering: the way to sell lightbulbs is to change your focus off the bulbs. Our company sold “100% bulbed light.”

It’s a subtle difference, but I believe perspective makes a big difference in a company. Do people care about the bulbs or the light? At the Threshing Floor last Friday, I was reminded that Hallmark isn’t a greeting card company, but a social expression company. According to George Barna’s Master Leaders, Disney isn’t in the theme park business; it’s in the happiness business. Banks are in the peace-of-mind business. And so on.

A perspective focused on the end experience of the customer is going to meet their needs better and result in a better product. Do you know what your real business is? What is the feeling that your customer will go away with? It’s about vision, and vision starts at the top.

Last month, one of Wycliffe USA’s board members summed up Wycliffe’s business. We’re not in the Bible translation business, but the Bible transformation business — lives changed by the Word of God. That’s our vision.

Back to the design project. Of course it was a marketing campaign. Only a marketing campaign could convince the pubic that incandescent bulbs are anything more than: “80% bulbed heat, 20% bulbed light.”

Over the last 3 months, I’ve read the following books:
– Leading with a Limp, by Dan Allender
– Leadership Jump, by Jimmy Long
– The Making of a Leader, by J. Robert Clinton
– The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R. Tolkien (to my boys)

I’m currently reading:
– The Dark Side of Leadership
– Master Leaders, by George Barna
– A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller

On my nightstand to read next:
– A pre-release copy of Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath
– Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath
– The Missional Leader
– FYI: For Your Improvement
– In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by Mark Batterson

And perhaps most importantly, the next book I want to read to my boys:
– The Two Towers, by J.R. Tolkien

That’s my list. Comments? What are you reading? What should I be reading?

And is there a Facebook application that helps manage all this without getting annoying with its product promotions? I don’t want to throw a book at someone!!!

In St Louis in September, I participated in a roundtable discussion on leadership development where Rick Sessoms of MentorLink made a great observation: If you give leadership training to someone who lacks character, you’re enabling their abuse of power. Training won’t fix heart issues; it will simply give better tools to someone who lacks integrity, making them better at their abuses.

Patrick Lencioni says some of the same kinds of things in his cautionary blog post, Not Everyone Should Lead. Here’s an excerpt:

Whenever I hear someone encourage all young people to become leaders, or better yet, when I hear a young person say glibly that he or she wants to be a leader someday, I feel compelled to ask the question “why?”

If the answer is “because I want to make a difference” or “I want to change the world,” I get a little skeptical and have to ask a follow-up question: “Why and in what way do you want to change the world?” If they struggle to answer that question, I discourage them from becoming a leader.

Why? Because a leader who doesn’t know why he or she wants to lead is almost always motivated by self-interest. Whether that manifests itself in terms of fame or money or power, it is a very dangerous thing.

Leaders need to recognize the requirements of leadership: people marked by humility, maturity, selflessness and vision and willing to bear the costs of loneliness, sacrifice and great personal risk.

For all emerging leaders reading this, I’ll close with Steven Sample’s challenge from The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership: Are you more interested in being the position or doing the position?

My pastor, Chan Kilgore, once said that people never build monuments to critics. Is that really true? When he said it, I immediately thought of a lot of the figures in the Revolutionary War. Thomas Payne and Paul Revere were pretty serious critics. But there’s a difference between protesters who take potshots and protesters who do something about their beliefs. And victors always get to define the terms. Instead of “critic” and “traitor,” we in the United States prefer “forefather” and “patriarch.”

The question I want to consider is: why should a leader bless those who persecute him? Verse 20 gives one answer: to heap “burning coals” on them. It seems to me that alone could serve as a nasty motivation for “kindness.” But is that what this passage is about? Of course, the Bible preaches a countercultural message: seek genuine blessing for your critics. Why?

Point number 2: critics are essential in the life of a leader. Many gurus have written about the inability of senior leaders to get accurate assessments; candor is inversely proportional to level of position. Therefore, if a leader can receive it, the poignant commentary of a critic is essential because of his immunity to persuasion. He provides that “alternative” viewpoint we need so much.

I have a challenge for you. Next time you’re persecuted, ask yourself, “What if they’re right?” It could cast some light onto your blind spots.

An Old Testament example takes it one step further. In 2 Samuel 16, David’s son Absalom has taken the throne by force, and David is forced to flee from Jerusalem. While David is at a low point, an opportunistic descendant of David’s predecessor begins throwing stones and verbal lobs, claiming that David is getting a taste of his own medicine. David’s men want vengeance, but he rebukes them:

My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.

David shows incredible restraint, perspective and confidence in God’s Sovereignty. I think we’d all do well as leaders to respond the same way. What if God has given you a critic for a specific purpose? If you could see criticis that way, wouldn’t you pray for them, seek to bless them tangibly and work to overcome them by doing what’s right?

Lest we idolize David too much, let’s look at the rest of the story in 1 Kings 2:8-9. Years later, when David gives his final instructions to another son who is taking the throne legitimately, he admits that Shimei stuck in his craw. David tells Solomon,

I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.

Don’t we wish! If only we could all keep our hands clean and leave it to our sons to clean up for us. Not sure how to respond to that one. It certainly speaks to the deep, irreversable pain a critic can bring to a king. It’s easy to do the right thing for a while, but difficult to let go of the feelings surrounding the experience.

Here’s an election day special for you.

I enjoyed an article in the Orlando Sentinel this morning (you can find the article here) about the difficulty of finding candidates willing to let their names stand for mayor in small towns across the U.S. Apparently, not too many people jump at the chance to lay off city workers, close firestations and make the budget balance for a salary of $600 per year.

For instance, the case of Emmett Dofner. In 1987, the 150 residents of McClelland, Iowa decided to write his name on their blank ballots — blank because there were no candidates for mayor that year. When he began getting congratulatory phone calls, he thought it was a prank. Nevertheless, he threw himself into the job and concluded two years later that he’d done his share. Time for someone else.

They’re anticipating that he’ll be elected by write-in vote for his 12th consecutive term today.

That’s reluctant leadership.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them…. 17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable…. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

20 Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Criticism is one of the hardest things for a leader, in part because so many are driven by a desire for approval. This passage speaks to the very heart of that issue. I think I can sum up these verses with two main points. First, a leader’s response to criticism will reveal his heart — his faith and his character. And second, that critics have their place. We need them because they can provide contrast and excellent feedback.

Nothing exposes a leader like a good critic. People who get under our skin, who persecute us or who find fault with every attempt to move an organization forward can fester like nothing else. They try us most because they are immune from all of our skills of influence and persuasion. They therefore quickly expose our foundations. Do we really have faith in God’s sovereignty? Do we really believe that God will deal with them? And what is our character made of? Are we really honorable, kind and full of grace? Or are we vengeful and vindictive, impatient and short-tempered?

I got a recent insight on this topic from Shepherding a Child’s Heart. When kids are bullied at school, what do parents teach them? Tedd Tripp’s response draws straight from Romans 12:

It doesn’t take grace from God to ignore the oppressor. It doesn’t take supernatural grace to stand up for your rights. To do good to oppressors, however, to pray for those who mistreat you, to entrust yourself to the just Judge, requires a child to come face-to-face with the poverty of his own spirit and his need of the transforming power of the gospel.

So, whether we’re a leader or a child, God calls us to a higher standard that cannot be achieved apart from His supernatural grace at work in our own lives. What’s the condition of our own hearts?

Since I’ve taken so long composing this post, I’m going to go ahead and publish part 1.