May 2011


I was listening to a webinar last week that misrepresented itself and turned out far less useful than advertised. Not an atypical experience; webinars too often devolve into infomercials for the presenter rather than designed for the audience. I recall the words of an old boss. Joe Ledlie used to insist that you have to add value to any piece used to sell your company. If you add value for the recipient, they will listen to your message.

What saved the entire webinar for me was one question raised five minutes from the end. “What do I do with a young person who has an insatiable hunger for a leadership position and incredible impatience with taking the steps to develop?” Given the way my ears perked up at that question, I should have caught more of the presenter’s response. The one phrase that derailed my mind was his characterization of “an over-inflated sense of readiness.”

Have you ever encountered this phenomenon? I’m all for young people stepping into leadership, but too many want to reach the goal without putting in the hard work. Reality TV probably feeds this desire for instance gratification. Young people today would rather be Kelly Clarkson than the Beatles, who Malcolm Gladwell claims put in an estimated 10,000 hours of hard work in Germany before ever making it big.

So, let’s unpack this issue a little bit. First, why do we need young people in leadership? I’ll address that here. In my next post, I’ll argue the other side.

I think organizations are served well by a variety of viewpoints. Ethnicity and gender are two principle means of achieving that diversity, but recognizing that it’s not the skin that’s important, but the unique vantage points their unique experience brings. However, there are a few more elusive forms of diversity, such as age and a fresh set of eyes – someone who comes from outside the organization and lifts the organization out of its rut. Both have expiration dates.

Age diversity incorporates several desirable characteristics:

  • generational viewpoints
  • ability to understand the culture
  • technical savvy
  • coachability
  • open mindedness
  • willingness to risk
  • energy
  • curiosity

I think ability to understand culture and technology has parallels with ability to understand and speak languages. Social media is not my first language; I’m probably a 1.5 generation. But computers are my first language. In contrast, my parents use computers like it’s their second language and find social media completely unintelligible.

The goal isn’t to ditch one generation in favor of another, but to have all working together to create a rich tapestry of perspectives. You therefore need both on your leadership team. If you have a couple of older sages, you can afford to take a risk on a couple of young, energetic change agents. I’ll go ahead and say it: most organizations and businesses take too risk-averse a line when it comes to inviting young people to the leadership table.

Cameron TownsendWhen I look at Wycliffe and wonder how we could ever turn the keys over to a young leader, it’s helpful for me to remember this picture. Our founder was in his twenties when he had the audacity to think he could start an organization that would take on translation for the remaining language groups.

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[re-posted from my ministry blog, teameyre.wordpress.com]

“Are you excited?” and “Do you want the job?” are among the most common questions we’ve received. While Becky and I didn’t pursue this position with Wycliffe Canada, we made a series of prayerful decisions to go the next step in the process. And then the next. So, when the Board selected me unanimously, we saw the hand of God in that decision. This is simply our next step of obedience to God. It’s a role that will stretch us, challenge us and cause us to depend on God in new ways.

I think many look at the position of president in terms of the honor that it is. Certainly, it is an honor to be chosen. It comes with a platform, a high profile and authority. But when I look at the position, I see responsibility. There are significant challenges that need to be tackled. I feel a burden to support the 400 members plus volunteers and paid staff working throughout the world. And I feel the urgency to draw out the vast resources Canadians can contribute to making the Word of God accessible in every language in this generation.

I’ve quoted it several times before here, but I’ll say it again. In The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Dr. Steven Sample quotes the advice of one of his colleagues:

Many men want to be president, but very few want to do president.

So, Yes! I am excited. And, Yes! I am terrified!

My sister made an interesting comment this week that triggered a new post that’s perfect for a Friday. She said for many years when she read a description of someone as “misled,” she thought it was pronounced [mizzled], a word which to me falls in the company of such descriptors as grouchy, frumpy and crotchety. I asked my sister what she thought [mizzled] meant, and her response draws from the verb form, misle: “I just thought it was a very mean thing to do to someone.”

What hit me later is the actual meaning of the word “misled.” Dictionary.com defines it as being led astray or guided wrongly. The implication is that the fault lies with the leader. That’s what Chip and Dan Heath point out in Switch. In a blog post a year ago, I quoted their reference to the Fundamental Attribution Error, which states that leaders have a deeply-seated tendency “to attribute others’ behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in” (while generously doing the opposite with our own behavior).

What I’m suggesting is that if you, as a leader, have problems with your followers, you should look in the mirror. Grumpy, complaining, “misled” followers reflect the face of their leader.

Since the board of Wycliffe Canada selected me as the next president of Wycliffe Canada, the most common comment I’ve heard is “Wow!” followed by “Congratulations!” And then “Thank you for stepping up.” It’s that sentiment that hits most closely to my heart as I contemplate this jump in responsibilities.

For several years I’ve waxed, pontificated, prodded and urged through this blog and in leadership development events. In the latter, I’ve often closed by challenging those God has gifted to “Step up.” Now it’s time to put my leadership philosophies into practice, and I recognize that I will no doubt have to eat some of my words in this blog.

On Thursday, as I headed to a Wycliffe Canada conference where I would be publicly introduced, a member of the board read me the following personal note from Oswald Chambers:

If Jesus ever commanded us to do something that He was unable to equip us to accomplish, He would be a liar. And if we make our own inability a stumbling block or an excuse not to be obedient, it means that we are telling God that there is something which He has not yet taken into account.

I believe God has asked me to take this position at this moment in time. I’m not willing to say that He is not enough, that He can’t equip me for it. Chambers goes on:

Every element of our own self-reliance must be put to death by the power of God. The moment we recognize our complete weakness and our dependence upon Him will be the very moment that the Spirit of God will exhibit His power.

Wow. It’s going to be quite a ride.