Friday, December 19, 2014

The Painful lessons of Mars Hill from Leadership Journal

The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill

The gift of clarity and the confusion when clarity is absent

"I don't know where we are going" is a common theme in churches and organizations that I work with. Often leaders don't even know the frustration is there because they have an idea in their own mind where the organization is going. Unfortunately in many cases, they have not found a way to communicate that message clearly to those they lead and it is deeply frustrating to their constituency.

Ambiguity around direction and clarity creates uncertainty in organizations and that uncertainty leads to anxiety which often spills out in dysfunctional ways. People simply don't want uncertainty and staff and volunteers want to know how their contribution contributes to a direction and a cause.

Equally frustrating are leaders who give conflicting signals as to where they are going. This leaves staff and constituents confused. Often this happens when leaders really don't know their direction and cast around looking for the "right thing." 

The best leaders give their staff and constituency a great gift: Clarity. This is where we are going and this is how we are going to get there and this is the consistent message every day, every month and every year. It is like having a GPS with the end goal in site even though we are on a journey and cannot see the destination now. 

If you lead an organization or team, how clear are you on where you are going and how clear are your staff? Do not assume that they are clear because you think you are. They may or may not be. I know because I talk to many staff who say to me, "I don't know where we are going."

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Four keys to restoring trust when it has been broken by leaders

All leaders make mistakes and sometimes those errors in judgement significantly erode their leadership capital - as well as the leadership capital of those around them. I often work with churches where leaders (pastoral or boards) have either neglected issues they should have paid attention to, allowed staff toxicity to exist, made decisions that were widely unpopular, let a staff member go without due process and the list could go on. No leader is exempt from actions, decisions or words that causes a break in trust with those they lead. The question is, how does one restore trust when it has been broken?

The answer is fairly simple but not easy. Not easy because it requires us as leaders to humble ourselves, admit we missed the mark and are willing to make it right. That is a tough thing for a leader to do. We want to be seen as strong and right. And this requires us to admit that we are often weak and wrong. It is a humbling process but without that process trust will not be rebuilt. Nor will we grow. Here are the four keys.

One. We must admit our error - personally. If we screwed up, it is not a secret among those we lead.   No matter what we do in the aftermath of broken trust, unless and until we personally say we were wrong and want to make it right we will not even begin to rebuild trust. I have seen leaders change course in the midst of pressure but until they admit they were wrong (a hard thing to do) they continue to lose points with those they lead. A heartfelt apology, however, goes a long way.

Two. We need to listen to hard feedback. I remember a situation in my own leadership where I had to take responsibility for something that became a mess. Not only did I need to take responsibility but I then had to listen to some hard things from people who were upset by decisions that had been made. These were not easy conversations and I had to listen with a humble heart. What it did, however, was to begin to rebuild trust with people who were extremely unhappy and it made a huge difference. Leaders are not exempt from hearing hard things and until we are willing to do that it is very difficult to rebuild trust.

Three. We need to tell the truth. It can be exceptionally hard for leaders to simply say, "I was wrong," "this is what I was thinking," "this is why I did what I did," and simply explain why they did what they did. All too often in Christian circles we try to spin the story so that we look OK or better than we are. Here is the truth, our people know that we were wrong and they don't buy the spin. In fact, spinning the truth in any way causes us to lose additional points rather than to rebuild trust. Spin may help us to feel better but it erodes rather than rebuilds trust. 

Let's be honest here. Spin is an attempt to protect our reputations but it is both dishonest and untruthful. God is a God of truth, not lies and the sad thing is that when we try to spin we are not only lying to others but to ourselves. We deplore it when it happens in Washington DC and we ought to deplore it when it happens in Christian ministries. The way forward is to be truthful and candid and honest even when it is a humbling experience to us.

Four. When we have messed up we need to take a posture of humility. It is what we teach and preach to others and it applies to us as leaders as well. People respond well to humility and they spot pride a mile away. All three of the previous keys to restoring trust require true humility. There is no other way to restore broken trust. It is a "nothing to prove and nothing to lose" attitude that models what we want other to live. When we are wrong, we need to live that humility ourselves.

Trust can be rebuilt when it is broken but it will not be without these four practices.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ten lessons from the Life of Moses on the heart of leadership

Moses is one of the greatest Old Testament leaders but too little attention is paid to how he got to the point where God could use him to do great things. If one looks at his life from age 40 to 80 there are ten instructive lessons that ought to inform our own lives as we think about leadership.

1. God is always on time but is never in a hurry. Think about this. When Moses was 40 he thought that he was something and God could not use him. When he was eighty he thought he was not much and God was ready to use him. It took forty years to perfect what God needed to do in Moses heart before he took on his God assignment. God is always on time but He is never in a hurry. He wants us to be ready above all things.

2. In God's work the heart always comes before leadership. At forty, Moses' heart was not ready for his God assignment. At eighty it was. What do you suppose God did in Moses heart for the forty years he was a shepherd for his father in law? He had forty years to spend time with his father, to live in his presence and the proof of this is the humility that Moses exhibited at eighty that was absent at forty. It took that time for Moses to have the heart material that God could use.

3. Hardship is inherent in the process. Our growth as leadership material does not come easily. It comes hard. It came in Moses' life by needing to run from his adopted father, give up a life of privilege and take up the humble life of a shepherd - as an alien in a foreign land for forty years. It is the humbling process that strips us of the dross that will keep us from being successful for God. It is not easy but it is necessary.

4. God's callings are holy callings. When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush the first thing He said was that Moses should take off his shoes for he was standing on holy ground. Holy because God was present and Holy because the assignment God was giving was a Holy assignment. All God assignments are Holy assignments wherever He places us. That is why we should take our calling and our vocation seriously, whatever it is.

5. God does not call us to do things we can do without Him. We should never be so cavalier as to think that we can do what God calls us to do on our own. Why would He call us to do anything we can do by ourselves? His assignments require His presence and His power and His wisdom. Moses got this which is why he repeatedly said "I am not qualified for the job." Of course he was not qualified and neither are we. God calls us to do those things that require His divine power and wisdom.

6. God reveals Himself to us as we answer His call. The first thing Moses had to do was to accept the fact that God was calling him and to say "yes" to that call. It was as he took a step of obedience that God continued to reveal himself and give Moses the resources he needed to lead the people out of Egypt. It was a "one step of obedience at a time leadership" which is what ours is as well. God did not show Moses the whole plan but He did prove Himself faithful as Moses chose to say yes.

7. False starts are often not failures. Moses had a massive false start. Was it a failure? I choose to think not. I believe it was simply one of the learning Moments that would prepare Moses for his big assignment. We should not be afraid of false starts in our leadership roles. God may simply be teaching us what we need to learn for the ultimate leadership role He wants us to play. Moses probably thought his false start was a failure. God probably saw it much differently.

8. God infuses what is in our hands for His divine purposes. It is a comical conversation that Moses had with God - especially because it mirrors our own inner conversations with God all too often. Moses says to God, how will the people know that I am from you when I go before Pharaoh? God says, "What is in your hand?" Moses says a staff, the most ordinary of instruments. God says throw it down and it became a snake and Moses ran from it....and the story goes on. God takes the most ordinary stuff that is in our hand or skill set and uses it for His divine purposes. We worry about what we have to carry out God's assignments. He does not. He simply takes what is in our hand and uses it for His purposes.

9. He does not call us to do it alone! Moses did not have all the skills that were necessary to carry out God's call and he knew it. Thus God provided Aaron to join his team and his father in law along the way to give him leadership advice. When God calls us he usually calls us to do things with others who have the skills we do not possess.

10.  We never arrive so our hearts need constant attention. Moses learned this in the journey of leading the people out of bondage and ultimately to the promised land. His own heart was tested time and again by those he led and the circumstances he found himself in. But he continued to nurture his heart and cry out to God for his presence and His power. It is all too easy to become complacent and careless, thinking we have arrived. That does not happen until we see Jesus face to face.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Three keys to humility

Romans 12:3-8 gives us one of the best keys to understanding humility in our lives. This is especially critical for leaders whose leadership role can move them toward pride easily.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

The first key is knowing who I am: "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." Sober judgment is an important phrase as we are often tempted to think more of ourselves than we should. When I was young I though I was good at a lot of things. Today I know I am good at about three things and the rest of my portfolio are weaknesses.

The second key is knowing who I am not. This is actually as important as understanding who I am and what I am good at. Jesus chose to give each of us specific gifts and the fact that we have a few and not many should actually engender significant humility. I am always amazed at the things others can do that I cannot. It is a reminder that each of us play a limited role in the grand scheme of things. While I love the gifts God gave to me I also recognize how much I need others when I think of the gifting I do not have.

The third key is understanding who gave us our gifts and why. It is hard to be proud of myself when I realize that the abilities I have were given by God to be used for His purposes. If I take credit for gifts He gave I steal credit from Him. Rather than being proud, we can be deeply grateful that He gifted and wired us the way He did and that we can use all of that gifting for His purposes in the world.

We never need to trivialize the gifts God gave us which is false humility. I know that I am very good at three things. At the same time we cannot take credit for what He gave us. All of this ought to engender a deep sense of humility in our lives. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Critical spirits and the Christian community

If there is one thing that I wish we could erase from the Christian community it is the spirit of criticism. I am not talking about raising legitimate concerns about issues or circumstances but about individuals who consistently stir the pot and whose default is to criticism rather than to encourage. Criticism is not a spiritual gift! In fact it is just the opposite - it emanates from a spirit of mistrust, pride and superiority.

A spirit of criticism is life taking rather than life giving and as such is not from the Father (John 10:10). It emanates from the lower nature. There are congregations that specialize in criticism and it holds them back from being all that they can be. There are individuals whose specialty is criticism and I for one don't want to have such on my staff or for that matter in my circle of friends. I prefer to rub shoulders with life giving individuals rather than life taking. The world is cruel enough and adding critical spirits to it is anything but edifying.

The book of Ephesians talks a lot about the kinds of attitudes and words that should characterize believers and none of them include a spirit of criticism. In fact, we are told that nothing should come out of our mouths that does not uplift those who we speak to. Something to consider.

Before we criticize we ought to ask ourselves these questions:

  • Is this simply a preference for how I would do things?
  • Will my comments encourage or discourage?
  • What is it in me that creates a critical spirit?
  • How would I feel if I had made this decision and was criticized for it? 
  • How would Jesus approach this issue? Would he approach this issue?
  • Do I really want to weigh in on this issue? The more critical we are the less we are heard. Does this raise to the level where it is really necessary for me to be critical?
Leaders are especially magnets for criticism. They make decisions and many love to second guess what those decisions should be. Board members or staff who have a spirit of criticism are the cause of much discouragement for leaders. For those who have such a gift of criticism I wish they could walk for a week in the shoes of a leader. It is easy to criticize. It is much more difficult to come up with real solutions.

Think of the fruit of the spirit. None of the characteristics include a spirit of criticism. We ought to be quick to encourage and slow to discourage. Criticism is the ultimate trigger for discouragement. Even when Jesus confronted sin he did so with great grace (the pharisees excepted). A spirit of criticism is not a spirit that comes from our Savior.