Friday, March 16, 2018

a leader's prayer

I often refer to my daily prayer book, written by John Baillie and entitled A Diary of Private Prayer.  This book, given to me by my friend and colleague Rev. Walt Waiser in May of 2012, has become part of my habit and routine most mornings of the week.  Each prayer (one for each day of the month) speaks to me in a  different manner each time I read it, depending on what is happening in my life and in the world around me.  So the final line of this morning's prayer stood out in a new way:

And whatever I myself can do, give me grace to begin.

One of the things leaders must consistently remind themselves of is to do the work that only they can do.  This is not so much about delegation as it is the needs of the institution they serve.  Whether it is by means of title and position or by means of giftedness and talent, leaders need to focus on the tasks that only they can - and should - do.  As I look over my desk at this moment, I am amazed at (afraid of?) the number of tasks that lay before me, each calling my attention and time.  When this feeling emerges within me, I need to step back and ask the question, "what is it that only I can do, and how might I delegate, distribute, or dismiss any of these other items?"  Not always an easy task, as I (and many others in leadership roles) feel a responsibility to take on new projects and look for the kudos that come upon completion of those projects.  And so I must consistently remind myself and pray the words and whatever I myself can do, give me grace to begin.

Amid the piles of tasks that lay in front of me,  there are those items which loudly call out for my attention, those that lay dormant for weeks or months, and those that I would rather not see or act upon.  Human nature tends to focus on those items that bring most pleasure, and so my tendency is to reach for that item which I enjoy doing.  That item which perhaps needs the most attention is put to the bottom of the pile for "another day."  And of course, as "another day" passes by, it soon becomes "another week," and the process of feeling guilt and remorse begins.  It is at these moments in which I need to remind myself and pray the words and whatever I myself can do, give me grace to begin.  It is when I finally begin that I find the energy to focus and complete the task before me...the task that only I can do.

The leader's prayer is many and varied, depending on the time, day, and circumstance that presents itself to the leader and the organization.  Perhaps this is the prayer when deadlines loom (or better when those deadlines are farther out), when the piles get too high (or before they begin to grow), and when the amount or type of work to be done seems overwhelming (or when the work is still manageable).  It is at these times that leaders can pray and whatever I myself can do, give me grace to begin, knowing that they have been called to this role to do the work that only they themselves can do...and that God's grace invites them to jump into the mess and begin the work that lay ahead.

Friday, March 9, 2018

a leader's ROI

As the leader of an organization, I am expected to move my organization forward, making it a better place tomorrow than it is today.  The institution has invested in me and, all things being equal, they expect to see a return on that investment.  At the end of each day, I must look in the mirror and ask myself whether or not my multiple activities have actually produced a return on investment for the university.  Did the meetings I attended move the institution forward? Did the visits I made provide something for the institution either now or in the future? Did the time spent answering emails make us a better place?  Did the time invested in writing a report help to ensure the organization's future?

Leaders of organizations or groups should be doing a regular assessment of their time and activities to make sure that the people who entrusted leadership to them are being well served.  As individuals are in their leadership roles over time, the demands on their schedule get more and more frequent...and many of those demands can be quite enticing including being asked to serve on boards, meetings with people who are seeking advice, and trips to locations far and wide.  So how might a leader take inventory of their time to ensure that the activities in which they are engaged are actually adding value?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • do more people (and especially the right people) know and understand the organization and its mission?
  • did the decisions made actually make the institution better?
  • are employees and/or customers more satisfied?
  • will the day's activities produce more revenue (either now or in the future)?
  • am I better equipped to make decisions moving forward?
  • are more people empowered to lead and make decisions themselves?
  • have I served the greater good, even beyond one's own organization (and is the organization okay with that)?
  • did the day's activities help to ensure the long run for the institution?
  • will the organization not have to be dealing with the same issue a year from now?
  • have I caused no harm to people, both internal and external to the organization?
  • do others feel more pride in the organization because of the day's work?
This list could go on and on yet, at the end of the day, the same question remains: what was the return to the organization for its investment in me?  Leaders who can answer this question will keep moving themselves and their organization forward; leaders who do not consider this question will find themselves and their organizations remaining stagnant.  What type of leader do you want to be?

Friday, March 2, 2018

fiercely loyal or blindly loyal

Leaders need to be loyal...loyal to their organizations, loyal to their team members, loyal to their customers, loyal to their missions, and loyal to their investors or board members.  A leader's loyalty is seen and felt by the other members of the organization and sets a tone of trust across the institution.  Or does it?

Being fiercely loyal is something each member of a team wants from their leader - to know that they are trusted; to know that they are important; to know that the leader has their back; and to know that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Loyalty from one's leader feels good and can lead to a higher level of production from other team members.  But when does loyalty move from fierce to blind?  When are leaders blindly loyal to someone or something for which there should be no loyalty?  Or when does the leader recognize that their fierce loyalty has become blind loyalty and a change needs to be made for the good of the team and the organization as a whole?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • when complaints about a team member become common and regular and the leader finds themselves defending that person's behavior, the leader should begin wondering if they are practicing blind loyalty
  • when team members begin blaming others rather than looking at themselves, the leader should begin wondering if they are practicing blind loyalty
  • when a team member begins to become more and more marginalized, either of their own accord or the engagement by others, the leader should begin wondering if they are practicing blind loyalty
  • when a leader finds themselves becoming angry when others suggest better ways of doing things, the leader should begin wondering if they are practicing blind loyalty
  • when people are hurt by the actions of others and the leader fails to address the hurt, the leader should begin wondering if they are practicing blind loyalty
  • when decisions begin to be made in isolation and are defended on accord of the person's position, the leader should begin to wonder if they are practicing blind loyalty
As leaders ask themselves whether they are fiercely loyal of blindly loyal, and as they take stock of how the organization is behaving in the points noted above, they will have the chance to act on that loyalty.  Making hard decisions about personnel, policies, and practices will provide to the organization the answer to whether the leader is fiercely loyal or blindly loyal...and that can make all the difference in the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

when a leader leaves suddenly

Today's thinking about when a leader leaves suddenly comes from two different situations: the first is when a leader leaves under duress or from being suddenly dismissed...and the other comes from when a leader has a sudden death.  The first occurs on a regular basis and is something I frequently read about in the higher education news outlets.  The second has been brought home to me over the past several days during a visit to Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY where on March 1, 2016 President Joseph McGowen died suddenly after serving there for 26 years as president.  Both are tragic...both are unexpected...and both have consequences for the organization.

When a leader suddenly departs, there is much that needs to be done to allow the organization and its members to mourn AND to keep the organization moving forward in its mission.  First a few thoughts on moving forward:

  • someone needs to take charge, and that person needs to be named by the Board (assuming there is a Board in place).  There should be no hesitation in this action - it should be swift and direct.
  • give people time to grieve and process the sudden loss.  This includes time together and time separately.
  • understand that everyone will grieve in a different way.  Allowing space and time for individuals will go a long way in the healing process.
  • realize that productivity may go down for a time as people spend more time talking with each other than on their assigned tasks.
  • get back to normality (or at least the new normality) as soon as possible.  Routine can often be a great healer of pain and sorrow.
  • be clear and direct about what needs to happen moving forward.  The person who is now leading the organization is its leader...and should act in an appropriate manner.
  • do not forget the one who is gone.  It is okay (and even encouraged) to talk about the leader who is now gone.
Here are a few thoughts on how to prepare ahead of time for a sudden departure:
  • have in place a written emergency succession plan that identifies what needs to be done and who should be doing it.  Make sure that everyone knows who that named person is and then train that person in the tasks of emergency leadership.
  • leaders should take care of themselves.  While there are some things one can never prepare for, leaders can work to stay healthy and keep themselves away compromising decisions and actions.
  • talk about it with the team and the Board.  Organizations must face the fact and think about the "what if" situation and how they would best respond.
  • ensure that leadership of the organization does not rest in the hands of one person.  Including others in regular operations and leadership prepares them to take charge when needed.
It is my prayer that organizations do not have to face this type of leadership transition.  It is is disruptive...and it can take a toll on people.  One of the great paradoxes of leadership is that those chosen for such a role must lead in a manner that reflects they will be there a very long time while at the same time understanding that they might not be there tomorrow.  Such is the way of leadership.

Friday, February 9, 2018

a leader's routine

This past Monday I was invited up to the Concordia University Texas baseball field to listen to Jake Arietta speak to our team's pitchers.  Jake, who is currently a free agent, played for the Chicago Cubs from 2014-2018 and was a key piece to their World Championship in 2017 (I am still holding out hope he will re-sign with them before the year begins).  Much of Jake's talk with our pitching squad was on preparation and getting ready to take the mound and pitch one's very best.  Some of it had to do with watching film, both of himself and the players he would face...some of it had to do with the regular physical exercise he does from day to day...some of it had to do with the mental exercises he does from day to day...some of it had to do with the routine of what happens on game day...and some of it had to do with the routine he goes through right before taking the mound.  All of this talk of routine and preparation got me thinking about the routine and preparation a leader goes through so that he or she is on the top of their game each and every day.  What is is that a leader should routinely do so that each day they can make good decisions, be a relationship master, clearly articulate the vision, and provide sufficient resources for their organization?  Here are a few examples of what I would consider good practices for a leader's daily routine:

  • quiet time: whether at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day, being quiet and just relaxing helps one to gather their thoughts and start fresh.
  • meditation: beyond just quiet time, this is prolonged time in which one works to empty the mind and just be still.  Many people find it valuable to meditate several times a day.
  • prayer: talking to one's God and considering the needs of others helps to bring focus and create a reliance on something greater than oneself.  While many people pray throughout the day, a certain time set aside each day to engage in this practice can make it more valuable and rich.
  • walking: whether it is the walk from one's car to their office, a brisk morning walk in the neighborhood, or a walk around the building during lunch, the act of exercise and quiet can help to prepare the leader for their work
  • reading: for some it is the routine of reading the daily newspaper...for some it is reading a poem each morning...for some it is the reading of a scriptural text.  Taking the time to read and think about what one has read can help to create clarity for the day.
  • emptying the inbox: the routine of either cleaning the inbox before one leaves the office or immediately in the morning helps to clear the clutter and begin the day fresh.
  • writing: the act of journaling is a powerful tool to help one think about their life and their work in new ways.  Whether it is free writing, reflecting on something that has read, or crafting a poem every day, writing has been proven to be one of those routines that can can have great impact.
There are many other types of actions one can routinely take to impact their day-to-day leadership.  Choosing what that routine is; being thoughtful about how that routine is impacting one's leadership; sticking to that routine over time; and then reflecting regularly on the routine are all a part of what makes a leader able to perform at their highest level each and every day,  What's your routine? And what have you done lately to connect that routine to your leadership performance?

Friday, February 2, 2018

a note on the leader's spouse

Last week I attended a conference for pastors of large churches, a conference that was equally designed for their spouses.  As I listened to several of the speakers, I realized that there is a role and calling for the spouse of the leader...and began thinking about what that actually means, for both the leader and their spouse or significant other.  For me, I have had the good fortune and opportunity to have been married for almost 36 years and can write from experience about the importance of the relationship between the leader and their spouse.  So what are the characteristics the spouse of a leader should consider?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • be kind: the days of a leader can be long and hard...and sometimes the nights can be equally long and hard.  A little kindness goes a long way at the end (or beginning) of the day.
  • be demanding: the long days (and nights) are never a license for bad behavior.  Leaders are often in charge all day long - they do not need to be the boss at home.
  • be honest: it is easy for leaders to begin to believe their own press after a time.  Holding a mirror up to your spouse from time to time keeps them humble and realistic.
  • be their biggest fan: leaders are often the target of second guesses and on the receiving end of complaints and skeptical comments.  Knowing they will always have someone on their side does much to keep their fires lit and their enthusiasm going.
  • be present: when spouses have time together, it is important that they both be present.  Demand (see above) that your significant other is ready to fully engage and bring their full self to the discussion.
  • be interested: while some leaders may want to leave their work behind at the end of the day, they still want to know that someone cares about their work and wants to know what happened during the day.
  • be your own person: leaders of organizations (especially large organizations) often have personalities that match that organization's size.  Spouses must have their own voice and their own sense of who they are beyond their significant other's role.
  • be hopeful: there are times in a leader's life when hope begins to wane and they need support to keep going.  The same can be true of spouses...remaining hopeful in the midst of the dark times is important to both the leader and their spouse.
One other thought to consider...many leaders become mentors to other leaders.  In that mentoring process, remember to consider the leader's spouse and remind them of the importance of that other person in their life.  Keeping this relationship strong should be a priority for all leaders...and for those who mentor them.

Friday, January 19, 2018

servant or self-serving?

In a discussion with a colleague earlier this week, the idea came up of the difference between servant leadership and self-serving leadership...and what may be a supposed fine line between the two.  Of course, very few people would admit to engaging in self-serving leadership and would claim that they were all about servant leadership; very few people would want to be known as self-serving leaders and would rather be lauded as servant leaders; very few people would be able to recognize self-serving leadership in themselves and would be quick to point out how they are actually practicing servant leadership; and very few people understand the difference between the two, especially in themselves.  Even as I write this blog and think about this topic, I am putting myself at risk of being seen as someone who might be more self-serving than a servant in my own leadership.

So what might the difference look like?  And is it possible to be both a servant leadership and self-serving at the same time?  What follows are a few ideas about the differences between the two:

  • Pride: leaders should take pride in their work and the execution of strategy for their organization.  Where that pride is placed is one indicator of whether one is a servant or self-serving leader
  • Recognition of Others: when leaders recognize the accomplishments of others, is the end result a stronger and more constructive organization or is it only that more people appreciate the leader mentioning their names?
  • Execution: as strategy is rolled out and executed upon, do others thank the leader for their vision and determination or do they look around and thank each other?
  • Communication: who is at the center of the story the majority of the time? and who determines what gets said, when it is said, and how it is said?
  • Decision Making: how does the leader react when decisions are made outside of her or his purview? are decisions mostly centralized or pushed out to others?
  • Vision: Is the vision about something bigger and more aggrandizing? or is the hero of the story the client or the one being served?
While none of these ideas are exact and readily seen or known, they begin to give an indication of whether or not one is a servant leader or a self-serving leader.  The paradox of this concept is that in order to serve others, leaders may have to act at times in a manner that is perceived as self-serving.  One of the things I tell up-and-coming leaders is that they must be able to embrace the paradox that it is all about them AND not at all about them.  This is not an exact science...there are no 21 rules or 7 habits of determining whether one is being a servant or self-serving...and it would not be fair to determine for someone else, based on these concepts, whether they are a servant or self-serving leader.  My hope is that as I have thought about this concept, so will you.  And, when looking in the mirror, you will be able to tell the difference and begin to shape yourself more toward being a servant for those you lead.