Friday, February 26, 2010

developing young leaders

This weekend I have four students attending the Student Leadership Conference sponsored by the Center for Ethical Leadership housed in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. While they are there, they will hear from such people as Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, engage in small group sessions on using one's strengths in leadership, and spend time with other young leaders from across the country making sense of what leadership really means for someone just entering the third decade of their life.

I have a passion for developing young leaders - it resonates with me to watch college age students step up and take leadership excites me to see college age students chosen to take on projects that move an organization makes me incredibly happy when college age students engage in projects in which they get to practice their leadership gifts. I supppose I am in pretty good vocation if these are the things that give my own life meaning.

However, there are also things about being at a college that just make my blood boil when it comes to developing young leaders. Here's my list of rants about those things on a college campus that frustrate the process of developing young leaders:
  1. Classes in which the professor talks all the time and students do not get to ever converse and think out loud
  2. Professors who ask questions to which they already know the answer, never giving students a chance to explore other options to the questions asked
  3. Courses in which students never work in teams or talk together in groups - how else will they learn this important leadership skill?
  4. Faculty and administrators who do everything themselves rather than involve students in the process of decision making and event planning
  5. Students being "written off" because they do not perform at a high academic level - some of these young men and women just need someone to believe in them
  6. Faculty who do not provide rich experiences in the classroom (or beyond) in which students must take on leadership roles
  7. Faculty who are more interested in their own subject matter and research rather than developing their students as leaders
  8. Leadership courses in which theory is taught - but never practiced
  9. Activities which are promoted as a place to learn and practice leadership, but all students ever do is what they are told to do
  10. Students who enter a classroom in a lethargic manner, expecting to sit through a lecture and not have to engage in any form
  11. Grades and GPA - because they inhibit college age students from constant improvement and thinking outside the box

Enough ranting for now - as I look through the list I realize that I am sometimes guilty of perpetuating these bad practices in higher education toward developing young people as leaders. It's time for me to step up to the plate and do something about this. I now need to figure out how to take the four students attending the conference this weekend and work with them over the next year to develop thier leadership potential - and then sit back watch them lead - which will resonate with me, excite me and make me incredibly happy. What a great vocation!

Friday, February 19, 2010


I worked with a Pastor many years ago who used to say "Everyone can have their say, but not everyone can have their way." At the time it seemed to make sense, but as I lived with the phrase over a period of time, I realized that it might not be the best advice. "Everyone having their say" began to generate into "Everyone can say what they please," and it would become ugly at times as people believed they had the right to speak their minds in public (and private). I work within an institution where this idea continues - both at public meetings and in private conversations. What has struck me about this belief of everyone having their say is that it does not hold true for EVERYONE in the organization. Those who hold leadership positions do not always get to have their say. Leaders are supposed to remain quiet while others get to rant and rave in whatever form they desire. They can ridicule, they can chastise, they can condemn, they can denigrate, they can "speak their mind" because they believe it is a God-given (American?) right to do so. And as they "have their say" they also hurt people and block forward motion. So what should leaders do when these situations occur?
  1. Call people out when they speak inapproriately - if something is said publicly that is hurtful, mean, or just plain wrong, then that person should publicly be told they are wrong and should be asked to apologize and/or re-phrase their comment in public. If this the offense is public, and the reprimand is not, then others will come to believe it is okay to speak in such a manner.
  2. Challenge people's thoughts ideas - when people "have their say" there are many times that they are just plain wrong. Leaders need to go to them and point out their error - and then ask for that person to make ammends by admittng their error and letting others know that they were wrong in what they said.
  3. Remind people of their calling and vocation - many times when people "have their say" they are putting their nose into areas in which they have no business. God has not called me to save the world - or the church - or the university - or the organization. He has called me to be a good steward of those places; but it is not always my right - or my business - to tell others what to do or how to do it. This can be a fine line when people serve on governing organizations - all the more reason to truly understand the role one plays within an organization.
  4. Develop and enforce guidelines for publilc discourse - people need to know what is acceptable behavior within a given organization or public forum. With a demise in civility these days, people believe they have an inherent right to "act out" in public. This can translate into ugly ways of speaking just because people believe they can "have their say." Kindness, humility, and compassion should be prevalent at meetings where people have the right to speak publicly.
  5. Teach people how to say, "I may be wrong" - this is a powerful phrase as people engage in discourse that has differing opinions. Since none of us hold the truth ourselves, it is important to know that what we believe and what we have to say might be wrong. Imagine how meetings would go (and organizations would function) if everyone believed and used this phrase.

The challenge leaders face is how to help people understand this concept and still keep dialogue flowing amongst members of any group - whether that dialogue be public or private. Holding these two concepts in balance is never an easy task, and must be dealt with in a careful manner, for fear of stifling thought and conversation. As leaders, we approach individuals who believe they can always "have their say" with the same kindness, humility and compassion we require of them - and we do so with the understanding that we too might be wrong.

Friday, February 12, 2010

if called to lead...lead!

This past Monday I gave a talk in our daily chapel service on the concept of "vocation" - what it means to be called by God to give glory to Him and to serve one's neighbor. Cloaked under a larger theme of "a theology of leadership," I spoke to the idea that some are called to the vocation of leadership and how an understanding of vocation can shape one's leadership. I kept coming back to this phrase that when one is called to lead, they then need to LEAD! Let me try to explain what I mean by that...

How many times in our lives have we - or others - discounted the call to leadership? We often hear people say such things as:
  • I'm not really a leader
  • I really don't have time for that
  • There's someone else better than me
  • Why would anyone follow me?
  • I'll do it for awhile, but then you need to let me go back to what I like to do

These type of lines/excuses drive me crazy! It's almost as if people wear a badge of honor proving how much they can dismiss the idea of leadership. It's an interesting paradox in that while we are all enamored with leadership, we also distrust leaders. It seems to be a love/hate relationship, and that bleeds into our own call to such a position. How might we turn that notion around so that leadership and leaders can be embraced?

  1. See leadership as a calling - a holy position to which one has been called by God. The Book of Romans, found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, calls leadership a gift from God - and if one has this gift they are to "govern diligently." I translate "govern diligently" as "LEAD!"
  2. Recognize the fact that we are all in community with others, and therefore will be called to a role of leadership sometime or other. We may not seek it out, but the mantle of leadership will fall on us whether we want it or not - it may not be a formal/named position (and most likely will NOT be), but we will be put in a position where we will need to influence people toward a shared goal, and if we are, then we need to LEAD!
  3. Begin to honor those who have been called to a position of leadership. I wrote several weeks ago how followers often question the decisions leaders make (and how that is not necessarily a bad thing). However, followers also need to realize that God has called these individuals into these leadership roles, and in realizing that, these leaders should receive honor. When given that honor, these leaders have a much better chance to LEAD!
  4. People in positions of leadership need to understand that their job is to LEAD! - and they do not have the choice of NOT leading. If I was called to be a fire fighter, my job would be to respond to fires and do whatever was needed to put them out (A special shout out here to Kurt Bennet - check out his blog and book). It would not work for a fire fighter to sit idlely by and worry what others thought about his fire fighting skills, or if she did nothing because she was afraid of hurting another fire fighter's feelings, or if they refused to learn how to fight a fire with the latest fire fighting equipment, or merely learned to fight fires by what they had observed other fire fighters doing during their lives. Yet that is how many leaders act - they shirk their responsibility, they are afraid to make decisions, and they don't develop as a leader by reading, studying, practicing, observing, testing, and improving as a leader. People placed into leadership positions need to learn HOW to lead and then LEAD!

Enough - my time is running short on this topic, and I need to leave today's blog and go LEAD! My final thought to you today is if you are in a position of leadership, don't be afraid to LEAD! You have been called by God into this marvelous vocation of leadership (whether you have a title or not) and have been graced by God with the gift of leadership. Now, go forth and LEAD!...and make a diffrerence in the lives of others who are looking to you to assist them in making the world a better place.

Friday, February 5, 2010

what keeps me awake...

I was asked this week why leaders talk so much about being kept awake at night, and as I tried to answer the question, I realized there are so many facets to this "phenomenon" that it became difficult to talk about it in a coherent sense. It is often true that those in leadership positions find themselves tossing and turning at 3:00 in the morning - I had a neighbor in Houston who would pace up and down his driveway in the middle of the night, trying to figure out a problem or come to terms with what he had to do. In having this discussion with a colleague, several thoughts crossed my mind:
  1. The issues or problems with which leaders struggle are often complex with multiple entities involved and varying consequences for decisions made. There is seldom a black/white answer, so as leaders consider the options with which they will address the issue, they also consider the multiple consequences that will result. The question of what decision will do the least harm/most good is difficult to answer concretely, so the mind battles back and forth - thus resulting in lack of sleep.
  2. Leaders have to make difficult decisions that affect people's lives - hiring/firing, pay raises/pay cuts, promotions/demotions...the list can go on forever. These decisions determine how people will feel about the leader - and for most leaders, they are people who like to be's why we ended up in this position in the first place. Making unpopular decisions may be the most difficult things leaders need to do, and so we agonize over trying to find ways to make decisions which will result in the largest number of people being happy. Knowing that a decision will make someone angry at us churns the insides - thus resulting in lack of sleep.
  3. Very few people within any given organization are responsible for the entire organization - leaders often are. The multiple deadlines - the multiple products - the multiple meetings - the multiple programs- the multiple constituencies - the multiple budgets...again, the list can go on forever. Leaders have to pay attention to all of these different "things" on a regular basis, and so in the dark of night, when the leader wakes up for whatever reason, these "things" reappear in his or her mind. These are not necessarily bad "things" or even consequential "things" - they are just multiple "things." And as the leader begins to think and consider these "things," thier mind begins to race - thus resulting in lack of sleep.

So what do leaders do about this? Unfortunately, some turn to destructive behaviors that affect not only their leadership but also their personal lives. Some believe that if they just trust God enough, they will be able to sleep through the night (but even Jesus spent the night awake in the Garden). Some quit their jobs and find a position in which the overall responsibilities are less. And some learn how to cope.

For me, I have learned to cope in two ways:

  1. When I wake up and the mind is racing, I walk to my study, write down on a piece of paper what I am considering, place that paper by the front door so as not to forget it in the morning, and then go back to bed. I sometimes find myself doing this several times during the night.
  2. Late night/early morning TV has become a good friend. I have found that the drone of a newscaster or a PBS documentary can lull me to sleep because it allows me to concentrate on something other than what is happening in the organization. I can pretty much tell you all about "The Scooter" as it seems those commercials dominate late night/early morning TV.

And then there are those in leadership positions who sleep through the night, every night, all night long. God bless you, and if you ever figure out why you can do that, let me know. But until then, I will keep making sure that the TV remote is within reaching distance before I fall asleep.