Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership

Discipline and hope

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I was reading recently through Lamentations and could not avoid wrestling with the idea of God’s intervention in human affairs alongside human culpability, misproportionality and change in hope. I agree with critics of Christianity in that I would love for the idea of God and humankind to be tidy, less complex, less messy.  Alas culpability and misproportionality exist, things won’t be tidy either in my personal life or in the context in which I lead.

The question that arose for me in reading through Lamentations and then the minor prophets was this, is hope really hope without also the expectation of judgement?  The question is tricky. I want God to exercise justice in the face of the injustice I experience.  Yet were God to exercise the kind of justice I seek an injustice would have to be done toward others.  For example, I want the earning power and ease of life I remember prior to accelerated globalization religious pluralism and cultural pluralism.   However, to return to my historical ideal (and I am not even addressing how my ideal is a highly selective memory that may not approach historical reality) is to return to the repression of others who slaved at non-livable wages to produce what I want to consume.  Perhaps they prayed for justice and judgement on imperialist consumers like myself.

So I find my quest for justice to be a two-edged sword God doesn’t render judgement on those I seek vengeance from without also addressing my own failures. I like judgement pointed outside myself and justice that is a tool of my own preferences.  Now I see that my sense of justice has as much potential for injustice as the injustice I seek to correct.

So, can I live in expectant hope without also an acceptance of discipline (judgement) of my own perspectives, values and allegiances?  Judgment and hope are mutual themes.  Not only do they temper and refocus my perspective on my situation, context and assumptions about how I define what is happening around me they guide my work as a leader.

As a leader (in one context I lead a sales team; in another context I lead teams of researchers for special projects; in yet another context I lead students in the classroom) I want my team to succeed, excel and become all that they appear to have the potential to become.  As a result of this hope I am also pulled into a corrective stance with them at times.  I have to be willing to address attitudes, actions, or beliefs that contradict or counteract their development. In other words as a leader I have to be willing to exercise discipline and provide candid feedback as well as paint a picture of a different future and inspire them to move to that future.

Lets talk about culpability.  Identifying the problem sounds easier than it is.  “Ah,” one may say, “in my context it is easy a person either performs or is out.”  True, performance may be easy to identify if metrics are properly identified and measured with appropriate quantification in order to avoid the traps of subjective assessment.  The problem is that I too am in the process of development as a leader, my perspective is not always accurate.  I do not always make myself understood when I give instructions, or outline my expectations.  So, when I exercise discipline it is with two very important things in mind; respect for the individual I address and awareness that I do not have a comprehensive picture of all that is happening. 

Hence I start by asking permission, “May I offer a perspective on what I see happening?” This works when there is not some overtly damaging failure on the part of my team.  Reality is however that I have seen individuals engage in self-destructive behavior in the workplace with a vengeance that indicates a reaction to outside sources of stress.  In this case the approach must be terse enough to arrest attention to gain permission as I noted earlier. Gaining permission to offer insight before an attempt to engage in offering it offers a greater chance for success it creates a dialogue rather than a diatribe.  Diatribes are emotional pressure valves for those who provide them and while such scenes may be entertaining to watch from the outside they never accomplish anything of substantial value for the subject or the object of the display.

Misproportionality is something I find in the workplace daily.  It appears when one “overreacts” to an event.  Ever see the blazing email response that resulted from one sentence being taken out of context because the reader either didn’t investigate the context first or assumed the worst on the part of the person against whom they reacted?  Ever see a VP stomp into the work group yelling about some violation of protocol, failure in performance or insubordination only to find she/he did not know that situation and that the decision they were reacting against actually just saved the company thousands of dollars in penalties?  proportionality measures response to the intensity or seriousness of the need.  Misproportionality in the way I am using it is typically an indication of poor emotional intelligence.  Leaders have to assess situations and respond proportionately.  Sometimes this means an appropriate display of anger.  I do not subscribe to what I call the Zen Aura of management that seeks a level or non-existent emotion in the workplace.  I embrace emotion not emotionalism.  Emotion helps create a transparent workplace and I find people able to move more rapidly to trust.

Finally I mentioned change.  Change is the crux of hope and the interstices of discipline.  There can be no change or development without an awareness of inadequacy or error.  Change, something all managers optimistically embrace, is a two-edged sword that a leader engages to bring about different outcomes and is simultaneously challenged by his or her self.  When a leader maintains this awareness they maintain a learning posture. When change is only something others engage then arrogance and ignorance follow on the part of the leader and on the heel of these comes failure.

So, does hope exist apart from judgement?  I don’t think so.  I think only self deceptive optimism exists without judgement and such optimism often flies willy-nilly forward without regard to consequence.  Good luck with that.

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Author: Ray Wheeler, DMin

Ray Wheeler - executive coach, confidant, mentor, leader, and friend. Ray is the author of, Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today's world. He is also an adjunct lecturer at LIFE Pacific College, Bethesda University California and Azusa Pacific University in cross-cultural leadership, leadership development, leadership ethics, administration, church growth, and mission in today's world. Certified leadership coach, certified Birkman Consultant, and certified in the iOpener Assessment (happiness at work).

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