Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


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God is Not Silent – Are You Listening?


Pietro_Perugino_-_Prophets_and_Sibyls_-_WGA17241I had just completed reading the second book of Chronicles in the Jewish scriptures.  The conclusion of the author caught my attention.  It reads,

The Lord, the God of their ancestors , sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at this prophets, until the wrath of Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy. (2 Chron. 36:16-16, NRSV)

I reflected on the persistent disregard the king’s of Israel had toward God’s personal communication.  My response is not uncommon, “How can people who have so many clear interventions from God so completely miss God’s attempt to communicate?”

My ruminations about transition emerge from the context of my own experience.  There have recently been times were I felt at the end of my most important contribution.  Oddly, opportunities for which I am amply qualified have closed in front of me. Ageism?  Perhaps. Diversity goals? Perhaps. Cost reduction? Perhaps. The reasons were insignificant compared to the questions I face at this stage in life. I am part of the Boomer generation and I look forward to the convergence of experience, learning, and opportunity. Yet, I sometimes feel convergence slipping from my grasp.  Fear assails my thoughts, resignation like a mental rigor-mortise has tried to rob my creativity and resilience.

In the midst of these fairly common emotions I am reminded to embrace yet another metamorphosis as I learn to apply my knowledge and experience in new ways. Reading the historical lessons of Chronicles has been encouraging – a reminder that God is not silent and that the shaping of destiny and purpose continues through a life time. Decisions made today are as significant as decisions made a decade ago spiritually. Look at faithful men and women in Chronicles who live an entire life of faithful and powerful relationship with God who then fail to finish well in the end through hubris or some other arrogance that leads to a wreckage of faith and not a flourishing of faith.

Hence my rumination, “How can people who have so many clear interventions from God so completely miss God’s attempts at communicating?” And hence, my commitment to remain attentive to that still small voice of God – God’s communication that is clear in the scriptures read and reflected upon or in those intuitive thoughts that emerge from prayer that bear the stamp of God’s own voice.

I went about my day and was preparing to leave my office and run some errands when I heard a knock at the door. A young man in a lime green logo shirt with iPad in hand was conducting an energy survey to find out who in our neighborhood qualifies for alternative energy projects. Janice and I have already explored these alternatives so I was closing the conversation when the young man surprised me with a request, “May I pray for you?” he said.

“Sure, what congregation are you a part of?” I asked.

He told me, we prayed and then he looked at me and said, “A man your age sometimes thinks their time of fruitfulness is over.  Your greatest time of fruitfulness is about to begin. God has you in this time of transition not to forsake you but to complete the equipping and preparation you need for what is next.  The end of your life will see the greatest of God’s work in scope and in impact.  You have been faithful in little, God will make you faithful over much more.”

He said several others things too personal to share in this format that spoke to the deepest parts of my being.

Ok, that was different. Some might even say it was weird.

After he left, I considered my reflection about the kings of Israel and their response to the prophets.  I am separated from their experience by thousands of years and yet the God of Abraham still speaks to me like the God I read about in the Bible.  I remembered something Dallas Willard once wrote:

In the last analysis nothing is more central to the practical life of the Christian than confidence in God’s individual dealings with each person.  The individual care of the shepherd for his sheep, of the parent for the child and of the lover for the beloved are all biblical images that have passed into the fundamental consciousness of Western humanity….The biblical record always presents the relationship between God and the believer as more like a friendship or family tie than like merely one person’s arranging to take care of the needs of another.(1)

I take the young prophet’s words to heart. I listen for the voice of God who is also my friend.

In case some wonder; I am not lost in the pursuit of the next episodic thrill of existential phenomenon. I am attentive to what God says in the scriptures, in prayer, and through the voices of others. I have specific goals and I work toward the convergence I want to see also recognizing that opportunities I have not thought of may well land in my lap as a result of the guidance and grace of God.

Is it a surprise that the prophetic (a gift of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14) still finds expression through and in the church?  Not at all. This is the promise of God at work to guide, restore, heal, comfort, and develop God’s people. Are you listening for the voice of God?  What do you do with what God has said or is saying now?  How do you test the validity of what you hear to decide its reliability?  If you are a follower of God through faith in Jesus Christ then be ready to see God act today just like you see God acting in history.

If you are not familiar with God acting in this way then contact me, I am happy to talk with you. Or, pray, ask God to show God’s self to you in a way you can’t miss. Walk the journey of faith with expectation, hope, and joy; one greater than you walks with you.

 

(1) Dallas Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 22-23.


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Chance Meetings, Learning, and Career Advancement


Professionals barI meandered down to the lounge of our hotel while I waited for Janice to come down for dinner. We were at the tail end of our anniversary celebration and were flying out the next day.

The lounge is always a great place to meet traveling business people and this evening was no different.  As I entered a young man at the bar suggested several types of drinks I should try. We started talking.  Turns out he is a Vice President of Acquisitions on a five state tour finalizing deals he had put together. Assessing profitability, building company portfolios, and finalizing complex financial deals it is not my forte.  So, my curiosity was piqued. He gave me a rundown on what he and his team looked for in potential purchases. His background at Lehman brothers was the perfect foundation for his current role.

I asked him to what extent the corporate cultures of potential acquisitions played into his team’s assessments of potential acquisitions. 

“We don’t bother with that,” he replied.  “It is strictly a numbers game. We look at profitability, structures, and what duplication we need to remove or what systems will strengthen ours and we absorb what we can and eliminate what we don’t need.”

His background in statistics and finance give him a specific lens from which to view business yet several of his comments indicated that he had a greater than average people-sense behind all the analysis.  I wanted to get at that.   “You obviously enjoy what you do.  What the four most important lessons you have learned in your career so far?” I asked.

“I have thought about that,” he replied.  “They include: (1) patience – things don’t always move as fast as I want and being more deliberate helps me read whether I am working with a group that is on the same page or divided in how they approach challenges and whether they are critical thinkers or ‘yes-men;’ (2) numbers – I do the analysis work. People tell good stories but I want the facts.  It is the facts that tell whether a company is profitable and sustainable; (3) research – when I speak I have all the data I need. I watch some guys simply throw stuff at the wall.  It may work temporarily but when the CEO comes back with questions it doesn’t take long for bull*hit to unravel.  If I don’t know the facts I will tell the CEO that I don’t have the facts now but I will within the day; (4) competency – a person has to be able to do the work with excellence. 

I was impressed with the clarity and the speed with which he listed  these off – clearly he has been thinking about this. I still wanted to know more. “So what have you learned about people?” I asked.

Again he didn’t even pause, “My career started as a cop. I worked in undercover narcotics and one thing was true about every person I arrested – they were great story tellers.  They could have made millions as authors of fiction. Most people tell great stories – I don’t pay attention to the story, I look for the facts (the behaviors). It is just as true in business. That is why I am patient.  I hear the stories but I look for the track record.  This is why I will get to CEO role – I can separate the stories from the facts.” He paused for a moment and continued, “I recognized early on that technology was changing the way we did everything. I asked for an assignment in our IT department then I learned everything I could about technology and systems. I completed a degree in statistics and finance and I leveraged these at Lehman Brothers. I understand how to package business and to create systems to maximize it.”

I was enjoying the pace of the conversation, but I still saw that there was more to pull out of him – more about leadership. “You are clearly driven, so when you finally arrive at the top position how will you define success?” I asked.

He paused on this question.  “You are really perceptive,” he said.  He thought for a moment.  Then he continued, “I will be different than the c-suite leaders I have seen so far.  In my view the three most important things a C-suite leader has to pay attention to are: (1) numbers – always know what makes the business successful; (2) technology – most leaders lose touch with technology and when they do in this day in age they loose touch with their business; (3) people – they are the ones who make success happen.  A leader can’t ignore the people who make it happen. Too many C-suite leaders I have seen treat people as though they are mere automatons.  Without people things don’t happen – a leader has to appreciate and recognize the efforts of those around them.”

As he finished his thought his associate entered the bar. We made introductions and they congratulated me on our fortieth wedding anniversary and they left for dinner – I went to find Janice.

I did observe that his last statement gave him an “aha” moment and gave me the information I was looking for. His initial description of his work in acquisitions seemed devoid of the human side. This struck me as odd because his demeanor and the way he greeted me when I entered the lounge was much more engaging.  What I saw in his response was a growing integration between the demeanor he demonstrated and his approach to analysis.  His demeanor inferred an intuitive grasp on people dynamics. He elaborated on this a little more when he talked about patience. The more he moves his intuition toward an explicit understanding and integration the stronger the leader he will become.  In fact his aversion to the impersonal CEO model indicated that he had started down this very road.

So, what did I learn? I will spend more time in the numbers. I don’t have a finance background but I have collected some business acumen along the way and I am committed to adding to it. I also learned that leaders who exercise awareness of their own emotion learn more about the people they manage. My friend at the bar inferred his own frustration at being depersonalized when he described the short-comings of the CEOs he has worked with. Because he is willing to learn from his experience by openly contemplating his own emotion and experience he has arrived at a clear differentiation between highly effective and moderately functional CEOs.

What have you learned along the way in your career?  Are you as articulate as this young man in outlining what you have learned?  This young man took our conversation as a learning time just as much as I did. He gained insight into himself by the questions I asked. My questions led him to consider his experience from new perspectives.  I noticed that he was ready to engage conversations as learning tools but he also was ready to engage the conversation as an interview. I have noticed over the years that true leaders have this dual approach to conversation. Because they are learning every conversation potentially expands their knowledge.  Because they are interviewing they find opportunities others never see.

How do you approach conversations with total strangers? The next time you meet a stranger – ask some key questions.  Pay attention to the insights you pick up along the way and watch for opportunities. Most of all, have some fun – we did.