Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership


Leave a comment

How does the nature of God shape our work?


downloadTheological propositions and discussion are often seem detached from the work-a-day world in the way we think. That doesn’t mean however that theological thinking is irrelevant to our day to day existence.  Consider the doctrine of the Trinity.  Work that reflects the nature and agenda of God, is shaped by the wholeness, uniqueness, oneness, and clarity of God’s triune nature. God’s triune nature, evident from the opening pages of the scripture, serves as a tutorial for one’s personal identity and expectations for how ministry should work and the collective identity of the local expression of the church.

Personal identity is that foundation from which all of us serve. How we see ourselves, understand our own nature, and define our strengths is the essence of our definition of ministry. Our nature reflects the triune nature of God in that we exist as corporeal creatures that can reason and think about transcendence in purpose and meaning. Starting from the Trinitarian nature of God who exists without self-contradiction is a far better beginning for self-understanding than the dualism our culture inherited from the Greeks. The challenge of a dualistic approach is the denigration of rather than engagement of our corporeal existence. Evangelicals have wrestled long and hard about how to live in a body and maintain a sense of holiness and wholeness – but they wrestled with the idea of separateness or contradiction rather than integration. That God took the form of a human in Christ and lived in a way that flourished in a relationship with God and others models an integrated way of thinking about self. Being human, Jesus lived with all of the drives, hormones, distractions, temptations, and limitations of a corporeal existence. It remains then for us to accept that the body is not an albatross hanging around the neck of our spirituality but the foundation that gives us the capacity for relationship, interaction, and moral reasoning in the quest of meeting the needs of the body.

Expectations for how ministry should work are seen in Christ who modeled humanness filled with the Spirit of God. Foundationally ministry in Jesus’ model is responsive, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19 NIV) We are not called upon to do God’s work solely with the strength, abilities, and drives of our corporeal existence. We are called upon to participate with God in the power of God’s being in a new relationship with the Holy Spirit. The agenda and the capability to impact humankind at its deepest and noblest level is God’s. Here ministry becomes an adventure of response to God the Holy Spirit that simultaneously confronts the powers that imprison the human condition to servitude and unleashes wholeness that washes over people physically, mentally, and spiritually.  We are those who are truly alive. We are also truly present with God and with others. We see God’s works, we see others. The combination is transformative.  The capability to engage this relationship is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the triune nature of God, we also have a model for how the collective identity of the local church can function in its variety of gifts, a variety of ways to serve, and a variety of operations. The fundamental declaration of the Trinity is, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NASB) This unity that finds no room for competition, one-upmanship, or withdrawal is the eschatological summons of the local church to live out its fullness in the gifts inherent in its members. We are diverse in gifting, service, and effect but one body. Moving as one has the potential of impact on our world that a diffused or contending intramural existence can never have.

The Trinity shapes our sense of identity, our sense of capacity, and our sense of belonging and interdependence. To the extent, we engage the Triune nature of God in vulnerable repentance and obedience the church emerges as a holistic expression of God’s love and power. To the extent we ignore or diminish the triune nature of God we become irrelevant – just another player in the field of our pluralistic society that has just another truth claim without power.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Don’t be a zombie: why teams are a challenge


20170114_blp516I hear it in almost every business I work with. I hear it in the classroom. It’s a collective groan and wave of murmuring when a team assignment is announced. It is that an implicit frustration that not everyone on the team will carry their own weight. It is the fear of team zombies.

Various definitions of the word zombie adequately describe the kind of person everyone hopes will not appear on the team. Zombie: the body of a dead person given the semblance of life but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.  A person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote: automaton.[1]

Team zombies show up to meetings and avoid talking and contributing. They fail to execute their assigned responsibilities, reduce trust, and seem to effectively suck the intelligence of the team deflating the team to levels of both incompetence and mediocrity. Team zombies are the paragon of Lencioni’s team dysfunctions.

What drives a zombie to act like a will less mute unwilling to take responsibility or fulfill assignments? In my work with teams, I have found four common contributors that turn normal people into zombies or as I like to call it, the forces of “zombification.”

Intimidation. The cause of “zombification” to correct is the result of someone being placed on a team with those who they feel are superior in skill, experience, and insight.  It is the normal response of a novice.  This occurs in healthy organizations in which a novice is routinely given an opportunity to work above their pay grade and experience level with a team of highly competent people in order to expose the novice to greater complexity in problem analysis and solution finding.  I am encouraged when I see this kind of “zombification” occur because it is temporary and indicates that a person is in over their head and is learning to work with others who possess different and often greater experience and knowledge.  It is also usually self-correcting because working around highly experienced and gifted individuals draws the best out of even the most awkward novice. If you work in this kind of environment take notes and appreciate the fact you are in an exceptional organization.

Fear of reprisal.  Like intimidation, fear of reprisal is a “zombification” force that is rooted in the organizational culture. However, it is the diametric opposite of the kind of organizational culture that generates intimidation. Fear of reprisal results from having previously engaged critical thinking and innovation only to be shot down by others on the team or by the manager or owner because the idea challenged the status quo. Like intimidation this is frequently experienced in the novice who has joined an organization that acts far differently than they claimed. The novice has yet to discern what I call organizational double speak because they were blinded by the possibility of getting their first real paycheck so they didn’t pay attention to the clues they had all around them that the organization was a dysfunctional mess.

What are the clues of a dysfunctional organization? There are several to pay attention to: (1) use of passive verbs to define challenges e.g., sales are down. Sales or any other problem do not have a life of their own – the statement lacks causal information. (2) Hyper unanimity. People in great organizations share a similar vision but retain a unique personal perspective and even disagree at times. When I get around an organization that seems to have scripted answers to my questions rather than individual perspective I get suspicious. Typically there is a power broker behind the script that cracks the whip of fear. (3) Deflecting speech. When I ask questions that are deflected by the person in charge I also get suspicious. It usually indicates an organizational culture that lives in a manufactured reality – that reframe challenges so that a) no one is to blame or b) one singular cause is assigned to all failure.

Novices aren’t the only ones who experience dysfunctional organizational cultures. However, healthy novices get out. Unhealthy novices adapt and succumb to the practiced-identity-dissonance I describe below.

Conflict avoidance. This force of “zombification” is clearly inherent in dysfunctional organizations where conflict is viewed as detrimental to healthy interpersonal relationships. These kinds of organizations or departments exist as a co-dependent family system with defined roles and a key member who seems to dominate the emotional energies of the entire team. This person may not be the leader of the team but may hold the leader and the entire team captive to their emotional outbursts or threats.  This is also a characteristic force of “zombification” in novice leaders or team members who have yet to understand that conflict is often the key to greater innovation and insight simply because in a healthy team conflict can represent the first step toward clarity and honesty in communication. Think about the old team life-cycle adage: form, storm, norm, and perform.  Healthy conflict may be expressed in heightened emotions such as expressions of frustration or anger. Unhealthy conflict is expressed in belittling insults, and emotional shutdowns designed to dominate or suppress the opinions or participation of another.

Identity dissonance.  Identity dissonance is a force of “zombification” characterized by a lack of clarity about who the person is in their strengths, behavioral patterns, or knowledge base. Identity dissonance is characteristic of a person who is unaware of the significant contribution they can make.  Identity dissonance is expressed in two ways; practiced dissonance and unexplored dissonance.

Practiced dissonance occurs in those team members who exist in dysfunctional organizational cultures by keeping their head down and not making waves. These individuals do not have a clear grasp on their unique contribution, core skills, behavioral patterns, or unique gifts. They practice being zombies. They may complain about the repressive and toxic environment in which they work but they will never see the way their behavior passively condones the culture they say they hate. This kind of “zombification” is difficult to heal because it has become a protective excuse to avoid pain and a form of denial.

In contrast unexplored dissonance is a form of “zombification” that indicates a deep change is occurring in the person. It is, in the words of one of my mentors, a boundary time in development. This person faces uncertainty to the value of their contribution because they have engaged a position, or challenge, or period of development that calls for an expansion of their capacity. It is a temporary disorientation that ultimately finds resolution and with resolution a greater self-understanding, capacity to lead, and capability to contribute.

What is the conclusion then? I have said that internal (to the person) and external (corporate culture) forces exist that contribute to “zombification.” When analyzing your own hesitation to be a member of a team because the fear of “zombification” threatens to place inordinate responsibility and demands on your already precious time, I recommend a series of questions.

Is your hesitation rooted in the awareness that your organization is toxic? If so, why are you still there? Can you make a difference? (The answer to this depends on the power you have in the organization and the degree to which the organization is dysfunctional.) Who should you talk with to find a different organization to work for?

Is your hesitation rooted in the awareness that one of the forces of “zombification” have actually made their presence felt in your life and who can you talk to about it?

Is the “zombification” of one of your team members rooted in their being a novice? How can you mentor them to better performance?

Is your hesitation rooted in the fact you just don’t like being dependent on others to perform at your peak? Then check your arrogance. You have not succeeded alone up to this point. Is your avoidance of team participation actually a form of “zombification” in your own work behavior?

If you are stuck and you know you are a team zombie, find a coach or mentor and talk through how to become a contributor to the success of the team rather than a drain on the team’s performance. Work will be much more engaging and your interpersonal relationships much more fulfilling. Who wants to hang with zombies?

Finally, take responsibility to help the entire team raise their level of execution. If you refuse the force of “zombification” in your own life you can model for others how to do the same. But, don’t think you can model this from a posture of relational neutrality. You will have to talk about the subject and help others see how their behavior may, in fact, contribute to the very kind of work environment they hate. This doesn’t mean you must become a task master – it simply means you become a friend rather than a zombie.

[1] Source: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/zombie; Accessed 12 May 2017.


Leave a comment

Refocus your energy!


downloadOne of the themes that emerging from my client conversations lately is the need to refocus. What do you do when you or your organization experiences gridlock and a lack of energy? Or when increased activities just don’t result in the desired ends? Being gridlocked shows up in three ways: (1) an unending treadmill of trying harder, (2) looking for answers rather than re-framing questions, and (3) either/and or thinking that creates false dichotomies.
Sometimes a leader just needs to stop and refocus. The pressures of the daily grind and challenges that constantly jump in the way of progress have a tendency of dulling clarity and shifting actions to activities that have no direct impact on results. Take several steps to refocus your efforts and the work of your team.
First, identify the questions that are nagging at the back of your head. This requires some honest reflection – identify the “self-talk” that develops just behind your conscious mind. One client paused for a moment and said, “Oh, I get it.” Then he began to list his nagging questions,”Am I making a difference? Is this really worth it? Is this what I really want to do? Why have I failed in every major endeavor?” He paused, “This is tiring, I’m exhausted just saying these things.”
I sat on the phone quietly for a moment then responded, “Didn’t you start this conversation by saying you were exhausted and lacked energy?”
“Yes,” he said.
He had been working harder, looking for solutions and all he really accomplished was reducing his field of vision to false dichotomies e.g., his team was either loyal or disloyal, customers were either about to leave or diminish their orders, his spouse was either supportive or undermining his success. He identified the nagging questions, now he was ready for the next step. “Let’s re-frame the questions,” I said.
Second, re-frame the questions that had been nagging you at the back of your mind. The client above re-framed each of his questions in the following way: “In what ways do I make a difference? In what ways is this worth the effort or in what ways can my efforts be better directed? In what ways does the present contribute to my ultimate contribution in life?” (He had done the work previously of identifying what he wanted his ultimate contribution to be.) “In what ways have past failures positioned me for success in the present?”
As he re-framed the questions the cadence of his speech increased, his tone sounded more optimistic, and his thoughts became more prolific – less ponderous. The more he worked to re-frame the questions the more energy came over the phone and the more creative his brainstorming became.
Third, go back to your personal mission statement. If you don’t have a personal mission statement its a good idea to build one. It helps to focus attention on activity that contributes to the right end rather than getting caught in the treadmill of activity seeking to convince yourself that you are legitimate. When I suggested this my client just sighed. “I think,” he said, “I lost track of my purpose somewhere in the midst of this year’s challenges.” He restated his purpose and immediately determined to drop three initiatives that had no bearing on what he really wanted to accomplish.
Each of these steps can help pull a leader out of gridlock and back into being a contributor to a measurable purpose.
Use the same steps to turn your team around. Brainstorm with them to identify the questions nagging their performance and identity. Re-frame those questions together and watch new alternatives and new ideas begin to accelerate. Return to the mission of the organization and review the activities people are engaged in – stop and redirect activities that have no bearing on producing the value associated with your organizational mission.
Everyone loses focus at some point. Don’t let the nagging questions become the pimp of your talent selling your best energy to actions that have no return and no promise. One of my students in Kenya responded to these principles in a lecture by saying, “You metaphorically ask me to eat and elephant. Do you know how to eat an elephant Dr. Wheeler?” he paused with a twinkle in his eye. Then after the appropriate pregnant hesitation, he continued, “One bite at a time!”  So, go ahead face your elephant and start eating!


Leave a comment

How Do you Measure the Health of Your Christian Organization?


10931217_10205220733576419_4977262972998137073_nHow do you measure the overall health of your Christian organization? In this presentation I discuss the correlation between spiritual awakening and mission. Inevitably understanding spiritual vibrancy leads to a different way of assessing organizational health. This presentation was made at the Great Commission Mobilizer Summit for the Student Volunteer Movement 2 (SVM2). For more of the speakers and for the power point that corresponds to my presentation below go to http://www.svm2.net/special-events/gcsummit/gcsummitresources/. Cut and past the following link into your browser to access the mp3 file.  http://www.svm2.net/Correlation_between_Spiritual_
awakening_and_missions.mp3.


Leave a comment

Conceptualizing Leadership Development


Look at Leadership Three Dimensionally

Thinking about leadership development.

How does this fit in my experience?

“This looks like it is built for business, it seems like it only loosely applies to me,” the statement stemmed from wonder – having just completed a 360 degree assessment of leadership competencies Terry was looking for a way to integrate the concise definitions of competencies into his experience. “How do I integrate these insights into my role in leading a mission organization?” he asked.

The question is not uncommon. The contrast in purpose and metrics between a church or mission agency and a business seem stark. However, the way business and non-profit leadership is defined reveals far more about the degree to which a person has integrated their faith and work than it does any inherent difference in purpose between these two entities. Why? Because business fundamentally seeks to define needs and answer them.  Faith based ministries fundamentally do the same thing. Each works in a different sphere of human experience that often crosses into the domain of the other.

True, some businesses seem driven solely by profit and are sometimes willing to sacrifice friendships, people, family, and care for the environment to make a greater profit. But before I go too far in raising straw man arguments of false comparison; it is equally true that some non-profits are pure and simple charades designed solely for the enrichment of the founder or pastor or evangelist. Abuses happen in all sectors – the banality and reality of evil is ever-present. So, making false comparisons that vilify either business or faith reveals only mental laziness.

Understanding leadership is not an easy chore.  Often the challenge is that leadership is defined one dimensionally i.e., as a matter of applied skills or competencies (as happens in business) or as a matter of applied values and purpose (as happens in ministry). However, it does not take long to discover that leadership is as much about one’s self-awareness and personality as it is skill. What’s more, endurance, resilience, and consistency over time as a leader have more to do with a sense of meaning or purpose that we associate with spirituality.  Loehr & Schwartz (2003) writing on managing energy as a leader point out that the physical, emotional, and mental capacities of a leader are dependent upon a leader’s spiritual development.[i]

It helps to have a comprehensive model of leadership development that illustrates a three-dimensional approach to defining leadership. I use the term three-dimensional to point toward the necessity of seeing leadership as actions that stem from and are dependent upon the spiritual, personal, and skill development in a leader’s life. These three dimensions of a leader’s life represent the leader’s sense of empowerment, motivation, and learning posture. These three dimensions are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Components of Leadership Development[ii]

Critical Developmental Categories

Possessing a model like Figure 1 allows a leader, or those charged with developing leaders, to imagine a holistic process of development. Terry’s integrative work needs a model such as this to help categorize his thinking and conceptualizing.  Competencies are categorized as skill development in this model. Skills build competence. The importance of develop skills recognizes the truism that good intentions not only pave the road to hell, they undermine a leader’s credibility when not accompanied with the competencies needed to do the work of leadership.

Terry’s consternation in attempting to synthesize what he knows about leadership was compounded by the fact he has participated in a variety of assessments. The Birkman Method® Assessment, Strength Finders, Meyer’s Brigg’s, the Birkman 360, DiSC, and others do not measure the same thing to the same degree. It is important to categorize assessments by development domain. Terry for example, threw Strength Finders and the Birkman 360 into the same bucket (Personal Development in Figure 1). These two instruments are better categorized and Personal Development and Skill Development respectively (Figure 1). An integrative model such as Figure 1 accelerates understanding the relationship between personality and skill development.

Models also help diagnose difficulties faced by leaders. I sat with Ted, a CEO of a privately held firm with annual revenue of $50M. Ted expressed frustration with his team, the direction his company was going, and the mediocre performance of his company. It could be argued that Ted lacked certain competencies (e.g., vision casting or dealing with conflict) but this did not fully explain his own sense of aimlessness. The longer we talked the more clear it became that Ted’s real lack emanated from the fact he had lost his sense of purpose and ultimate contribution. Ted was in a spiritual crisis that undermined his ability to cast vision for the future. His company was disintegrating into a series of silos competing with one another for a dwindling pool of resources. In the absence of a clear purpose the company was collapsing into turf wars between strong personalities jockeying for power.

I saw in the real struggles Ted expressed the same patterns I found reading through the Prophet Amos (common to both Christian and Jewish Scriptures). I was struck with the fact I could synthesize my model of leadership development with Amos’ commentary on the disintegration of his social context to define derailed development see Figure 2.

Figure 2: Symptoms of Derailed Development in Leaders

Derailed personal develop Amos

Amos outlined three destructive cycles of derailed development. Each of these cycles corresponds to categories of development: indifference stems from derailed spiritual development, anger stems from derailed personal development, and destructive behavior is the result of derailed skill development. I have seen all three of Amos’ destructive cycles in the workplace. Notice in Figure 2 that Amos provides symptoms to each of his destructive cycles. Figure 2 serves as a diagnostic model from which to name the root problem that derails leadership development.  Ted for example had started his company with the desire to model servant leadership and social responsibility. Yet his lack of skill in knowing how to build strong teams and deal with conflict eroded his sense of purpose to the point he withdrew from leading. He looked at his team with suspicion and contempt. The fact is he looked in the mirror with the same emotions and projected them onto others. He became angry when I asked him to define his sense of purpose. He deflected the question by telling me to work on enhancing the skills of his leadership team. He became even more agitated when I suggested that the root problem was a lack of purpose not skill and that even with improved skills on the part of his leadership team he would be not happier than he was now. In fact improving the skills of his leadership team would only guaranteed more conflict as his team attempted to cast vision without him.

Conclusion

Leadership Development models offer a way to guide development, integrate new material, measure behavior, and diagnose derailed development. Is there a bottom line for leaders? Yes, leaders who do not think critically about their own and other’s development are leaders who eventually find themselves caught in cycles of indifference, anger, and destructive behavior. If you want to be a leader who finishes well then do the work of reflecting on and encouraging your own and other’s development from a three-dimensional perspective.

[i] Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (New York, NY: The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 2003).

[ii] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: Learning to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015). (Not yet released – coming this fall.)


Leave a comment

One CEO’s Conundrum 


Scale“There are times that I wonder how to balance the needs of the organization with compassion.” My client sat pondering the issue for a moment then continued, “But then that is the responsibility of the CEO.” Jayne (not her real name) was right. There are few positions that juxtapose organizational and individual needs like that of the CEO. Everything hinges on the CEO’s ability to support the dynamic tension between the needs of the organization and the needs of all the stake holders – in this case a key employee.

Jayne runs a 30 million dollar operation in senior life care with 300 employees. She follows a CEO whose style can best be described as laissez-faire. The outgoing CEO neither had the emotional intelligence nor the drive to pull together a workable executive team. He focused on his own strengths and interpersonal forcefulness to build himself a legacy and push things through the system. Effective?  Yes, it got the things done that were important to his legacy. Healthy? No. As a result, Jayne is working through her executive team replacing toxic people with healthy ones and literally resetting the organization from the chaos left in the absence of the kingpin to a healthy team that knows what the organization needs and has the values and skills to get it there.  One of Jayne’s executive team (a VP) is struggling.

“She told me the other day that I intimidate her, I am not sure I feel bad about that,” Jayne said.

“Apparently your VP wanted you to feel bad about it?” I queried.

“Yes, that was the clear message – in her words I have ruined her life by demanding performance proper to her level of employment.” Jayne paused. “The VP said, ‘I can’t even get dressed in the morning without wondering if Jayne will approve of my wardrobe – I am not sure I will ever win your approval.”  Jayne locked eyes with me for a moment and said, “I have never said I disapprove of her wardrobe or of her as a person. She said I was killing her personality. She is right on one hand I do disapprove of her lack of performance.” Jayne’s tone changed as she turned to face me.

“I understand holding people to a change in performance.” Jane began. “But how do I hold them accountable for their personality?”

I could tell the question troubled her. I suggested, “Perhaps it is your choice of vocabulary that has you stymied. Your VP can’t change her personality and in fact, that is not the issue. The issue is behavior and she can change behavior.”

“Oh, that helps,” Jayne said.

The VP, like many challenging employees, sought to blame something external to herself (the CEO) for the consequences of her own behaviors. The fact is that concern on the part of the VP about her job is right. She should consider whether she wants to grow her capacity by modifying her behavior or look for job with less responsibility somewhere elsewhere.

On writing on the leadership of George Washington, Richard Brookhiser observed, “Problems, and a leader’s solutions to them, consist of ideas, forces, and facts of life. But they are always accompanied by, or incarnated in, people. Judging people accurately and managing them well can make the difference between success and failure.[1]

When leaders avoid the discomfort associated with addressing problems the result is that they only transfer conflict (the evidence of problems) to larger groups of people in the organization they serve.  This transfer has a cascading effect that disrupts large segments of the organization’s performance. This contributes to employee angst and job misery more than anything else in organizational life.

How do you work through conflict in the organization you lead?  Judging people accurately includes the awareness of their uniqueness and their stress points. Any leader’s job not only includes helping others work at their peak skills but also of performing in their most constructive behaviors.  Hold people, and yourself, accountable for both performance and behavior and watch your people become the high performing team you always wanted to see.

[1] Richard Brookhiser. George Washington on Leadership. (New York, NY: MJF Books, 2008), 83.