Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership

1 Comment

My Birthday: A Reflection on Mortality and Flourishing

As I reflect about my life, influence, and future plans on my birthday, I also reflect on my own mortality. “That’s great Ray, way to be a happy person” you might say. Ah, but the exercise is not rooted in feeling morose. Instead, it’s rooted in feeling purposeful and alive. Such reflections serve to recalibrate efforts around what is: important and not just urgent, significant and not just productive, and sustainable not just impactful. I wrote about this kind of reflection elsewhere.[i]

One of my graduate professors, Bobby Clinton, was fond of repeating, “Begin with the end in mind.” He started his leadership emergence classes by asking everyone to write their epitaph i.e., the inscription they wanted on their tombstone. This exercise sounds easier than it is for some people. Many of us thought and thought to say something succinct enough to fit on a tomb stone and of sufficient gravity to appropriately summarize the work of a life time. Bobby’s point was simply that leadership is a life-long process of learning.  If leaders intend to finish well they must begin with the end in mind.

Living with the end in mind is profoundly focusing.  I am intrigued by stories of near death experiences. People emerge from such experiences with a completely different hierarchy of priorities than they had before the experience. Life itself becomes more precious than accomplishment or power. People who have this experience rearrange their lives with a new perspective that keeps the end in mind. An interesting take on living with the end in mind came from a palliative care nurse who summarized the regrets of the dying she had heard over the years into a book.[ii] She documented five recurring regrets including:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Clearly, Jesus’ actions are the opposite of these regrets – he began with the end in mind.  Jesus was true to himself.  Jesus did not get caught up in maintaining spin. Jesus took time to rest.  Jesus expressed his feelings openly – we even have non-verbal indications of his feelings (Mark 7:24; 8:12).

What is interesting about Jesus’ times of rest and rejuvenation is that these times themselves provided or opened opportunities for the demonstration of God’s power that was catalytic to new insights and breakthroughs.  In contrast, leaders who never take a break, never “get a break.”  Their flurry of activity never moves beyond mediocrity. Perhaps this is because the “chance” meetings that would lead to new insights, new connections, or breakthroughs are usurped by attempts to maintain spin and the weariness that results. If you are working hard and wondering why those who have time to play get all the “breaks,” then perhaps it is time to take stock of how you manage your own energy.

Clinton’s point that leaders live with the end in mind is reflected in the renaissance works of western art. For example this work by Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490-1567) showing Jerome in his study.[iii]

Figure: Jerome in His Study

Figure 7.jpg

What do you see?  Notice the juxtaposition of the skull with the picture of the resurrection the illustrated text. See the crucifix and the skull suggesting Jesus’ own identification with our mortality. Jerome’s hands point to the dual reality that mortality is inevitable and so is the power of the resurrection. The entire picture points us toward the nature of God’s working that summons us to a hope that is alive and working and is yet not consummated. This is the eschatological nature of the kingdom of God i.e., that God’s reign and power is revealed in Christ and made available in the present but is not yet consummated. Death has not yet been destroyed. In Christian history the contemplation of death was not a moribund exercise. Contemplating death in light of the resurrection of Christ has served as a way of checking in with the tenuous nature of life that helped great men and women of faith focus on what was important in life.

The regrets of the dying illustrate the importance of beginning with the end in mind and exercising this kind of reflection on our own mortality. The behavioral and perceptual changes in those who have described near-death experiences serve as a tutorial for those who listen.  In recent years, researchers have spent time cataloging the following changes in those who experience near death events:[iv]

  • Life paradoxes begin to take on a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Forgiveness tends to replace former needs to criticize and condemn
  • Loving and accepting others without the usual attachments and conditions society expects
  • Loss of the fear of death
  • More spiritual and less religious
  • Easily engage in abstract thinking
  • More philosophical

In what ways might you be more effective as a leader if you adopted these behaviors and perceptions?

[i] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015, 135-138.

[ii] Source: http://www.realfarmacy.com/the-top-5-regrets-of-the-dying/; Accessed 26 September 2013.

[iii] Source: http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/2011/02/01/inside-the-masterpiece-marinus-van-reymerswaeles-saint-jerome-in-his-study/; accessed 16 April 2013.

[iv] P.M.H. Atwater. “After Effects of Near Death States.” Source: http://iands.org/aftereffects-of-near-death-states.html; accessed 16 April 2013.



Change the Paradigm

51Pv2jzHD3L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The title is ambitious I admit. But, the way we think about leadership and express it in the church and in business needs a change in my view. I wrote this book because I see the possibility of unleashing something radically life changing by altering the way we lead. Why? Uncritically adopted leadership styles often promise efficiency and effectiveness but they just as often fail to address the challenge – congregations and businesses feel compressed, threatened, and lost in the radical shifts occurring all around them.  At worst churches and Christian organizations act no different from any other corporation in how they relate to their employees and their members.

Jesus changed the formula of leadership – he initiated a hope that is transforming and healing and not oppressive and disillusioning. This book is a blue print for how to lead like Jesus and produce extraordinary results. I am committed to being a part of a changing paradigm of leadership. Its my hope that writing a handbook on how to put a new perspective to work encourage a new conversation and a different way of leading.

Here is what those who reviewed the manuscript had to say about.

“…well written, organized, and amazingly detailed…Ray writes in an intellectual tone that doesn’t come off as arrogant or stiff, but rather uplifting and humble.” Editorial Team, Xulon Press.

“…challenges my paradigms on being a leader…. I wish I had read earlier on in my leadership experiences.” Steve MorganGlobal Leadership Development, CRU

“…elegant and powerful.  I don’t read Christian books on leadership. They just don’t have the content. But your manuscript is new and needed I could not put it down.”  Mark Simmonsbusiness entrepreneur,Seattle, Washington.

“…a must read for anyone seeking increased effectiveness leading an organization through a holistic approach aligned with Scriptural principles.”  Jim J. Adams, President, LIFE Pacific College

“…profound, practical and prophetic in its impact. I believe it can shape a culture that can change the world!” Glenn C. Burris, Jr., President, The Foursquare Church

“…will transform how you engage others. Dare to apply Ray’s assertions…they will change your life…from the inside out.” Dennis Bachman,Executive Pastor. NewSong Church, San Dimas, California

“This Book will take you to a place you were not expecting to go – the transformation of your own heart.” Casey Cox, Pastor, Living Faith Fellowship, San Dimas, California

Pick up a copy today at:

Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Change-Paradigm-Raymond-L-Wheeler/dp/1498440169/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1436281607

Barnes & Noble, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/change-the-paradigm-raymond-l-wheeler/1122227562?ean=9781498440165

1 Comment

Putting out Fires – Leadership Lessons from My Son the Submariner

040917-N-0000X-001I was talking with a client who recently moved to an international assignment. He is an experienced executive with earlier international experience but the tone in his voice alerted me to the fact he faced an unexpected level of adversity in his new move.  He started our conversation by saying, “This has been three weeks of hell. All I have done the last three weeks is put out fires, and it is exhausting.”

What kind of “fires” do leaders face? Common “fires” include:

  1. Rumors that undermine staff morale and productivity.
  2. Deliberate reputation hack jobs by competitors designed to undermine customer and stakeholder confidence.
  3. Revenue crises i.e., sudden drops in sales or donor gifts.
  4. Political crises that threaten market stability and employee safety (especially threatening and uncertain in countries facing military coups).
  5. Unexpected loss of key people.
  6. Surprise audits.
  7. Innovation breakthroughs by competitors.

In my experience there are three kinds of “fire-fighting” leaders. The first two are damaging to an organization. The third is the ideal because they reduce damage while maintaining productivity.

The first is the frantic leader. This is usually a new and inexperienced leader who expected everything to work without a glitch. This young/inexperienced leader is the most dangerous to an organization because their own panic in the face of crisis leads them to freeze or withdraw at a time that their presence and clear-headed perspective is most needed by employees and stakeholders looking for reassurance that the crisis is not fatal.  The frantic leader needs to understand that fires happen – they will occur and because of this reality contingency plans for dealing with fires must be in place.

The second is the distracted leader. This leader puts all their energy into extinguishing the fire and finding its source. The distracted leader is also dangerous to the organization. The distracted leader is aware of the potential for “fire” however, they have not put response mechanism in place. Because they focus their attention on the fire they temporarily suspend leadership activity needed to keep the organization on the right course in the midst of the fire. The organization becomes distracted and may fail to produce or pay attention to its stakeholders.

The third leader is the captain.  The captain knows fires happen and that they threaten the mission critical activities of their employees and organization.  Because of this the captain puts in place the response mechanisms needed to address the fire while continuing to manage the operational necessities that keep the organization productive and strategic.  The captain knows his vessel, he has response mechanisms and people in place and he directs their response. He is confident in their ability because he has trained and drilled his team to refine their skills.

Here is where my son’s stories of being a submariner kick in. As we talked about life aboard a submarine during his Navy days I walked away with two important insights. First, everyone is a fire fighter on board any kind of marine vessel.  Even on my visit to his submarine on parent’s day we were given instruction on what to do in case of fire.  We were instructed on where to go, what equipment to use, how to use it, and then we practiced using it. Everyone on board is trained to respond to fire. Second, a fighting vessel cannot afford to drop its operational functions to respond to a crisis.  It has to be able to maintain a dual focus of mission completion and crisis intervention. If a fire occur those at their duty stations remain attentive to their jobs, those off duty become fire fighters.

The application to leadership is important. On a submarine this dual focus is the subject of repeated drills. I observed the captain run several drills while aboard my son’s submarine. Practice, practice, practice so that when emergency situations arise people respond with discipline and not panic. The captain was attentive to multiple layers of activity.

My friend while an experienced executive is developing new capacity as a leader.  He has moved beyond the frantic leader model to the distracted leader model and to his credit he realizes that he cannot afford to be distracted.  As we talked his vision of being a captain emerged and I am confident that his current crisis will teach him what his organization needs to manage fire while completing their mission.

What kind of leader are you?  The question is really one of capacity i.e., the power to grasp and analyze ideas and cope with problems.  Does your organization have the mechanisms in place to respond to different kinds of “fires”?  Do your people know how to respond (or defer response) in the face of crises? Do you lead from the front in the face of “fire” or are you frantic or distracted.  Think through the “fires” your organization has faced in the past. What needs to be in place to find the nature of the “fire” and what needs to be in place to address it?

For example: in one company I worked with we set up social media monitoring to catch customer disappointment or complaints as soon as they appear. We drew up an action map to guide an immediate response to any complaint or disappointment. We drew up an action map for follow-up and designated specific follow-up by department. In another company I worked with I helped them create a legal response team to work with clients, state and federal compliance, and internal management. This team went into action when any of our employees inadvertently or deliberately violated state or federal law (sounds odd but in that industry the quick pace, high demand and tight regulatory boundaries made such infractions a distinct possibility). In this situation too we define action maps; we drilled people on their roles, responsibilities, and follow-up procedures. We moved from a frantic reaction to a disciplined response that not only reduced the damage but created an organizational culture that was more contentious about compliance and productivity.

How do you deal with “fires” as a leader?


A Global Conversation – is a two way conversation

Countries 2013

The visitors to my blog in the last year represent a variety of countries – which is as it should be in a conversation about leadership. The challenges of leadership are not limited to a single worldview or cultural setting. The perspectives on what it means to lead and how to work with people differ in nuance from culture to culture but the challenges are amazingly similar.

I appreciate the fact that this blog has a wide readership – readership encourages me to keep writing and thinking about leadership both from what I see in the practice of leading and what I learn from research.

If I were to change anything at all it would be to encourage readers to talk back more often.  I need your comments even when they may question or disagree with what I write. Help me sharpen my thinking about leadership with your own insights.

The best learning is always what is learned in the process of leading and in conversation with others who lead. Without feedback and comments I run the risk of simply being a noise and not a mentor. Thank you for reading and thank you for your comments. I am a student and that qualifies me to also be a teacher.

Leave a comment

If you Want to Lead Well Clarify your Values

Leadership word ScreenDick Costolo, CEO of Twitter has a reputation for being decisive, leading with high expectations, and remaining focused on the long-term, but he’s also known for being accessible, disarming and, of course, funny according to Jena McGregor.[i]  Why is this important to understand? The weakest and most toxic organizations are those led by people who are inconsistent, non-committal, people pleasers who engage their work as though tasks were amoral and not morally contingent.

Leaders like Costolo spend time thinking and speaking about leadership and what makes leadership work. Leaders who build great organizations understand that the tasks of leadership are morally contingent.  That is they know that the values of the person engaging the tasks of leadership actually shape the moral content of those values. This morally contingent characteristic of leadership tasks require that leaders routinely and explicitly review their own values and how these values find expression in the leader’s daily activities or disciplines.  Put another way, your organization’s behavior ultimately reflects your attention or inattention to making your own values explicit and understood.

Research routinely points to the importance of the leader’s self awareness and clarity about their moral commitments.

Based on nearly two decades of research, I have discovered that resilient leaders often have several traits: They are optimistic, innovative, decisive, trustworthy, willing to accept responsibility and able to communicate effectively.[ii]

The words, “decisive,” “trustworthy,” and “willing to accept responsibility” all point to the integrity with which a leader works.  In contrast an amoral view of leadership assumes that key leadership decisions are simple data driven exercises of logic. In fact key leadership decisions never reduce to simple data – any manager can make a data driven decision. Key leadership decisions are always far more complex because they must synthesize the various priorities and values of various functions across the organization.

An amoral view of leadership assumes that the leader’s values are universal.  This view cuts out all voices but the leader’s in key decisions. This leader is the “my way or the highway” tyrant. Consider for a moment that if values were universal the words disagreement and conflict would contain no meaning whatsoever.  Even in relatively small companies a leader must consider conflicts that arise in the differences in how various departments see their tasks. These differences are not data driven they are value driven. Values indicate what is important to getting the job done.

An amoral view of leadership ultimately seeks to avoid responsibility for decisions and actions. Simply put leaders shirk their core responsibility when they refuse to engage people and emotions. Lack of clarity about why the organization exists makes any group little more than a mechanism for evasion of responsibility and leadership.  Rather than define the “why” the business exists and persuade and recruit the right people to a vision for the future, this leader pushes for results in the short-term that few ultimately own for the simple reason that they have no reason to fully engage anything other than minimal activity to meet results. Additional this builds a culture of evasion manifested in internal bickering that seeks to assign fault.

Avoiding the hard work of defining the “why” behind the company’s existence results in significant blind spots in how the organization sees their opportunities and threats.  Competitors offer similar products or services. Competitors carry out their products or services in similar ways or through similar competencies. What makes your customers or clients want to do business with your organization?  The age-old sales adage is sell the sizzle not the steak.  There is truth in this.

Avoiding the hard work of defining the “why” behind the company’s existence means finding the right people will get lost in finding the least expensive talent. If profit is the reason for existence then reducing costs become the most important exercise the leader engages.  This short-term perspective works.  However it is unsustainable. Profits are a result not a means. This kind of profit orientation ultimately endorses cost cutting measures that reduce product quality and customer service. Again, it works in the short-term but customers are not stupid and as sales drop and talent exits the leader who never does the hard work of defining why the company exists will never understand why it dies.

So what is the role of the leader?  Organizations depend on shared meanings and interpretations of reality to facilitate coordinated action. The leader’s first job is to help the organization turn their tacitly held shared meanings to explicitly held values of why and how things get done. The leader encourages clear and sometimes tense conversations with the goal of pulling these meanings, inferences and beliefs into the open.  This requires a level of vulnerability on the part of the leader and ego strength significant enough to endure disagreement and the skill in asking the kinds of questions that get others to talk about their assumed perspectives of reality.

How the leader carries herself or himself is critical Effective leaders realize three things: (1) they work to reframe situations to demonstrate new perspectives that call others to action; (2) they articulate and define what had previously remained implicit or unsaid; (3) they consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom to suggest new directions – this is a function of data analysis and challenging prevailing wisdom i.e., values.

People are drawn to leaders not because of their personalities but because they have:

  • a dream (what is possible that may seem impossible to others?);
  • a vision (what difference does the dream make in people’s lives?);
  • a set of intentions (an idea of what needs to be done to turn the vision into reality and the personal commitment to attempt it);
  • an agenda (a call to others to engage their abilities and belief in the same vision);
  • a clearly stated frame of reference (the values and assumptions and data that give plausibility to the vision).

If you lead an organization or group have you taken the time to think about and define these aspects of your values?  If you have difficulty thinking in these terms then find a mentor or a coach who can help you ask the deep questions that get you there.

[i] Jena McGregor. “What Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is Like as a Leader.” Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2013/09/13/what-twitter-ceo-dick-costolo-is-like-as-a-leader/#!; accessed 15 September 2013.

[ii] George S Everly Jr. “Episodes of Failed Leadership in 2010 Taught Lessons.” Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/30/AR2010123003273.html; accessed 15 September 2013.

Leave a comment

breaking down barriers

Terry has joined an important dialogue. I recommend her article and your comments. Women in leadership will find encouragement. Men in leadership will (or should) find insight.

maturitas cafe

file0001312170283In addition to the external barriers erected by society,
women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves.
Sheryl Sandberg¹

I received a copy of Sandberg’s book, “Lean In“, from a dear friend. I have only started reading it, but I have found connection, empathy, authenticity, grace, and challenge in the first chapters. Sandberg proposes a hypothesis which many of us already know is truth… as women, we are often our own worst enemy.

Sandberg explains that women often deeply internalize the negative messages we receive during our life – and quickly undervalue the positive messages that we earn.

I believe that women are essential to making important world changes in society through our relationships, families, and jobs today. To do that, we need support, advocacy, and partnership with the men in our lives, but we also need to believe in ourselves to step confidently…

View original post 369 more words

Leave a comment

Make a Significant Difference in the World – network with those making a difference

village churchMaking a difference in the world for me is investing in leaders – helping them find their own voice and engaging the power of their own unique personality, abilities and vision. I often get to do this through business. I have opportunity to do it through education. But the most exciting vehicle I get to be a part of is the church.  Why?  I think Rick Warren said it best:

‎”Even if we had the cure for AIDS right now, you couldn’t get it to everybody in the world without the church because I can take you to 10 million villages in the world where the only thing in it is a church. They don’t have a school. They don’t have a post office. They don’t have a government. They don’t have a fire department. They don’t have a business, but they’ve got a church. The church is the only truly global organization. Nothing else comes close. Everybody else just plays at globalization.”

(Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, founder of the PEACE Plan and author of the New York Times best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” at a recent forum on religious freedom at Georgetown University.)

How to you respond to Warren’s statement?  Let me know.