Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership


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How the nature of relationship intersects with the organizational structure found in the local church


customersIt isn’t uncommon today to find remnants of the mindset of the industrial revolution in how the church thinks about structure. The mechanistic assumptions so predominate in business and non-commercial structures throughout the 20th century often seeped their way into church governance here in the west in the adoption of a corporate organizational authentication for tax purposes.  The emergence of the church growth movement contributed to this same mechanistic set of assumptions in that it often uncritically adopted effectiveness driven assumptions that placed relationships in a subordinate position to growth and self-preservation in the church. This propensity to mechanize organizational structures to gain efficiency and effectiveness fall short in that they stumble over the reality that people are involved. One business writer commented that a well-known shoe company’s heavy investment in TQM was undone by one guy in the order fulfillment department who purposely stuffed two right foot shoes or two left foot shoes in a single box. When asked why he was doing this he responded that his manager had treated him poorly and his actions were revenge because his manager’s bonus depended on consistently accurate order fulfillment.

Similarly, church leaders can tell their own stories about how one person’s or pastor’s vindictiveness held the entire organizational structure of a congregation hostage and leveraged a mechanistic structure to redefine reality or expectations of what the community of the church should be.

What makes the church so unique is that Jesus set the cornerstone of the church’s structure firmly in healthy relationships. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:8-10)

Jesus outlines the task (remain in love) and the outcome (bear fruit) that make up the parameters of the church’s organization. Based on what Jesus modeled, love (or the organizational structure of the local congregation) is characterized by truth-telling, forgiveness, support, instruction, insight, inquiry, missional focus, and developmental bias. Love is not an afterthought or optional component to the relationships Jesus expected of the disciples as they continued his ministry. Love and its characteristics are the core feature that determines the legitimacy of the church.

Relationships are not an intersection in the organizational structure of the church they are the constituting frame that allows for the diversity of gifting, outcomes, and methods inherent in the works of God operating through the church. Relationships define the church’s purpose and its method. For example: does the organization accept responsibility i.e., bear fruit as outlined in Luke 4:18-19? Does the organization evaluate its context and behavior with truthfulness? Does the organization generate restored relationships, maturing behavior, continuous insight into what God is doing? If relationships serve only to intersect with a structure that is built on some other foundation (e.g., mechanistic) then relationship fails to be the nucleus and becomes a secondary add-on that is not elemental to effective and efficient operational systems. Organizational structures that push relationships to a secondary status inevitably become toxic and a contradiction to missio Dei.

So, how do you functionally define the structure of your congregation? Perhaps it’s time to sit with your leadership team and review what makes the structure of your congregation really tick.

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Discussing Social Issues as a Follower of Christ


conflict-in-recruitment“So you strain the Scriptures and mislead your reader.”  The frustration and antagonism in the writer’s voice was palpable. He wanted me to unequivocally condemn another writer for his view. I wanted the respondents to engage each other in honest communication about their biases, commitments, and background reasoning to their social commitments. I failed to draw anyone into that kind of discussion. Some were encouraged, some were enraged, some were disappointed, and some were ruthless in their proclamation of what I should have said.
The conflict among my group of friends rapidly jumped from disagreement to an ugly display of religious proclamation, fixed attitudes, hardened identities and closed hearts.
I generated an argument between people who found it easier to throw ideological stones from the safety of a fenced off belief system than engage a dialogue with real people.
One observer shared his candid observation of the discussion with me off-line. He said, “I also observe that the tone and content of some people’s words are not one of work or inner turmoil, but rather of hatred and of aggression. I believe the absence of passion in the moderator [myself] of a discussion can be a critical tool in advancing the discourse. However, the absence of passion (or decisive marginalization) in the face of persistent, willful, hateful rhetoric is, in my view, corrosive to the soul; yours, and the other participants in the discussion.”
I couldn’t disagree with that assessment. Where did I drop the ball? More importantly, am I clear about my own convictions and statement of logical starting points? In this blog, I outline ways to manage conflict with comments about how well I did or didn’t deal with the conflict I generated and make my own assumptions clear for those who wish to engage me in the future.
First, how is conflict approached?  Mark Gerzon identified three common responses to conflict: demagoguery, management, and mediation with the later being the most effective.
The demagogue addresses conflict through fear, threats, and intimidation turns opponents into scapegoats. The demagogue dehumanizes others and resorts to violence to dominate and destroy the other. I had one especially insistent demogogue in the argument. I felt like turning into a demagogue myself in the face of mounting stress. However, throwing back the same kind of rant I was being served would not do a thing.
The manager faces conflict on the basis of an exclusive or limited definition of “us”. He/she defines purpose in terms of the self-interest of his or her group and cannot or will not deal with issues, decisions, or conflicts that cross boundaries. Managers are very effective in directing and controlling resources and the activities of other people for the benefit of a particular group. Gerzon points out that this approach is limited.
I recognized a wide variety of people who served as the audience to the argument. I knew that every intransigent statement, every belief hurled in anger, every example offered as a proof text would only exacerbate the argument. I attempted to pull back the participants – to get them to listen to each other. They were not ready and I failed to provide them a bridge to get there.  Each wanted me to side with them or absolutely disagree with them. I failed to state my starting point clearly and as a result, I failed to bring the appropriate people together.
In contrast, Gerzon states that the mediator approaches conflict by striving to act on behalf of the whole (cf. John 3:16 as a definition of the church’s scope of concern).  Mediators have the capacity to discover the whole and to act in the best interest of the whole. Mediators work on the collaborative principle which Gerzon defines as:
 
If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with reliable information, they will create authentic vision and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community.
The mediator thinks systemically and is committed to ongoing learning.  The mediator builds trust by building bridges across dividing lines and seeks innovation and opportunity in order to transform conflict. I wanted to go here, I did not arrive.
In hindsight, I failed in the ability to ask questions that unlock essential information about the conflict that is vital to understanding how to transform conflict so that it becomes an opportunity. I failed to communicate that the point of inquiry is not the loss of conviction or strong beliefs but the realization that one’s views are discovered and renewed through inquiry. Mediators of conflict naturally want to learn more; “What else can I learn about this situation?” “Is there some useful, perhaps vital, information that I lack?” “Do I truly understand the way others see the situation?” “Should I consult with others before I intervene?”The rule of thumb in facing any conflict is: inquiry must precede any form of advocacy.
My other conclusion is that social media used as a discussion point requires a highly structured set of rules for engaging a discussion that participants must agree to before entering and that must be enforced aggressively to create an environment where listening to clarify positions is the goal. Clear convictions can be communicated without expressing hatred. But when participants are dehumanized and made into moral positions only, it’s easier to just shoot at them.
Will I engage another such discussion again on social media?  Yes. Why? It allows an audience who deeply wrestles with difficult questions to work through their thinking by listening to others.  I will encourage concise statements of conviction, and then encourage inquiry to dissenting views. To what end? Understanding and respect. Can my goal be achieved with every person? Here I have to agree with Machiavelli, no. Why? Because there are evil people whose only goal is the destruction of others. Additionally, there fundamentalist individuals who disallow any dissenting opinion from their own.
Religious convictions require another a short discussion about why the founding fathers of the United States wanted to limit the establishment of religion by the state? They saw in their own history the evil unleashed when political power is mixed with religious absolutism. My friends who want to legislate their Christian beliefs to the exclusion of other systems in civil society would only succeed in reducing civil society to the tyranny of their enforced moral codes. History consistently demonstrates the failure of this. Instead, civil society acknowledges the diversity of core moral conviction and allows for its influence in a discussion involving every participant. Hence it is, in my view, equally dangerous to prohibit the discussion of religion or religious convictions.
The American experiment used the foundation of compromise to create a form of government that allows for religious freedom and offers representation to a diverse populace.  I prefer this form of government over others I have seen even with its flaws and limitations. Paradoxically, fundamentalists who want to see America great again, fail to differentiate compromise as “the ability to listen to two sides in a dispute and devise concessions acceptable to both” from compromise as “the fearful abandonment of conviction in an attempt to minimize the contrast of their convictions to a perceived norm or power.” As a result, fundamentalists consistently press for an oligarchy composed of religiously acceptable candidates who state religiously acceptable convictions.  The hypocrisy and tyranny of such a system are constantly illustrated in the despotism that always results.
Paradoxically, fundamentalists who want to see America great again, fail to differentiate compromise as “the ability to listen to two sides in a dispute and devise concessions acceptable to both” from compromise as “the fearful abandonment of conviction in an attempt to blend into the perceived norm or power.”
Second, in light of what others in the argument describe as my own fuzzy commitment, I thought it a good exercise to state my own commitments as clearly as possible. I am one who follows Jesus the Christ. I have an unapologetic and inquisitive faith that informs the assumptions I begin with when it comes to moral and social issues. But, I am not fundamentalist in my perspectives. By fundamentalist I mean a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts, especially within American Protestantism and Islam. I hold to the centrality of the Christian Scriptures and recognize that given their diverse literary forms (i.e., poetry, prose, law/statutory, prophetic, historical narrative, parable, and proverbial/wisdom) that a “literal” interpretation does a disservice to a proper interpretation of the text.
In full disclosure, I also understand Jesus made an exclusive claim when he said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11)  Does this reduce me to a mindless automaton closed to learning and assuming full and complete knowledge of all that is spiritual?  No, it makes me a disciple i.e., literally one who is learning. And as one who is learning, I recognize that I live in a diverse and pluralistic society from whom I can also learn.  Has faith answered every question? No, it answered the main question e.g., about purpose and meaning and it opens new questions that I still ponder.
So, I reject fundamentalism as inherently flawed both historically and reasonably. I see a different model in the Bible particularly evident in the growth of the first-century church from a sect of Judaism to a multi-cultural entity. The rapid expansion of the church in the first century moved the faith community of the church from the comfort of a modified theocracy (often more an oligarchy of socially or religiously powerful and corrupt leaders) experienced in the history of Israel to existence as a unique community and social force in a culturally and religiously pluralistic world. Paul, the apostle most influential in teaching the fledgling church to live in a pluralistic world wrote this advice,
“Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:7-10)
So, if you hang out with me I will demonstrate this commitment to loving my neighbor. I also demonstrate a commitment to faith in Jesus Christ. I am open talking about my relationship with Jesus Christ in a way that is neither in-the-face of my neighbor nor hidden from my neighbor. I understand that in loving my neighbor I fulfill the law and in fact, make its provisions clear as well as the promise inherent in the grace of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ. I practice listening skills and invite those with whom I strongly disagreed to talk while I listen. We engage a discussion rather than a diatribe.
Are you looking for a way to love your neighbor? Do you want to be heard about your faith? Start by listening especially in a day when religiously induced hatred and hostility is passed off as indicative of Christianity. Listening skills may be tested by conducting a simple exercise.  Invite someone with whom you have strongly disagreed to talk with you while you listen – take the following steps.
  • Find a good space. Choose a place to talk without distractions.
  • Take the time. Let the other person tell their story.
  • Respond (versus react). Choose your body language, tone, and intention.
  • Show interest. Make eye contact; focus on the person speaking; don’t answer your phone or look at your BlackBerry.
  • Be patient. It’s not easy for people to talk about important things.
  • Listen for content and emotion. Both carry the meaning at hand.  It’s OK sometimes to ask, “How are you doing with all this?”
  • Learn. Listen for their perspective, their view. Listen for their experience.  Discover or learn a new way of seeing something.
  • Follow their lead. See where they want to go. Ask what is important to them (rather than deciding where their story must go or how it must end).
  • Be kind. Listen with the heart as well as with the mind.
After doing this notice what difference this makes in you feel about your relationship with the other person.  Pay attention to how your act of listening often (though not always and rarely immediately) opens others’ hearts and mind to ask about your faith. The act of listening not only brings clarity for both people in the conversation it often brings items to light that have never been considered before.  One conversation does not have to resolve all issues, however; a good act of listening goes a long way in bridging seemingly unbridgeable differences.  Listening is a good step in demonstrating the love God has for the world about you.
Want to know more about faith in Jesus Christ? Contact me directly. My contact information is listed on the “About Me” tab of this blog.
Want to know more about conflict?  Read Mark Gerzon (2006).Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities.  Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. 273 pages.
Want to know more about where I attend church? See http://madeforfellowship.com/.


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Friendships – Traveling through Past and Future


With the father of the bride.

With the father of the bride.

I recently traveled with Janice to the Great Pacific Northwest to attend the wedding of one of our friend’s children. We have known Rick and Sue for years as co-laborers, friends, prayer partners, and fellow pilgrims in a strange land looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.

It is interesting to me that seeing long time friends is like traveling back in time and into the future concurrently. We have so many reference points in our shared history we pick up conversations as though the gap of 5 to 10 to 20 years between each simply hasn’t happened and yet…we traverse new ground each time we are together because our lives are not static but growing. We have new leadership experiences to share, new questions to explore, new victories to rejoice in and new grief to shoulder together. Life is not static and neither is our friendship.

An occasion like a wedding offers a myriad of opportunities to engage this simultaneous time travel of past and future. We saw friends and acquaintances we have not seen for years. We caught up, we shared perspectives on the past that illuminated the future and explained things we did not understand when we experienced them together. One encounter was particularly moving.

“Steve,” I said to one friend who was so significant in my first pastorate, “we have missed you.” Steve and I picked up conversations past and future.

“Ray,” he inquired, “why didn’t you return to visit?” His eyes were penetrating, looking for explanation, testing my response, and expressing pain.

“We were prohibited from returning to our first pastorate to visit by the pastor who took our place. We repeatedly asked for permission to visit and were repeatedly prohibited. It was his prerogative in the governance structure of the denomination.”

Steve’s eyes began to fill with tears, “I didn’t know that,” he said. “Dave was so insecure….” his voice trailed off and his hug said he had always wondered why we had just disappeared from the scene when our assignment wooed us out of the Northwest to Southern California.  I don’t know why Steve thought we made our selves scarce, but in our conversation and in our shared bear hugs whatever questions and pain from the past melted into oblivion and our shared past shed light on a shared future. We talked about future opportunities and support of one another in networking and prayer.

What a joy to have friends across time. Some friends are constant companions in the journey, we connect every time we can, like Rick and Sue. We meet up in the UK, the Northwest, the Southwest, or any other place our paths cross. Other friends are like beacons along the path we see on occasion. Our contacts are episodic, spaced by time, but no less precious when the connection occurs. There is something encouraging about seeing each other like distance runners at a turn in the course we cheer each other on and take courage from the fact we are still in the race.

And of course, there are those acquaintances we saw who caused us great pain, friends who betrayed our friendship. What about these?  We had a couple of these encounters. Were they awkward?  No, surprisingly. They were filled with grace. Forgiveness has long ago released us from the want of revenge and the pain of betrayal. And they apparently also extended forgiveness and like us have grown and changed. The past and the future collided in these encounters with healing and an uncertain future. It is possible to be free of the pain of the past yet remain unreconciled – no longer enemies filled with suspicion but also no longer close. There is a grace in this as well, to embrace with a love that forgives and offers a future that if taken may result in a new friendship.

The longer I am around, the more intrigued I am by this time travel of past and future connection. Friends are a comfort, they are teachers, they are counselors, they are examples, and they are a reminder of what is most significant in life. Nurture your friendships they pull out your best, show you your worst, and offer you a path to a different future.


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Restoring a Wounded or Broken Leader


broken-potA friend of mine recently wrote me to ask, “A local friend who is a professional consultant for non-profits and church ministry (organizational leadership) went through a divorce this past year (after 20 years of marriage and 5 kids). We meet together last week. I sought him out to for purely relational follow-up  – we had been out of touch for just short of 3 years. He took advantage of my invitation to share with me all that had transpired. In our discussion I asked if he had any sort of “restoration” or “rehabilitation” to leadership in place for himself. (As this may be important for future clients to know.) Nothing official as such. He has sought individual services and support, but nothing that is outside of his own initiative. Hence, he invited me to present a plan or concept  – to which he would be most grateful.   I thought I’d ask you if – you had any quick thoughts on this or reference points handy.”

I wrote him the following response.

Yes, I have personal thoughts on this however I don’t have any resources for you. So, let me start with a definition and move on to come comments. Restore: renew, rebuild, or to bring back into existence. It is a process epitomized in Psalm 51: 10-15.
Typically the issue around Christian ministers is that some governing body has suspended their credential because of some mitigating circumstance or trauma to: (1) build the margins needed to work through the trauma; (2) work through the pain and the loss incurred to seek restoration of broken relationships if possible; (3) reaffirm the gifts and the calling of God for the sake of the one being restored (God’s gifts and calling are without repentance however the one traumatized is often filled with self-deprecating grief and guilt); (4) represent the person to the body of Christ as one who has been made whole/healed and so is able to re-engage the demands of ministry with integrity and accountability.
In the case you outline the only thing missing is a governing body that would start the restoration. So, your friend is subject to the diverse opinion of his potential clients. These fall into three categories in my experience:
1.  Those who know him  and know of the way he has worked over the years to attempt restoration to no avail.  These watch at times with uncomfortable uncertainty about what to do while others make sure that he does not collapse from weariness, guilt, grief, or shame or any combination of these by checking in with him regularly.  A process of restoration is important for this group because they care about his well-being and such a process will reassure them.
2.  Those who don’t know him and may treat him as though his trauma is contagious (it is actually a reminder that nothing in life is certain and that scares people). They may reject him or marginalize him by holding him at arm’s length not really trusting the integrity of his character and spiritual health or because they simply are uncomfortable facing the messy, painful realities of following Christ in a broken world. A process of restoration is important for this group because they need to see that painful loss is not the end – they need the reassurance from others that your friend is a trustworthy man in whom they can be confident.
3. Those who don’t know him but will gladly throw him under whatever self-righteous bus happens to pass by. I have never really understood the rationale of these except it seems to me that causing pain somehow momentarily eases their own pain or at least gives them someone else to focus on before the gravity of their own narcissism pulls them back into themselves. A process of restoration is important because it will combat the attempt to destroy your friends reputation and ministry that these people will attempt.
To enter a process of restoration (on the assumption that something has been lost and something has died) requires a group of leaders that your friend trusts and that others respect as leaders – people who can help him walk through any blind spots, or areas still immobilized by grief, or emotions that have yet to find good expression, or anger that still must be processed and expressed, or fears that try to limit his reach.  This group must have permission to probe and ask hard questions. They must name, with your friend, what the end of restoration looks like because they put their reputations on the line for your friend.  This is what the body of Christ looks like.
I urge you to put together such a proposal, ask your friend who he trusts, and then recruit these people to (1) hear his story completely; (2) define what restoration looks like for him; (3) walk out the process I just described; (4) affirm when the goals have been reached for both your friend and anyone else who asks; (5) so that his ministry in the body of Christ can be warmly received and released without fear of future failure stemming from some unresolved residual issue around the mitigating crisis.
That’s all I’ve got, he is fortunate to have a friend like you who has raised the subject.


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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.


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Fresh Resolve – Nothing New in 2014


Ray and JaniceMy friends have asked what my New Year’s resolutions are. Chuck caught me on one of my bad days at the end of December and received a terse email from me that simply said, “Ask me in a week or so.”

I don’t know why the idea of making resolutions is so irksome this year.  Typically I enter the year with a plethora of goals and usually execute on all of them. I have goals this year as well but none of them are new.  It seems I set the bar pretty high last year and I am still working on last year’s resolutions.

This doesn’t mean I have not made progress but that I have not yet finished all I set out to do. So, perhaps my New Year’s resolution is best stated as I intend to finish well in 2014. So what is still open from last year?

I determined to play more often. I work hard and have worked throughout my career with great focus and a ferocious desire to learn new things and to prove myself. I don’t feel the need to prove myself any longer – the proof is in the results that travel along in my wake and it is these results that have taught me that often the most important things that happen, occur serendipitous to my drive. So, for me playing is leaning into that wondrous serendipity that pulls from a lifetime of insight, knowledge, and a growing presence with others.

I determined to write and publish a book on leadership.  The manuscript is complete. One proposal has already been rejected (a common experience I hear) and another is ready to go out. I have other books to write so I really want to get the first one complete out-of-the-way – editing and rewriting are not my favorite activities.

I committed myself to develop leaders as a vocation. So, Leadership Praxis is up and running and I am in the throes of building a client base. I love coaching leaders. I get a kick out of seeing performance improve. I enjoy working with teams to help them discover how to work with greater effect and fun.

With Janice my wife we decided to travel more (hence the picture on this post of Janice and I in Ferndale, California goofing off). Too many good friends entered their golden retirement years only to have their plans cut short by cancer, heart attacks and other tragedies. So, Janice and I decided (while we save for retirement) to travel now and enjoy one another while we are healthy.

Finally, I felt the need to immerse myself in the Christian Scriptures. I had fallen out of the habit of reading through the Bible every year and so I took it back up. My approach is simple.  I ask a question and then look for ways the Bible addresses it. This year the questions have to do with gender. In what way does the concept of imago Dei (the Image of God) express itself in male and female biology, perceptions, behaviors, and experience?

The sexual dimorphism (existing in two sexes – male and female) of humankind has always been intriguing to me. But the subject looms large in writing on leadership. Do men and women have biological limitations/strengths that either endorse or contradict their ability to lead?  Does brain structure determine gender behaviors and leadership potential? Is gender solely a social/cultural/theological construct? I will explore these questions in 2014.

So, I continue in the resolutions I made in 2013.  Oh wait, there is one thing I can think of that I resolve to do in 2014 that I have not done before.  I will go to a pizza parlor with some friends and convince them all that we need to dance to the music playing over the sound system while we wait for our pizza to arrive at the table so that we can laugh until it hurts – if you have ever seen me dance you know what will start the laughter.  If you get a call to go with me to pizza, be ready and bring your phone to video the event.

Here’s to finishing well – let’s go get some pizza!


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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.