Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


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Define Your Ambition!


Ray at summitWhat is it that you want to accomplish? How clearly can you state your ambition? Ambition defined is as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

Ambition has a bad rap with many and for good reason. There are those whose ambition for power, prestige, or pleasure has made them into users and abusers of people.

But does the abuse of a trait by some make it negative in every instance? Can ambition be good? I argue that ambition is imperative. It helps people clarify their goals and purpose and live/work with focus and impact. Jesus, the master leader understood the power of ambition and its potential for abuse. Consider for a moment that Jesus often asked people directly and indirectly to clarify their ambition.

Jesus’ questions intended to elicit honesty about what his listeners really wanted. In addressing the crowds about John the Baptist Jesus asked, “What did you go out to see?” He queried their deepest desire – people didn’t go to see John because he was eccentric, they went because he offered hope for change. In confronting religious leaders on the tyranny that resulted from their dishonest ambition Jesus told a story about two debtors both forgiven their debts. Then he asked, “Which of [the two debtors] will love him [the creditor] more?” The answer exposed these leader’s warped self-centered ambition. When approached by James and John who requested positions of prominence in Jesus’ kingdom Jesus asked, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”

Jesus’ response refocused the ambition of James and John. Jesus did not rebuke their ambition – he shaped it and showed it to be misdirected. The question any leader faces is whether they will come out from inside themselves to be as honest as James and John about what they are really after. Ambition exposed can be shaped, challenged, encouraged, or redirected. Ambition hidden only warps, deceives, tyrannize, and suppresses others. Have you been honest about your ambition? Are you willing to allow God to reshape and redirect it? Like James and John honesty will result in a much larger commission than their original ambition was able to conceive. God will “blow you mind.” Go ahead, expose and submit your ambition to God and see what God does in you.


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Mentors make a difference – a tribute to Roger W. Birkman


r birkman

Mentors make the difference between seeing things in a limited and typically self-indulgent way and seeing things in a larger perspective that inspires great work. Roger W. Birkman (February 1, 1919 – March 26, 2014) was a mentor who made that difference for me.   I am one of hundreds of Birkman certified consultants trained in the Birkman Method personal assessments. I met Dr. Birkman briefly but even in that brief engagement I saw what others told me about him.  He exuded curiosity, love for people, and appreciation for the work of others. So, just how does someone I only met in passing earn the title of mentor in my life?  Another mentor of mine, J. Robert Clinton of Fuller Theological Seminary, describes this dynamic:

You can gain the advantages and empowerment of mentoring from indirect relationships with unavailable mentors. There are two kinds of passive mentors – the Contemporary Model, a living person who can mentor you even without a deliberate effort on his or her part, and the Historical Model, who has passed on yet can mentor you via input from biographical or autobiographical sources.   These “model mentors” are always available, but mentorees must make an effort to find them.[i]

Dr. Birkman was a contemporary model in every way. The questions he asked about how people relate at work simply yet poignantly saw “the elephant in the room” that many tend to ignore.  He wondered whether there was a way to understand behavioral patterns to give people a way to work more cohesively and with greater appreciation for each other’s unique perspectives. His work was…well it was healing. In every hospital, business, church, non-profit, and corporation I have used the Birkman Method leaders learn to see things differently. They understand the impact of their own behaviors on their teams in ways they did not before.  Healing takes place as new appreciation unfurled and teams develop around new insight. I identify with this healing…Dr. Birkman’s work has indelibly altered the way I understand my own behavior and the behavior of others. I am (and those around me seem to agree) a better leader and a better friend as a result.

Thank you, Dr. Birkman for rising above group think, for exercising critical reflection, for putting your ideas out in front of people to be tested, shaped, confirmed, and improved upon.  You made a difference in me and you became a model.  Your passing doesn’t limit your influence in this mentee – it only moves you from a contemporary to a historical mentor whose influence, insight, and challenges continue to shape my thinking and improve the way I serve as a leader.

 

[i]  Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton. Connecting: the Mentoring Relationship you Need to Succeed in Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992), 132-33.