Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership


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Are You a High-Capacity or High-Activity Leader?


iStock_000056636476_LargeI sat with friends of mine, both of whom are highly capable leaders in an international non-profit organization. Over the course of our conversation, they described their weariness and exhaustion as it relates to the demands of their current assignment. I listened to their story and noted that they danced around the subject of their director. They were careful to express their respect for their director whom they described as a high-capacity leader. What intrigued me in the conversation was the mixed messages I heard. On the one hand, they expressed frustration with their director over his consistent micro-management and unfinished initiatives. Every couple of weeks seemed to render a new “strategic” initiative that demanded everyone’s attention. Each new initiative had little connection to the one before it and never took into account the expenditure of financial and human resources needed to accomplish it. I could not make out a grand plan or objective in any of the initiatives they described.  On the other hand, they praised his high capacity for vision and initiative. They spoke in lofty terms about how he worked on a minimum of three devices at once and endured a grueling seven day a week schedule. They described him as warm and caring and committed. Then they described him as manipulative and domineering.

I began to ask what made this person a high-capacity leader in their minds. They described him as a man who:

  • Possesses high energy that engages a wide scope of tasks and generates a never-ending list of assignments and expectations for his team. He texts each of them numerous times every hour and after hours with ideas and assignments.
  • Demonstrates low awareness of other’s emotional needs. In fact, they described a person who minimizes others’ feelings and the challenges they face.
  • Exhibits a highly imaginative yet episodic vision casting. They described an imagination that bordered on fantasy – ideas were disconnected from the context and the challenges inherent in them.
  • Generates a trail of burned out senior leaders who leave the organization disillusioned and hurt.
  • Engenders high turnover among junior staff and leaders.
  • Manipulates calls to action through questions of loyalty frequently expressed in the question, “Will you support me?”
  • Task focused recruitment filling existing jobs and seeing people through the lens of their task contribution rather than their entire contribution to the organization.
  • Creates a culture of shame and guilt.
  • Is a gifted communicator.
  • Rarely debriefs with his senior staff and when this does occur it is expressed with minimal transparency.
  • Exercises defensive reasoning – problems and consequences are not his responsibility, instead, blame is assigned to staff and the quality of their loyalty.
  • Episodically warm and affirming – when he is not demanding performance and loyalty.
  • Has lost connection to his wife and family.

As we talked I wrote out the list above and then read it back to my friends.

“Oh no,” they said, “he is a godly spirit-filled man. One of the highest capacity leaders we have ever met.”

“Do you mean high capacity or high activity?” I asked. “The two are not the same” I suggested.

One of the most damaging kinds of leaders I come across is high-activity leaders who mistakenly assume that the more tasks they generate the more leader-like they appear. This kind of leader assumes that long hours are the same as effectiveness in leading. They expect others to work like they do and to be constantly available for the leader’s needs. I suggested to my friends that their director was in fact addicted to his own adrenaline and that the cost to their organization would not only be the talent drain they described but the woundedness the organization would ultimately generate when people saw outcomes that contradicted the mission of the organization.

“Let me contrast a high-capacity leader for you,” I said. “If capacity is the ability and power to do or understand something, then a high-capacity leader is a person who assists her organization in accomplishing a greater scope of outcomes that align with the mission of the organization. The high-capacity leaders I know have the impact of not only increasing outcomes but also of attracting greater resources.”

I started writing out the following list of characteristics I’d observed in high-capacity leaders:

  • A strategic focus on the kinds of tasks that must be engaged to achieve the desired outcomes. A high-capacity leader defines delegation and exhibits energy management. They have an enormous capacity for output that they follow-up with time for rejuvenation and they make room for both output and rejuvenation in all their team.
  • They demonstrate self-awareness in their emotions, self-confidence, and self-assessment and they exhibit social awareness in consideration of others’ emotional well-being.
  • They are highly imaginative and ground their imagination with a thorough awareness of the facts of their situation. They don’t deny challenges they recognize them and help their team generate strategies to address them.
  • They bring focus and inspirational purpose to their organization.
  • They have a history of producing high-capacity talent around them. This is in part a function of recruitment and more a deliberate investment in the capabilities and development of others. They attract the best and they openly appreciate them.
  • Their teams are characterized by low turnover and deliberate turnover. By that I mean they routinely give up their best people to take wider responsibilities in the organization.
  • They are motivational – they know what their people’s personal goals and ambitions are and they have a knack for integrating those ambitions into the organization’s objectives.
  • They are people focused when recruiting – they know that if they get the right people the tasks of the organization will be maximized creatively.
  • They develop a learning culture in which people are not afraid to make mistakes and take a risk.
  • They routinely debrief with their staff engaging them in a broader analysis of the organization and its context. Transparency is king for this leader because he wants his team to know the score.
  • They may not be a warm person but they are consistently appreciative of others and recognize jobs well done.
  • Their families are intact – they tend to have long-term marriages and share abiding intimacy with their spouse.

“Hmm,” my friends pondered my list and the contrast to the characteristics they described in their director. “We never saw this before,” they finally uttered.

I put the two lists side by side and the contrast between a high-task and a high-capacity leader jumped off the page.

“I’m not sure your definitions are reliable,” they suggested.

“I am open to rearranging the list and changing definitions,” I responded. “However, let’s start with outcomes, do you disagree in the outcomes I have listed for a high-task leader in that they damage their family, exhibit high turn-over, are abandoned by disillusioned senior leaders?” I queried.

“No,” they responded, “when we look at our director’s life and outcomes we can’t disagree with the description.”

The question that resonated with my friends was what kind of leader they would choose to be and whether there was a way to help their director see the contrast. Change, especially where high-task leaders have framed their identity around what they do rather than who they are, is difficult. It is part of what drives them to reaffirm their identity by adding more tasks. The sad part is that they often don’t see how toxic they have become to those around them.

What question resonates in your mind? Are you a high-capacity leader? Or, have you somehow exchanged true effectiveness for busy-work?  Look honestly at the outcomes your life is generating – what do you see?

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A theology of leadership: it always has a cultural context


cropped-addis-ababa-week-1-0581.jpgWhen thinking about leadership through a theological lens it helps to be aware of the impact of one’s worldview on the process. We don’t think in a vacuum but in the context of the values, allegiances, and assumptions that make up the core of our worldview. So, approaching a theological reflection on what constitutes leadership is a process that requires both self-awareness and humility.

A culture’s view of power distance, certainty/uncertainty, masculinity/femininity, time orientation, and individualism/collectivism represent the factors that make up cultural constructs of what constitutes leadership.[1] These cultural factors are implicit. A practical theology of leadership recognizes (1) the cultural differences that go into defining what appropriate leadership looks like and (2) the dissonance in perspective that is certain to follow the transformative work of the gospel. This transformative work in collaborating across worldviews works both ways necessitating the need for a strong self-awareness and willingness to learn about and from others prior to making generalizations about leadership effectiveness or ineffectiveness.

The New Testament often utilizes metaphors to lay a foundation for defining leadership. Peter, for example, writes, “I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV)

The use of the shepherd metaphor quickly identifies leadership as a servant role. Sure, a shepherd is in charge of sheep but her primary assignment is the care of sheep. Peter draws a picture that can challenge or affirm cultural factors that define leadership.

Some cultures maintain a strict hierarchical relationship or high power distance between follower and leader. Peter doesn’t argue the extent to which leaders and followers should relate in a peer or subordinate/superior relationship. He does insist that leaders not repress or deride their followers. I can walk onto a Korean campus and observe congregants bowing to their pastor. Is this appropriate from my cultural perspective? No, it’s surprising – even off-putting. However, in paying attention to the relationship I see the deep care and respect that is mutually given in this act. At issue isn’t the form but the transformation of values that inform the form.

Femininity/masculinity is also addressed. Who should lead? Can women lead men? The imagery of a shepherd is not restricted to male or female. Even in the Bible cultures varied in whether men or women cared for sheep. The point is that the imagery of Peter plays well to either male or female leadership roles and calls for the same approach to servant leadership in submission to God.

Good practical theology utilizes imagery as a starting point for insight amplified through cultural lenses that are both sufficient and incomplete. When cultures, even distinctly different cultures, approach the scripture with a heart to learning (the essence of discipleship), both can learn from the other and both will experience the affirmation and challenge of their cultural assumptions.

[1] Geert Hofstede. Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2001


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Leading is an act of reconciliation – or it should be


web version(An excerpt from the book, Change the Paradigm: How to lead like Jesus in Today’s World. Copyright 2015 by Raymond L. Wheeler. Used with Permission)

We sat around tables set up in a conference arrangement, and Professor Elizabeth Conde-Frazier sat just to my right. She paused long enough for me to rest from typing my notes. I realized after some moments that she was not going to restart her lecture immediately. I stretched my hands, repositioned them over the keyboard of my computer, and then glanced around the room. Every eye was aimed my direction. I turned to look at Dr. Conde-Frazier and caught a penetrating gaze. When our eyes met she inquired, “Why are you here?”

The question itself did not strike me as odd for two reasons. First, as a master teacher, she modeled a powerful and effective teaching style. She was a master at transitioning from content to dynamic reflection that refocused and honed our personal experience.

Second, as a middle-aged white guy in a culturally and gender diverse institution I often betrayed my own biases and upper middle class, suburban, and theologically conservative assumptions in my comments. This usually engendered a torrent of commentary from my academic peers on the evils of social privilege. A litany of historical references to abuse by those who held power and privilege often morphed into personal stories of marginalization or worse. I learned to listen to these stories as a process of education and reconciliation. I was, after all, a token representation of everything that social privilege represented in its best and its worst.

Power is not easy to possess when it is realized. The call to service Jesus gives makes power highly inconvenient. I would rather argue that it was not I who engaged in the kinds of social abuse described by my peers. However, as a leader I represent power and privilege—all leaders do. I did not grow up in poverty. I lived on the good side of town, and my parents remained married to one another throughout their lives. My upbringing was different from many of those in the classroom. I did not have to dodge gangs or violence each day growing up. I did not go hungry. I attended good schools and my parents could afford medical care. I was exposed to a great deal of cultural diversity as the son of a college professor. But the diversity I saw was sanitized—I saw it without its context. So, diversity was simply a curiosity—a distraction from the usual. I did not understand the experiences represented in the diversity I saw. Compared to so many others the word “privileged” does apply to me.

“I am not sure of the context of your question,” I responded.

“Why are you here,” she repeated with the same penetrating gaze. “Are you here to add to your social power and status through the acquisition of a doctorate or are you here to learn to serve?”

The question framed a tension that is common in a learning process and is common in engaging Christ. Is the acquisition or possession of social power de facto a contradiction of service? The inference beneath the frequently prickly comments of some of my academic peers in the program affirmed that many thought privilege and service were mutually exclusive. Many of them had suffered at the hand of social and ethnic prejudice. They arrived in this class by indefatigable persistence against all odds. Admittedly I did not understand the hurdles they had to cross to be there.

Clearly, a danger exists in the pursuit of power or added social currency. Blind pursuit of power leaves a wake of wrecked hopes and lives callously dismissed as mere collateral damage in the pursuit of ambition. But even if a person is not pursuing blind ambition the dilemma of injuring others while on the quest for justice does not go unnoticed by those hurt by the exercise of good intentions. A group of graduate students in Kenya helped me understand the damage of activism with good intentions. As we discussed ethics in leadership and the idea of reconciliation and justice, they pointed out that they did not object to justice. They objected to the way others defined justice for them. “We have a proverb here,” one of them stated. “When elephants make love, the grass gets crushed, and when elephants fight, the grass gets crushed.” From the perspective of the grass, the issue is not whether elephants fight or make love—the issue is that the elephants are unaware of the grass in the first place.

Leadership is complex. Effective leaders, those who know how to move people to work together toward specific objectives with passion and excellence, know that leadership requires more than style, skill, tools, experience, or power. Servant leadership works because of its underlying set of convictions about people, power, organizations, and success. For many it does not matter if the intentions of a leader are good or bad they still get crushed in the leader’s pursuit of success.

This reality is why defining servant leadership in the context of a leader’s life, work, organizational structure, spiritual development, and commitment to develop others is so important.


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How do you Stay Engaged as a Leader?


king_david_statueI have spent the year digging into the life of the biblical character David. I was drawn to David because much can be learned about how to survive the pressures of leadership when there is a way to get inside the head of a successful leader. That David was successful is apparent, he unified a loose confederation of tribes into a central government; he established the infrastructure needed to sustain a nation including the enormous task of shifting the “corporate culture” of the nation from one of tribal self-service and intrigue to one that engaged a sense of unified purpose and support. He survived several attempts to topple his reign and he engendered the kind of loyalty in others that gave them permission to speak the truth and express a willingness to put their lives on the line for him.  Success alone isn’t that impressive, a lot of jerks are successful. What makes David’s success so amazing is that he consistently came back to the kind of character and ethical decision-making process that raised the character of the nation. He openly admitted his faults and openly changed for the better.

It is possible to get inside David’s head because he wrote a lot.  David put his emotions, insights, fears, questions, distress, gratitude, and celebration. This is remarkable for two reasons. First, in my observation leaders who fail to express the full range of emotion ultimately derail into only anger and resentment. These leaders cannot see the impact of their behavior and emotion on others. They become toxic and abusive. Second, the leaders who exhibit emotional awareness and remain emotionally engaged are leaders who can then express a range of emotions appropriate to what they experience.

David wrote 71 Psalms that I analyzed for their major themes. The distribution of these major themes across the Psalms of David is illustrated in the chart below and defined in Table 1.

Chart 1: Themes in the Psalms of David

psalms-by-theme

Three things jump out at me when I review the chart. First, notice the preponderance of lament in David’s writing. Over one-third of David’s Psalms were laments in the face of disaster, disappointment, danger, and loss. I like this because those who study leadership seem to rarely write about how leaders face disappointment, betrayal, loss, danger, and disaster. All of these experiences are part of leading which is why many sane people avoid jumping into a leadership role.   David faced these things with an emotionally healthy expression of anger, grief, and howling. It’s a good lesson for leaders when they face the turbulence of leadership – get alone and have a good howl.

Second, David lived with a profound sense of purpose. It is meaningful because leaders who produce lasting results possess a transcendent awareness of purpose. They inspire others with it. It drives them to continue when every other aspect of their being may just want to throw in the towel. David worshiped and he worshiped with a sense of gratitude. He lived the practical, dirty, gutsy reality of leadership with a perspective that included a sense of the transcendent. This impacted his decision-making, his respect for the experience of others, and his decisiveness and compassion. Leaders devoid of purpose, leaders who have no real sense of the transcendent can fall prey to data pedantic that dehumanizes work and aims at efficiency in profit unaware of the stultifying impact on those who make profit happen.

Table 1: Definition of Terms

Theme Description
Lament Expressions of distress, grief, sorrow
Worship Expressions of devotion, adoration, praise, and love for God.
Worship/Gratitude Expressions of adoration, appreciation, and thankfulness.
Vindication Desire for God’s help to clear from accusation, imputation, or suspicion.
Wisdom/Reflection Expressions of what has been learned through experience.
Confession Repentance Acknowledgement of a lapse in moral judgment and deficiency in behavior.
Vulnerability w/ God Deliberate exposure of intent, dependency, and susceptibility.
Judgment Request for God’s direct exercise of justice and punishment of evil.
Benediction Innovcation of divine help, blessing, and guidance.
Prophecy Insight to the future promise and action of God’s working.
Reflection on Mortality Thought on the meaning of life in light of its ephemeral nature.

Third, the frequency with which David reflected on his experience and drew new insights into the present as he prepared for the future is impressive. The wisdom Psalms of David point to an element of healthy leadership i.e., healthy leaders learn from their experience and learning is defined by a change in behavior.  I am surprised at the number of leaders who relive the same experience over and over from one company to the next, from one year to the next without every asking what has happened and why it continues.  Some leaders operate like a tether ball running faster and faster with less and less a scope of influence until at last they hit the wall only to recoil and start all over again.

Thanksgiving is a good time to do some reflection as a leader. How emotionally healthy are you? Do you have an appropriate outlet for your emotions? Are you aware of your emotional health or distress? Learn from David and be a leader whose emotional awareness gets leveraged into new insights and deeper connections with your partners, employees, and clients.


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The Vulgarization of Leadership


There are times in history when the character of leadership takes on a vulgar quality. The vulgarization of leadership is not new. Plato, for example, rightly indicated that leaders armed with only with an untrained mind that naively accepts perception as real, whether that is the confused and contradictory messages of the senses or the equally inconsistent popular notions of morality are not ready for leadership. Yet, there is a sense in which the political and popular rhetoric evident in many discussions today fail to rise above this level of reasoning – Plato’s lowest level of cognition.[i]

Abraham Lincoln’s behavior in the face of the greatest threat to the union we have faced until now stands in stark contrast to the virulent monologs that characterize much of today’s political and social discussion. Lincoln made it clear that vengeance or spite could not function as the foundation of leadership. Lincoln wrote regarding Louisiana’s readmission to the union, “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”[ii] Listening to today’s politicians on the threat of terrorism it appears we may have lost that lesson.

By the vulgarization of leadership, I mean that quality that is incapable of ascending above the ostentatious, showy, gaudy, and distasteful behaviors of the lowest common denominators of society. Such men or women become so enamored by the ability to exercise raw power in the manipulation of others that they mistake inciting the frustrations and fears of people as a vision for the future. Inciting rather than leading a trap described in part by James MacGregor Burns who warned: “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.” Incitement does not have the will to investigate the ethical implications of its claims and furies. Incitement languishes in fuzzy half truths and an accusatory tone that fails to either credit other’s good ideas or work toward a mutually beneficial public policy.

Examples of the vulgarization of leadership abound. Hillary Clinton rightly observed,

I really deplore the tone of his campaign, the inflammatory rhetoric that he is using to divide people and his going after groups of people with hateful, incendiary rhetoric,” she said after a campaign event in Fairfield Tuesday. “Nothing really surprises me anymore. I don’t know that he has any boundaries at all. His bigotry, his bluster, his bullying have become his campaign. And he has to keep sort of upping the stakes and going even further.[iii]

Yet, Clinton is not above using the inflammatory rhetoric of her own to incite popular support. This is perhaps most notably evidenced in her assertion that ISIS is “going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”[iv]

Donald Trump is a virtual cornucopia of examples of the vulgarization of leadership. Trump’s speeches have rendered so many examples that I prefer to avoid repeating them here. To find examples of Trump’s vulgarization of leadership simply Google “Trump” on any subject to find ample material to make the case.

Rubio and Cruz are also guilty of half-truths and falsifications all used in an attempt to strengthen their position in the eyes of voters. A quick check of www.politifact.com provides numerous illustrations.

So, what exactly is the problem? I venture that there is no leader who hasn’t stretched the truth in their presentation of themselves or their data. If the exercise of falsification is so common what makes it warrant my derisive title, the vulgarization of leadership?  In short the question is a postulate of my position. If vulgarization is behavior that meets the standard of the lowest common denominator then its commonality is the verification of my title and its consequences make my point. The vulgarization of leadership does not summon people to a higher vision that works for change but to a coarse vision that seeks to ensconce prejudice, fear, and isolationism as the core values of our society.

The vulgarization of leadership calls out the worst in people rather than the best in people. It calcifies ideologies rather than exploring ideas with a critical eye. It contributes to reactionary regulation rather than negotiated policy. The vulgarization of leadership is, as Burns insists, a reduction of leadership to mere management and technique – it looks only at the zero sum game of political brinkmanship and hence loses a sense of the common good in its periphery.

Like other critical periods in human experience, we need leaders today who are capable of instilling a commitment to change that mobilizes and focuses the energy of a diverse populace, who call people to responsibility in the formation of a different future. We need leaders capable of explaining their moral foundation clearly and who are then ready to rigorously explore how to work with those who hold different perspectives.

At its birth, the United States attempted to make assumed moral assumptions explicit,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness[v].

The Declaration of Independence assumed: (1) a transcendent moral foundation versus a utilitarian one (i.e., endowed by their Creator); (2) unalienable rights, which we have attempted to define within the kaleidoscope of culture and social difference ever since; and (3) the responsibility of people to design and sustain a form of governance that worked in harmony with this moral foundation and unalienable rights of every person. The United States has never gotten this perfect, the exclusion of women or the exclusion of slaves, or the exclusion of those who did not own property under its colonial beginning illustrate this. The biases against the Irish or the internment of Americans of Japanese decent are well-documented failures that illustrate our ongoing struggle.  But struggling to align behavior to the ideal is not a failure unless we learn nothing in the process. A failure to learn is a failure to exercise metanoia i.e., a shift of mind. As Senge asserts, “To grasp the meaning of ‘metanoia’ is to grasp the deeper meaning of ‘learning,’ for learning also involves a fundamental shift or movement of the mind.”[vi]

So what is the escape from the pattern of vulgarized leadership I see in today’s political and social dialogue? First, it is a movement toward metanoia, some of our perspectives are wrong; we are stuck in the cave of Plato’s allegory blindfolded by biases and prejudices we can’t see to admit. Without this first step of change, we will only run deeper into the cave. Leaders must be open about admitting their lack of knowledge or miscalculations or faulty information. Fact checks should not be an afterthought but part of the process of learning especially for politicians.

Second, it is a movement of engagement that addresses difficult and complex issues of the day with the courage to admit our core convictions and moral foundations. Zero progress is possible without this kind of vulnerability and admission of our differences. No one has a corner on truth; even those who may claim perception of the truth have to admit they only “see through a glass darkly” rather than with clarity and comprehension.[vii] Every leader must start with a clear description of their core commitments and follow that up with a clear understanding of the core commitments of their opponents. This calls for true debates that remained disciplined enough to get at the positions without degenerating to school yard name calling and insults.

Third, it is an effort to create a culture of critique rather than cynicism, of investigation rather than accusation, of the will to act in the common good rather than pacing one’s step along the path of the latest poll. Encourage dialogue. Let people disagree but back their disagreement with reasons based on their own commitments. Then engage the conversation with awareness and vulnerability.

What kind of conversation do you contribute to the issues?  Are you caught up in the vulgarization of leadership or will you stand boldly out from the cacophony of noise to raise the questions and clarify the values that we need to wrestle with together? Let’s have the conversations that we need to engage.

[i] Plato. Republic 7.514

[ii] Donald T. Phillips. Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. New York, NY: Warner Books, 1992, 58.

[iii] Hillary Clinton. Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hillary-clinton-responds-to-donald-trumps-schld-insult; Accessed 23 December 2015.

[iv] Source: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/dec/19/hillary-clinton/fact-checking-hillary-clintons-claim-isis-using-vi/; Accessed 28 December 2015.

[v] Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.htmll Accessed 28 December 2015.

[vi] Peter M. Senge. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1990, 13.

[vii] 1 Corinthians 13:12-13.


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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


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When it is Time to Transition the Family Business


starting pointThe problem – Poor Talent Management

I have a growing number of clients (privately held and controlled businesses) that have begun the transition to the next generation. In a recent Harvard Business Review a great article appeared that looks at the issues involved in succession of the family business. In research conducted by Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter (2015) it is clear that family owned and controlled businesses play a critical role in the global economy.[1]  However, because of poor talent management and inadequate succession planning many fail to thrive or survive.  In fact only 30% of family owned businesses last into the second generation and only 12% are viable into the third generation.[2]

The Best Led Companies

The best family-led companies do four things well: they establish a baseline of good governance, preserve family gravity, identify future leaders from within and without, and bring discipline to their CEO succession.

Governance Baseline

Managing a family business successfully over the long haul requires a clear separation between family and business – a separation that ensures that the professionals hired by the business can clearly settle their hesitations about joining a family business namely: uncertainty about levels of autonomy, hidden agendas, lack of dynamism, and the potential for nepotism and irrational decisions.  Professionals frankly want to be sure a level playing field exists in terms of future possibilities, growth, and advancement.  94% of the family owned companies surveyed by Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter were controlled by a supervisory or advisory board of about nine members on average.  Family representation on these boards averaged 46% in Europe, 28% in the Americas, and 26% in Asia. Good governance appears to be the first hurdle for family businesses that want to hire and retain the best people and remain competitive over the long haul.

Issues to consider.  Owning a Mom and Pop operation does not need the formal governance structure larger family owned and run businesses need.  They do need outside mentors and advisors to remain competitive. If the objective of the Mom and Pop business is to grow into a significant player in their market then a good governance baseline is a critical component.  I have seen Mom and Pop businesses grow only to provide a divestiture of businesses for their children to run – reproducing Mom and Pop businesses. The model works but not as a foundation for creating a large family run and controlled business.  What may be difficult in the divestiture model is retaining the talent that grew the business in the first place.

Family Gravity

The researchers concluded that while family owned and operated businesses need independent governance structures they also must be careful not to lose that makes them unique in their market niche.  This uniqueness is what the researchers called “family gravity.”  Every successful family owned and operated business in the research pool had one key family member (sometimes up to three) who stood at the center of the organization personifying the corporate identity and aligning differing interests around clearly defined values and a common vision. The key family members all had a common view i.e., the next generation not just the next quarter. Each of these key family members embraced strategies that put customers and employees first while also emphasizing social responsibility. It is interesting to note that these are elements of servant leadership.  While the researchers did not make servant leadership a subject of their project, they never-the-less uncovered critical attributes that differentiate servant leadership from other leadership approaches. The significance of this correlation rests in the fact that leaders who practice servant leadership out perform their peers in almost every business metric.   Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter contend that,

When a single family member (or a few who are completely in sync) maintains the right presence in a family business, recruitment, retention, and results clearly benefit.[3]

Issues to consider. The leadership team needs to answer six fundamental questions that will then eliminate even small discrepancies in their thinking. Realize that none of these questions can be addressed in isolation; they must be answered together. To fail to answer these questions clearly is to fail in becoming a healthy organization. Remember don’t use jargon or buzz phrases.[4]

Why do we exist?

How do we behave?

What do we do?

How will we succeed?

What is most important, right now?

Who must do what?

Finding Future Leaders

It is generally understood that the person who is right for the highest-level positions in a firm must possess competencies including: strategic orientation, market insight, results orientation, customer impact, collaboration and influence, organizational development, team leadership, and change leadership. But what Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter found in their research adds another important dimension – one that differentiates family businesses – values served as the acid test.  95% of the businesses interviewed by Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter overlapped in language used to describe their corporate ethos e.g., respect, integrity, quality, humility, passion, modesty, and ambition.  This commonality in the values held by these firms contributes to a shared vision and trust of each other. Family members evaluated executive candidates based on cultural fit above all else. So important is the concept of cultural fit that it drove a significant part of each company’s definition of development. 40% of the companies in the study included members of the next generation in their boards and committees in order to nurture their business and management skills.

The best family firms find their future leaders early and invest in them – whether they are cousins and grandchildren, existing nonfamily employees who show promise, or outsiders with no previous connection to the firm. Likely prospects are carefully brought up through the business so that when they’re ready for more-senior roles, the values and competencies match is a sure thing.[5]

Issues to consider.  Have you done the work to identify the components that make up competencies such as: strategic orientation, market insight, results orientation, customer impact, collaboration and influence, organizational development, team leadership, and change leadership? What other competencies may be needed in your unique industry. The clearer you are on what is needed in a future CEO the easier it is to create a development plan. In addition to competencies it helps to have an assessment of leadership and personality style. Often it is personality conflicts more than lack of competence that drives a leader over the precipice of failure. A good assessment helps a leader gain self awareness and assists him or her in working with people who are different.  The best led companies searched among family, internally, and then externally for future leaders.  However, they all followed the pattern outlined above in the three phases.

In my own field research I observed family owned and controlled businesses that require their sons/daughters to earn college degrees and then find employment and success outside of the family business before they are considered for executive candidacy inside. In one particular firm I looked at family members recruited into the business served in a variety of roles designed to prepare them for senior management and groomed them as potential successor CEOs.

Disciplined CEO Succession

The greatest threat to any company is a failed CEO succession. Jim Collins found that all but one of the companies in decline he studied had experience a problematic transition at the top. In one family owned and operated business I studied the CEO (son of the founder) explained one day how he had nearly driven the highly successful company he inherited into the ground.  Why?  He equated entitlement with success.  He arrived, put his feet up on the desk and commanded others like they didn’t know what they were doing. Instead of learning about the business he utilized the servers of the company over the employee lunch break to play online video games. On the verge of bankruptcy he had to come to terms with his own lack of competencies. The succession event that put him in the driver’s seat had none of the characteristics described so far by Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter. In contrast a disciplined succession process possesses three phases.

Phase 1: Discussion and commitment by the Shareholders.  In this phase the owner family and/or board provides a briefing on succession and an analysis of possible scenarios with the shareholders.  A shareholder workshop is held to strategize about the future and design succession processes.  The result is the creation of an ideal successor profile based on strategic goals, values, and desired competencies.

Phase 2: Candidate Selection. In this phase a list of suitable internal and external candidates is identified and evaluated.  This progresses to a short-listing and obtaining references for a select group of qualified candidates.  The desired outcome is agreement on one or two finalists and contract negotiations with the chosen successor.

Phase 3: Integration and Development of the Successor. Once a candidate is selected an agenda for the first six to 12 months is established and the top management team is selected.  After 12 months, a 360˚ feedback is conducted and, if needed, a development plan is made to meet strategic and business targets after roughly two years. This leads to a discussion and decision about renewing the CEO’s contract t when due.

The process is a highly personal one. As one of the subject companies explained,

“When we get someone in, we accompany him like a personal scout,” one family CEO explained. “A director or board member introduces him, helps him, and talks to him regularly. The know-how is transferred personally.”[6]

Issues to consider. If your company does not have a formal process it should consider creating one. In the subject companies some did find new leadership through inspiration or chance. However the research showed that CEO appointments were far more successful when they followed a disciplined search involving multiple candidates. What does this mean to a company preparing to hand off the CEO role to a son of the current CEO?  Help the son through the process outlined. Further, it is not a bad idea to have a second candidate or to be ready to search for one should the son not succeed in the role.  Too many retirement nest eggs, depending on the sale of the company to the son or daughter, disappear because of poor succession planning.

Conclusion

The conclusion of the researchers is that not-with-standing the minefield leadership decisions can be, a family business can thrive for generations if they establish good governance, preserve family gravity, identify and develop high-potential executives within the family and outside it, and bring the right discipline to their CEO succession and integration processes.  Other research by Ernst & Young, the Family Business Network, and Credit Suisse shows that large, long-standing, publicly traded family businesses grow faster than nonfamily companies, are more resilient, and outperform market returns by several percentage points. There is no reason why smaller non-publicly traded companies cannot mirror similar results if they apply the same disciplines.  Part of the question business owners have to answer is to determine what the horizon of their vision for their company will be. This is not an easy question.  It deals with issues of ultimate contribution and is determined by the degree to which owners are willing to grow their own capacity as leaders.

[1] Claudio Fernández-Aráos, Sonny Iqbal, and Jörg Ritter. “Leadership Lessons from Great Family Businesses” Harvard Business Review. April 2015: 82-88.

[2] Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter, 85.

[3] Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter, 86.

[4] Patrick Lencioni. The Advantage (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2012). Lencioni’s discussion of clarity in values and communication is must read for all family owned and controlled businesses.

[5] Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter, 87.

[6] Fernández-Aráos, Iqbal, and Ritter, 88.